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Oklahoma Memories

Jimmy Stewart

2011-09-12

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"This new sound brought them to the windows and out on the sidewalks, but once they arrived for the first time in the history of Oklahoma City, they viewed a corps of high school boys marching as if they had been trained for the Prussian Guard."

That's the voice of long-time Oklahoma City civil rights leader Jimmy Stewart.

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

Jimmy Stewart attended Douglass High School in Oklahoma City in the mid-1920s. In this interview, Stewart recalls that parades were an important part of the culture in black communities. The parade he recalled took place in 1924 with the Douglass High School band marching through downtown Oklahoma City. But Stewart said putting the band together and clothing them in uniforms was quite a task.

"The Douglass High School Band had no uniforms, but each member of the band was able to find a white shirt and dark trousers for this occasion. Two, the band was augmented with a few professionals who were members of the Blue Devils Orchestra, headquartered in Oklahoma City, and at various times filling in with visiting musicians playing vaudeville engagements at the Aldridge Theater."

Stewart recalled that jobs for young black high school students were difficult to find.

"One of the main sources of income for black youngsters of upper high school age when I attended Douglass High School in Oklahoma City was serving luncheons and banquets at the old Skirvin Hotel."

Stewart said he also worked at the Huckins Hotel.

"Among my memories of the Huckins was the various nicknames given waiters, busboys, cooks, and so forth, at the hotel. I recall a busboy called "Chili Sauce," a cook called "Onion," and a cold meat station man called "Booger Red.""
Jimmy Stewart served in the Marine Corps during World War Two. Upon his return from the war, he was hired as a janitor at Oklahoma Natural Gas Company. Eventually he was promoted to office manager, and by the time he retired from ONG, he was a vice president of the company. His work in civil rights in Oklahoma is legendary. Stewart served as president of the Oklahoma City branch of the NAACPhttp://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/N/NA001.html, as well as of the state chapter. He served on the NAACP national board for eight three-year terms. Through his work with Roscoe Dunjee and the Black Dispatch, his outreach extended across the state and the nation.
In July 1982 Stewart was elected chairman of the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. In 1984 Governor George Nigh appointed him to the State Narcotics and Controlled Drug Commission. He served as president of Oklahomans for Progress, which was dedicated to the elimination of inequities based on race.

Stewart passed away in 1997 and is buried at the Arlington national Cemetery. But now we remember his birth - 99 years ago - September 6, 1912, Jimmy Stewart came into this world.
The interview with Jimmy Stewart is a part of the oral history collection at the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd Street just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.