We passed some important legislation last year for the MS community, and I was pleased to be a part of it.
We honored them with a resolution on the Senate floor to commemorate their 75th anniversary.
Met some great folks and talked about Oklahoma City’s renaissance story!
The award is presented each year to recognize a “commitment to transparency in government.”
In my time in the Senate, I have introduced legislation to bring the Legislature under the Open Meetings and Open Records acts. I have also conducted an interim study on transparency in the Legislature. And this session, I have two transparency bills that passed the Senate this week.
I don’t think there’s any award related to my public service that could be more meaningful to me.
This week, with a 40-3 vote, the Senate passed our bill (SB 1513) to make all law enforcement dash cam videos a public record. This is an important step forward for transparency in government.
Also this week, with a 43-0 vote, the Senate passed our bill (SB 1497) to give more enforcement teeth to the Open Meetings Act. This is another positive and important step for transparency.
This week, with a 43-0 vote, the Senate passed our bill (SB 1729) to remove carbon monoxide as a statutorily accepted method to euthanize dogs & cats. Lethal injection is more humane, it’s cheaper, and it’s the way most cities in Oklahoma have already gone. I commend my colleagues for endorsing humane treatment of animals.
I’m honored to have been named to the national board of GOPAC! The announcement was made today.
This morning we unveiled our Ralph Ellison portrait in the Oklahoma Capitol. Though a giant in literature and a champion for social change, the music of Oklahoma City’s Deep Deuce section was Ralph’s earliest influence and an inspiration throughout his career. We chose to create a uniquely Oklahoma portrait of Ralph, depicting him in front of the Aldridge Theatre with playbills from OKC and national performers. Thank you to artist Tracey Harris, my co-chairs Robert Henry and Kevin Perry, the Oklahoma Arts Council, Friends of the Oklahoma Capitol, the Capitol Preservation Commission, and all who donated!
To put today’s event in perspective, I want to talk about someone else besides Ralph first.
Jefferson Davis Randolph, known as J.D. or Jeff, was the first principal of Douglass School. He was also a real estate investor and the owner of the house on N.E. 1st where Ralph Ellison was born on March 1st, probably in 1913, but perhaps in 1914. He was a brilliant man.
Mr. Randolph and his wife essentially adopted the Ellison family, and Ralph would think of Mr. Randolph as his grandfather.
Oklahoma’s Jim Crow laws, a depressing work product of this building, meant that despite his great intelligence and investment success, Mr. Randolph’s day job for some years was as the janitor of the law library here in the Capitol. Even still, he knew Oklahoma’s statutes as well as anyone, and legislators would find him to ask him questions about the law. To Ralph, it seemed as if Randolph should have been a lawyer or a legislator, not the janitor. Such incongruities were common in a world where people of great talent were pushed down simply because they were black. Because they were black, people like Mr. Randolph were treated as if they were invisible. Ralph Ellison would later write in his essay “Perspective of Literature”:
When I was a young boy I often went out to the Oklahoma State Capitol, where I assisted Mr. J. D. Randolph with his duties as custodian of the State Law Library. I was about eleven years old at the time, quite impressionable, and very curious about the mysterious legal goings-on of the legislators. All the more so because while I was never able to observe the legislature in session, it was not at all unusual for me to look up from pushing a broom or dusting a desk to see one of the legislators dash into the library to ask Jeff—Mr. Randolph was always addressed by his first name—his opinion regarding some point of law. In fact, I soon came to look forward to such moments because I was amazed by the frequency with which Mr. Randolph managed to come up with satisfactory answers, even without consulting the heavy volumes which ranged the walls.
I wasn’t surprised that Mr. Randolph was a janitor instead of a lawyer or legislator; Oklahoma was segregated at the time, and Afro-Americans were strictly limited in their freedom to participate in the process of government. We could obey or break laws, but not make or interpret them. In view of this, I was amazed that Mr. Randolph had come to know so much about the subject. This was a tantalizing mystery, but the fact that white men of power would show no shame in exploiting the knowledge of one far beneath them in status aroused my sense of irony. That after all was simply another example of white folks taking advantage of black folks.
I was more impressed with the fact that Mr. Randolph could carry so many of the mysterious details of the laws which governed the state of Oklahoma within his own head. I knew he had been one of the first schoolteachers in the city and the state, and that he read and owned a large collection of books. But just how he had come to learn the law was part of an experience about which I was never to hear him talk. I did know, however, that he had never attended college, and I was aware that many of our greatest lawyers had acquired their legal knowledge through the process of “reading” law with licensed members of the profession.
I only knew that Mr. Randolph appeared to possess a surer grasp of law than certain legislators, and my youthful sense of justice led me to see his exclusion from the profession as an act of injustice. I never heard him complain about the situation, but I felt that there was something shameful, even degrading, about such a state of affairs, and that there was something rotten in the lawyers, if not indeed in the law itself. Nor was it possible for me to ignore the obvious fact that race was a source of that rot, and that even within the mystery of the legal process, the law was colored and rigged against my people.
We gather here today, because that young boy who once swept the floors of this building grew up to write so eloquently of his observations that he became famous throughout the world. He gave voice so effectively to the offense of these injustices that he helped to influence great social change. America is in his debt, and Oklahoma should forever be proud to call him our son. And after today, our pride will be memorialized on the walls of this building.
Four years ago, I entered this Capitol as a Senator from Oklahoma City, and it was not long before I resolved to see what I could do to bring about the day when Ralph Ellison would find his rightful place here. Two years ago, like probably a few of you here today, I wandered downstairs for the unveiling of the portrait of John Hope Franklin, largely in support of my friend Robert Henry, who spearheaded that project.
Soon after, I approached Robert about my interest in a portrait of Ralph Ellison. He agreed to serve as co-chair of the effort, and soon we were joined by my friend Kevin Perry. Together, the three of us began working with the Oklahoma Arts Council to see this project through. Amber Sharples and Clint Stone were integral to the successful completion, and their roles cannot be exaggerated. They helped us establish the necessary relationships with the Friends of the Capitol and the Capitol Preservation Commission. Friends of the Capitol, led by Gean Atkinson, served as fiscal agent for the project, and the Capitol Preservation Commission, led by Trait Thompson, provided valuable counsel before ultimately accepting the portrait on behalf of the people of Oklahoma.
Of course, none of this could have been possible without our donors. They are listed on the back of your program. Many of you are here, and on behalf of Robert and Kevin, and the people of Oklahoma, we thank you.
Ralph and his longtime wife Fannie had no children. His brother had no children. There are no known descendants or relatives of Ralph Ellison. But his literary executor and longtime friend John Callahan was involved throughout the process. He was here in Oklahoma City last month, but could not join us today. He did wish to convey to everyone his gratitude for our efforts, on behalf of the estate.
Amber and Clint from the Arts Council helped us conduct a thoughtful artist selection process, through which we ultimately selected Tracey Harris, who you will hear from momentarily. Tracey’s realistic and striking style appealed to us greatly.
With the input of many, including Tracey, we developed a concept for a portrait that is uniquely Oklahoman. This is not necessarily the portrait of Ralph Ellison that the National Portrait Gallery would commission. This portrait pays great respect to Ralph’s Oklahoma City roots and influences.
Though Ralph was ultimately a literary genius, his upbringing in Oklahoma City was all musical. He was a member of the Douglass High School band, and he went to Tuskegee to study music. Though he ultimately traded in his horn for a typewriter, he would often write of his musical heroes. Among these was Zelia Breaux, co-owner of the Aldridge Theatre in Oklahoma City’s Deep Deuce district, and Ralph’s music teacher at Douglass. In the portrait, Ralph is portrayed in front of the Aldridge. This afforded us the opportunity to use playbills to recognize Oklahoma City musicians like the Oklahoma City Blue Devils, Charlie Christian and Jimmy Rushing. We also depict national artists Ralph saw perform in Deep Deuce, like Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
Ralph is portrayed holding a copy of his masterpiece, Invisible Man, tucked inside of which is a copy of a paper Ralph read as a boy – The Black Dispatch.
All of these places and things appeared in Ralph’s work. We hope you will agree that this portrait is not only striking and a fitting memorial to Ralph, but an excellent educational starting point for the many visitors to the Capitol who may learn of Ralph in the years to come through this artwork.