“Five decades ago, would you have been brave or cowardly? Would you have seen something you didn’t like and then did something about it? Or, would you have pretended you didn’t see it?” Oklahoma Christian University President John deSteiguer challenged students, faculty and campus guests with these questions as he opened “OC’s 18: Remembering March 6, 1969” panel discussion Wednesday afternoon.
For the 18 students involved in the Benson Hall sit-in, that question was a reality. According to deSteiguer, these students chose to be brave in the face of administration, as they were suspended, arrested and jailed—some only 35 days away from graduation. Lives were changed, courses redirected, and destinies redefined.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the sit-in, Oklahoma Christian hosted seven of the students on campus, giving them the opportunity to reunite and give today’s campus the chance to remember. A Q&A panel was hosted in Judd Theatre, followed by a public event in Baugh Auditorium.
“I can remember with years what happened to me,” Billy Brooks, one of OC’s 18, said. “Now everyone has a different story, but I know what it did to me. I don’t know the effect it had on everyone else, but I know it was negative, and everyone turned it into a positive. Some had to start over in school. Me, I was three or four weeks from graduation when all of a sudden my education was taken from me.”
Brooks’ arrest was considered the most perplexing, as he had not attended the sit-in or the party, but was still arrested and taken to jail. But for what? Brooks said it is the question which, to this day, he still ponders.
“You don’t know how I felt when those cuffs went around my wrists and I was arrested for no reason,” Brooks said. “There has never been no reason given to me about why I was arrested. Sit-in? I don’t even remember being there. When I rolled up that morning, they handcuffed me. [Administration] thought, ‘Anything that goes down on this campus, Billy Brooks has to have something to do with it.’”
According to Ron Wright, another member of OC’s 18, the call for people within the Christian faith is to stand up and be Christians, advocating for what is right.
“We must remember that we are Christians first and Americans second,” Wright said. “When we start putting America before our faith and before others, that’s when things start to get bad. It’s Jesus, then everything else.”
A Christian university, such as Oklahoma Christian College—as it was called back then—is called to be inclusive and loving no matter who walks through their doors, Donald Wilson of OC’s 18 said. According to Wilson, this is still prevalent today, and in current times, Christians must be a light in the darkness of division.
“The politics of today are dividing us once again,” Wilson said. “People are taking sides, not because of principles. There are no principles. We’re taking sides once again because of ethnic origin. Where do you come from? You look at the country now, and there is so much disharmony, it’s like the ‘60s.”
Back on the very campus which treated them “unjustly” 50 years ago, Wright shed a tear as the panel closed and said he wanted to leave the audience pondering one call to action.
“Don’t be afraid to speak truth when you see something that’s wrong,” Wright said. “Speak on it. Unfortunately, when I was going to school here, my white friends were deathly afraid to speak the truth. They wanted to be liked and accepted, and when you’re white in a white environment, you can do that. We didn’t have that choice. Something happened to us, and we had to speak up and speak out. We had to say, ‘That’s not right.’ I want to encourage you to speak the truth with grace and dignity, to speak the truth and know that your word can make a difference.”
Updated: This article was corrected fix typographical error.
Be First to Comment