Dorothy DeWitty 1926-2012: Tulsa civic leader, member of first City Council dies at 85
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Saturday, December 08, 2012
12/08/12 at 8:07 AM
Dorothy DeWitty, a trail-blazing educator and civic leader who later helped bridge community divides as a member of Tulsa's first City Council, died Friday.
She was 85.
Services are pending with Reynolds Rose Hill Funeral Home.
A retired principal of Walt Whitman Elementary School and 30-year Tulsa Public Schools employee, DeWitty was elected to the original Tulsa City Council in 1990, representing District 3 for one term through 1992.
She was one of two women and two black people on the new nine-member body, which replaced the former city commission.
The City Council honored her in 2008 with its Lifetime Service Award.
DeWitty, who praised the council format as a step forward in city government, recalled her first challenge as "convincing everyone that I was an individual first, not the other woman or the other black," she told the Tulsa World in 2000.
Former Mayor Rodger Randle remembered DeWitty for her great ability, both within the council chambers and beyond, "to help people understand each other."
"Dorothy devoted herself to building understanding between communities. And it wasn't just between black and white - though she was deeply influenced by her experiences growing up in a Tulsa divided by race. It was between people separated by just about any kind of division."
Former District 3 Councilor Roscoe Turner said the outspoken DeWitty was a mentor to him.
"We shared a motto between us, that the government is supposed to serve the people, not control them," he said. "She was very diligent about seeing that the people were well taken care of."
Turner said it was DeWitty who encouraged him to run for the council. The two families had been neighbors for years, but as a longtime city employee nearing retirement, he had never considered politics.
"She kept worrying me about it," he said, laughing. "I finally gave in."
Mayor Dewey Bartlett, who served with DeWitty on that first council, said she was "a lady who knew how to use the spoken word very clearly to make her point and still smile in delivering her message."
"Dorothy was not only a strong representative for her district, but had a soothing personality that brought all of us to support issues that helped our citizens through improvements in education, neighborhood rights and the respect of others," the mayor said.
In addition to being the first black woman on the City Council, DeWitty could claim a number of firsts.
She had also been the first black female elementary school principal in Tulsa, as well as the first black president of the League of Women Voters and the first black woman elected as congregation president of the Unitarian Universalist Church.
Born in Bristow in 1926, she moved to Tulsa at age 9. She graduated in 1944 from Booker T. Washington High School and got her bachelor's degree in home economics from Langston University.
Later, she added a master's in education from the University of Tulsa.
In 1969, DeWitty became principal at Walt Whitman Elementary School, after previously serving the district as a teacher, librarian and school counselor.
As part of the era's desegregation push, the formerly all-white elementary was in the process of becoming largely black. Always the peacemaker, DeWitty tried to make the transition orderly.
Helping turn Whitman, one of the district's worst-performing schools, into one of its best by the time she retired in 1985 was one of her proudest achievements, she said later.
Among her various civic involvements, DeWitty had been a member of the University Center at Tulsa's board of trustees and the Tulsa Human Rights Commission.
She received distinguished achievement awards from Langston, the state Senate and House of Representatives, and the National Association of Black Social Workers.
She also wrote a book on race relations in Tulsa, "Tulsa: Tale of Two Cities."
DeWitty made headlines most recently in July when a fire damaged her longtime north Tulsa home. Though uninjured, she since then had been living with family in Florida, Turner said.
DeWitty's husband, George O. DeWitty, preceded her in death. Her survivors include three sons and eight grandchildren.
Original Print Headline: Civic leader DeWitty dies at 85
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
Dorothy DeWitty, a former educator and City Council member, died Friday at age 85. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World file
Former Tulsa City Councilor and educator Dorothy DeWitty listens to people make remarks about her at City Hall in 2008, when she was given a Lifetime Service Award. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World file