In setting out to establish a permanent tribute to late principal Ellis Walker Woods, former students and alumni, it turns out, weren’t all talk.
They also walked the walk.
On Friday morning at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, the results of those efforts were officially unveiled, with a crowd of 150-plus on hand to see their memorial to the former Booker T. Washington High School principal who memorably walked 500 miles once for a teaching job in Oklahoma.
“We have come to the fruition of an approximately 37-year dream ... I compare it to the 500 miles he walked,” Captola Dunn, who co-chaired the memorial committee, told the audience.
Dunn was a onetime student under Woods, who was principal at Tulsa’s first black high school under segregation from 1913, its first year, until his death in 1948.
Howard Dennie, a 1949 BTW graduate and retired educator, noted that, along with Dunn, he’s one of the last surviving alumni to have had Woods as principal.
“Mr. Woods was loved by all the students. And you can’t say that about every principal,” Dennie said. “They went there knowing they were going to learn something from him.”
Dunn, 87, has been involved from the beginning of the project, which was proposed by her late husband, Al Dunn, also a Woods pupil, and his former classmate, Richard Gipson.
“They worked tirelessly, looking beyond the naysayers, harassers and others,” she said, praising the efforts of the pair, who both died before the memorial was finished.
The $210,000 project is located on the OSU campus at North Greenwood Avenue and East John Hope Franklin Boulevard, near the original BTW school site.
Highlighted by a bust of Woods, it includes a ring of tall granite obelisks bearing the images of important figures in school history. Together, they tell the BTW story.
The Rev. Robert Turner of Vernon AME Church, who officially blessed the memorial Friday, noted that Woods was a trustee and longtime member of the historic north Tulsa church.
“Everything associated with him survived the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 — the church, the school, whereas many of the houses around did not,” Turner said. “It says something about this man that these places associated with him even the rioters did not touch.”
Committee member LaVerne Ford Wimberly officially presented the memorial to OSU-Tulsa, which will take over responsibility and maintenance.
The committee’s intention, Wimberly said, is for the memorial to serve “as a hopeful symbol of perseverance and strength.” In addition to honoring Woods and his legacy, “it represents the importance of education and a commitment to the future.”
OSU-Tulsa President Pamela Martin-Fry said the school community was honored to serve as stewards of the memorial.
“Your vision has been realized,” she told the committee members. “This memorial is a lasting testament to Mr. Woods’ impact on this school and this city.”
Dunn said it was her husband’s “final wish” before his death three years ago “to get the memorial done for Tulsa and the world.”
With that mission accomplished, she has a special message for Tulsans, she said:
“It’s yours now. Yours to learn from. It’s yours to use. Enjoy it. Protect it. It’s a place of beauty.”