The Tulsa school board on Monday approved naming the combined Gilcrease/Bunche school after famed Tulsan John Hope Franklin.
Board members voted unanimously in favor of calling the newly consolidated school John Hope Franklin Elementary, though three of the seven members — Jennettie Marshall, Stacey Woolley and Suzanne Schreiber — were absent. The decision came nearly three months after the board voted to consolidate neighboring Gilcrease Elementary and ECDC-Bunche in north Tulsa beginning in 2019-20 to save money and establish grade consistency across the McLain feeder pattern.
As a history teacher in Owasso, Board President Shawna Keller expressed enthusiasm for having a school named after a fellow historian and educator. But she also said she appreciates the significance of Franklin’s name and legacy in north Tulsa.
“I think the community is very excited about John Hope Franklin,” Keller said. “It’s a very meaningful name in Tulsa and north Tulsa specifically, so we’re just really excited to be able to honor him with this naming.”
The new school will be located in the Bunche building near 56th Street North and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and will serve students from prekindergarten through fifth grade.
A committee that included teachers, staff, parents, students and alumni from Gilcrease and Bunche developed the name recommendation after several weeks of discussion and community feedback.
The Ad Hoc School Naming Committee received about 80 suggestions during an initial feedback period and narrowed the list to five: Maya Angelou, John Hope Franklin, Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama and Michelle Obama.
Community members largely supported going with Franklin due to his connection to north Tulsa. The committee presented its recommendation to the board earlier this month.
Ebony Johnson, executive director of student and family support services for TPS and chairwoman of the committee, said she’s happy about the name for several reasons. For one, she believes it was important for the new school’s name to be supported by community members, many of whom made it clear that they wanted the school to be named for a Tulsan. She also said honoring Franklin’s legacy in this way further helps people move past some of the confusion sparked by the consolidation.
“At one point, there was some misunderstanding about why the students were coming together and just a lot of information around what to do about that,” she said. “And so this takes a different spin; now that we know they’re coming together for the better good of the students and the teachers and community, we actually have a name to represent a community in which we can be proud of, a name in which a person who actually contributed so much to our community can be honored and recognized in a way that’s really essential for this particular family because they were a family of educators.
“So the mere fact that the school will be named after an educator who has done so much for Oklahoma and Tulsa is fantastic, and it’s unique and it’s awesome.”
Johnson said it was important for the naming vote to happen now to give the district enough time to implement the change before school starts in August.
Franklin was born in rural McIntosh County in 1915 but graduated from Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School. He earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in history from Harvard University before teaching at a number of prestigious universities. He achieved international fame in 1947 with the publication of his book “From Slavery to Freedom,” an influential study of the black experience in America.
In the ’90s, President Bill Clinton named Franklin chairman of the advisory board to the President’s Initiative on Race and awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
One of his final public appearances before his death in 2009 was in Tulsa for the dedication of John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, which serves as a memorial to the Tulsa Race Massacre.
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