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Speaker: America must re-embrace King’s philosophies

The speaker at Fort Sill's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Luncheon said that in the second decade of the 21st century the six crucial elements of the civil rights leader's philosophy of nonviolence need to be pulled out of storage.

Alice Strong-Simmons said King led in the struggle for more humane treatment of all by instilling the following precepts among protesters:
• Non-violent resistance is not for cowards. It is not a quiet acceptance of violence but an active force spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
• The goal of nonviolence is not to defeat or humiliate an opponent but to win him over.
• Nonviolence is a means to defeat injustice and not the person who may be unjust.
• Violence will not be met by violence, as its aim is converting an opponent who otherwise would refuse to listen.
• Confront opponents through agape, the Greek word for brotherly love, which is spontaneous and unselfish.
• Nonviolence is based on the belief that the universe is just and it bears fruit in the form of love, peace and justice for all beings everywhere.

Strong-Simmons opened by saying she is a proud American who loves being born in the United States of America. Her parents, the late Eddie and Blanche Strong, were lifelong educators. She was raised in Tatums, one of 50-some all-black towns to have existed in Oklahoma.

She graduated from Tatums High School in 1964, the year before Oklahoma schools were integrated. Students from Tatums were then bused to Fox, 13 miles to the southwest. Meanwhile, she went to Langston University to earn her bachelor's degree in elementary education.

She pointed out that from 1897 until the mid-1960s, Langston University was the only historically college in the state that allowed people of color to obtain higher education. From 600 students at the time she attended, it has grown to 2,100 today on three campuses.

Upon graduating from Langston, she packed her bags, said goodbye to her parents and friends, and moved in with friends in the south part of Lawton for a few months before renting a two-bedroom apartment off of Fort Sill Boulevard behind the old Sears store. She was married to a soldier serving as an instructor at Fort Belvoir, Va., prior to mustering out in the summer of 1967 and joining her here in Lawton. As a civilian instructor in the Artillery Center he taught the electronic part of the Pershing missile system.

On a previous visit to her husband in the summer of 1966, she found that they could not live or rent an apartment near Fort Belvoir because they were black. On-post housing was not available to them. They had to live in Washington, D.C., and make the commute of 30-plus miles every day.

"Yet our husbands and sons and daughters were dying in Vietnam, for the country we all loved so much, America," Strong-Simmons said.

They encountered a similar problem here. The young couple was rebuffed on their first attempt to buy a home in Lawton. The contractor and the neighbors in that northwest Lawton community did not want blacks in their neighborhood, she told the crowd.

"Being individuals who would not be deterred, and because we had a wonderful Realtor, a white realtor  I think it was Friendly Realty Co.  assisted us in purchasing a home within a block of the first home we had selected. We got to purchase our first newly constructed home at 6430 NW Columbia Avenue here in Lawton," she said.

She also made headway on the housing situation at Fort Belvoir by writing letters to the post commander and various congressional offices to explain the situation and how difficult it was.

"Although my husband and I did not benefit that summer from housing near Fort Belvoir, by the winter of 1966, the commander of Fort Belvoir, the congressional delegation and others contacted apartment owners and housing facilities in that area and indicated that if they did not want to put off-limits to military personnel they needed to integrate," Strong-Simmons said, citing it as an example of how one person can make a difference.

The speaker began her career in June 1967 as a personnel intern for the Department of Defense at the Fort Sill Artillery Center, as noted in the introduction of the speaker given by Gregory Marcum, deputy commanding officer of the 428th Field Artillery Brigade.

She transferred to the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center in 1970 and later became the first African American senior civilian (GS-13) on Tinker Air Force Base. She served as director of human resources for Oklahoma City Public Schools in 1981-85.

After a long career in various fields, she returned to her alma mater, Langston University, in 2015 and was recently appointed associate vice president for academic affairs at its Oklahoma City campus.

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