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Oklahoma Journeys

The Death of Henry G. Bennett


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He warned of potential problems with the governments of Iran, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, then he died in a plane crash near Tehran. Henry G. Bennett was the long-time president of Oklahoma A&M College, and was on a mission, sent by President Truman, when he died. That's our story on Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I'm Michael Dean.

Dr. Henry G. Bennett was named president of Oklahoma A&M College in 1928 after serving as president of Southeastern State Teachers College in Durant for 9 years. From 1928 to 1950 when he took a leave of absence, what would become Oklahoma State University underwent an unparalleled period of growth. There is a family story that in 1928 he drafted a vision of what he thought the college would look like, and today the campus of OSU bears a striking resemblance to Dr. Bennett's vision.

Bennett was particularly interested in the area of adult education. He believed that adults could benefit from educational opportunities as well as children and teenagers could. As the nation's leading expert in that field, President Harry Truman turned to Dr. Bennett to help in his administration. A part of Truman's inaugural speech focused on foreign affairs, and his fourth point outlined a program of aid to foreign countries, much as the Marshall plan was helping Europe recover from the effects of World War Two. Bennett was named Assistant Secretary of State in charge of the Point Four Program. This was his opportunity to take his message of adult education to the world.

In 1951, he was back in Oklahoma for a short visit. In November 1951 he gave what would be his last speech, and in that speech he talked about the countries he was about to visit: Iran, Egypt, and other nations in the Persian Gulf Region. He told his audience that when he looked at Iran, for example, and all of the problems with the people and the government, he believed that trouble for the world was brewing, and he believed a key to preventing trouble there was in education, providing educational opportunities for the people of those countries.

That speech was given in November 1951. On December 22, 1951, the plane in which was riding crashed in Iran, killing everyone aboard. Dr. Bennett, his wife, and three assistants were among the victims. He left a legacy at Oklahoma State University that continues through today.

You can see an exhibit on education in the territories and Oklahoma, including the story of Dr. Henry G. Bennett, at the Oklahoma History Center NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. The History Center is open from 10am to 5pm Monday through Saturdays. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.