First Woman to be Elected PResident in Our District of Northeast District Teachers' Association of Oklahoma Association of Negro Teachers
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This Week in Sapulpa History – First Woman to be Elected President in Our District of Northeast District Teachers’ Association of the Oklahoma Association of Negro Teachers
Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum
This week in Sapulpa history, on March 15th, 1954, it was announced: “in a meeting held in Tulsa at which 250 teachers were present, three top offices went to Sapulpa Booker T. Washington teachers.” A Sapulpa teacher became the first woman to be elected president of her district in the Oklahoma Association of Negro Teachers (OANT).
“Zemula C. Williams, an English teacher at BTW, was elected president of the association; Ruth Devreaux, second grade BTW teacher, was named secretary; and Henry Crowell, head of the athletic department at BTW, was chosen treasurer.”
More on the OANT: The Oklahoma Historical Center describes this Association as beginning when the first segregated or “separate schools” opened in Oklahoma City, Guthrie, and Kingfisher in 1891 and 1892. “The institutes led to the organization of the Ida M. Wells Teachers’ Association in 1893.”
Teachers from fourteen counties and twenty-six communities in the Oklahoma-Territory served as the first members. Annual training institutes for teachers and “aspiring candidates” were “professionals with powerful intellect, broad social commitment, and common interests…”
By the 1940s, the organizations had each grown tremendously and became very productive in their communities. “ Between 1946 and 1953 these measures brought about more than $18 million in appropriations for separate schools.”
The year Zemula C. Williams became president in the Northeast District, the “U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1954 and 1955 augmented the social changes of the 1940s. In response, OANT organized a program to prepare for the transition to school desegregation and to protect black teachers’ welfare. OEA also geared various activities to those purposes. On October 28, 1955, OANT decided to merge with OEA. Even as it disbanded, OANT worked untiringly to retain employment for black teachers after 1955.”
Oklahoma Historical Society further mentioned, “OANT members had earlier begun to join OEA, and OANT was entirely dissolved by 1958. During its half-century of existence, OANT had commanded unswerving support. Records reflect that in 1955, 1,500 of Oklahoma’s 1,622 black educators were members. Historically, the association’s primary mission had been to raise the standards of education for black children. OANT achieved that purpose while making a major contribution to Civil Rights.”
More on Zemula C. Williams: D. Adolph Williams, husband of Zemula, was principal at Booker T. Washington High School. In 1923, they married and had one son, Daniel Adolph Williams Jr. Mr. and Mrs.Williams “taught as a team” and were active in the Sapulpa education system. In 1942, Mr. Williams, held the position of president of the OANT. Mrs. Williams held the vice-president seat for over a decade.
D. Adolph Williams, born in 1893, attended Kansas University School of Pharmacy, and was a “registered pharmacist; graduate of Langston University, and held an M.A. degree from the University of Colorado.” He was principal of Booker T. Washington from 1940 to 1962. He passed away in 1973.
Zemula C. Williams, born in 1898, held an Associate of Business degree from Langston University. She furthered her education with Graduate Study from University of Colorado. She was the English and Speech teacher. She also worked on the the Booker T. Washington yearbook. She retired in 1959.
“For a number of years, Mrs. Williams was corresponding secretary of the Langston University Alumni. In civic affairs, as a supporter of education for blacks long before integration, Mrs. Williams held memberships in the Tulsa League of Women Voters, NAACP, YWCA, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and many other civic and professional organizations.
“When Mr. and Mrs. Williams moved to Tulsa, they owned businesses in the Greenwood Business District, and were contributing members of the community.” In 1986, Zemula C. Williams passed away leaving behind a great legacy.
In 2005, a memorial dinner was hosted by Black Wall Street, Inc. to remember the social organizations in Tulsa: Bridge Clubs, League of Women Voters, Urban League, YWCA, and more. “This memorial tribute is being called an ‘Angel Bridge’” and included recognition of many prominent figures in the Tulsa community, including Sapulpa’s educator Zemula Williams.
(Sapulpa Herald, March 16, 1954; Oklahoma Eagle, February 14, 1942, March 17, 1955, December 11, 1986, December 13, 1990, April 21, 2005; Oklahoma Historical Society)
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The information found on this page has been researched through Sapulpa (and area) newspapers, Sapulpa Historical Society archives, books, and photographs, Sapulpa yearbooks, city directories, and other local authors. Any other sources will be labeled and named as the research continues. Any mistakes will be noted and adjusted as needed.