Maybe it was the fact she was an avid reader, but Mary McClure said she knew even as a child that segregation is wrong.
"I grew up in that atmosphere" of a segregated America, she said, explaining that she was a small-town girl from northwestern Oklahoma in an era when there was only one African-American in her home county and no Native Americans.
That's why she and her husband Kinley enjoyed the mixture of people to be found in Lawton and on Fort Sill in the 1950s, when they arrived to begin Kinley McClure's job as a teacher. And that's why she and her husband, another product of small-town western Oklahoma, were thrilled when Kinley McClure was invited to attend a meeting whose members evolved into the entity simply known as The Group.
Despite the influence of the integrated post at Fort Sill, Lawton was a segregated city, McClure said. Dr. Charles Owens (a founding member of The Group) was the only black physician in town, "and he could not use the hospital," McClure noted. Black residents lived in one of two neighborhoods. Everything was segregated by skin color: schools, restaurants, buses, recreation. But there were changes coming.
Time of change
While Douglass School didn't close until the 1960s (when its students were transferred into other schools), there had been African-American students in Lawton's secondary schools since the 1950s. And while there were many who were satisfied with the baby steps the community might be taking, there were others who wanted to push integration and accomplish it before more radical actions brought the strife that was evident in cities across the nation.
"Fort Sill was integrated," McClure said, noting she thinks that may have aided the efforts of leaders in the black and white communities determined to integrate the city.