Since 1946, the Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City has worked to bring social and economic equality to impoverished citizens in our community. Cenoria D. Johnson served as the first Executive Director of the Urban League.
In the beginning years, the Urban League helped in the development of the first African American fire fighters, the entrance of African American women in local hospital-based nursing training, and the appointment of African Americans to local and state board and commissions.
1946 - 1957
An interracial, nonpartisan, interdenominational Board of Directors formed the Urban League in December 1946. The first Executive Director, Cenoria D. Johnson, was appointed and housed in the basement of the Stile-Street YWCA on Northeast 2nd St. and Stiles. Jesse T. Owens was elected president of the Board of Directors. The team of two staff and fourteen board members, along with an influential group of volunteers, shaped the organizational structure, established a basic program and adopted a method of operation.
One of the first tasks that confronted the new organization was the desegregation of the city’s fire department. The League played a significant role, along with other community leaders, in changing the employment practices to include “negroes” as fire fighters. The specific task of the League was to recruit and train the twelve first Black firemen.
The Urban League spearheaded:
- The hiring of the first Black Bus Drivers
- The acceptance of Blacks as apprentices in local unions
- The entrance of Black women in local hospital-based nursing training
- The appointment of Blacks to major local and state boards and commissions
During the first ten years of operation, the Urban League formed a volunteer auxiliary group known as the Urban League Guild. This addition completed the trilogy: a strong policy-making board, a well-trained dedicated staff and volunteer support ready to seek equality and justice.
Dr. F.D. Moon summed up the first ten years with this statement, “As a result of the Urban League, a type of community climate is being created in Oklahoma City which offers a great hope for all people in our City of Tomorrow.”
1958 - 1967
With ten years of experience to its credit, the Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City became a very sophisticated organization, capable of speaking out for its clients and holding social, political, and economical systems accountable for the fair treatment of the city’s Black citizens. The fight for social justices had gone to the streets in cities throughout the country, and Oklahoma City was no exception. The Urban League played a role in keeping heads cool in the face of hot issues and violent confrontations.
1968 - 1977
During this exciting time for the Urban League, “New Thrust” and “Systems Change” were the new buzz phrases within the movement. The New Thrust concept, simply stated meant “people power.” It had two components: 1) program demonstration and 2) citizen’s participation. The Urban League developed programs in each component. Its demonstration programs included:
- Street Academy - demonstrated that Black youth could excel in education given an alternative to traditional classrooms
- Education Center - project to assist suspended, expelled and drop out students
- Housing Counseling Center - promoted home ownership and assisted homeowners in delinquency or default with their loans
- Black Board of Education - dramatized the lack of representation on the Oklahoma City Public Schools’ Board of Education
- Job Development and Employment Center - assisted the unemployed and under employed job seekers to obtain gainful employment
The Urban League organized the Southwestern Urban Development Corporation (SUDC), whose purpose was to promote safe, decent, low-cost housing for low- to moderate-income people. SUDC planned and organized a building fund campaign, which resulted in the construction of the Urban League Community Center.
1978 - 1987
This was the period of great program expansion and fund development. Leonard D. Benton, who had served as president and CEO since 1970, initiated programs resulting in significant increases in direct services. Such programs included:
- Minority Skills Bank
- Youth Community Media Center
- Minority Police Recruitment
- Black Adoption Project
- Black Family Conferences
- Students Excel at Learning (SEAL)
- Awards of Excellence to graduating high school seniors (scholarships)
- Annual Health Fairs
- Job and Career Fairs
- Equal Opportunity Day (EOD)
- Black on Black Crime Rallies and Seminars
- Northeast Neighborhood Assembly Project
- Northeast Citizens’ Participation/Neighborhood Assistance
- Drug Education Workshops
- Minority Elderly Outreach Services
The first organized fund development program was established in response to the United Way’s intentions for agencies to raise more of their own funds less dependency on the United Way allocations. The fund development program consisted of the following components, some of which are still around today:
- Annual Membership Banquet
- Equal Opportunity Day
- Annual Membership Campaign
- Guild Contribution
- Grantsmanship for special, restricted projects
1988 - 1997
During this time, the Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City became stronger. The Board of Directors became more attentive to its role as policy-maker and fund developer and for its financial accountability. The Guild assumed a greater role in fundraising and program implementation. The staff took on more tasks and learned the skills of volunteer training and utilization.
A new program department was created with the acquisition of a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce: the Minority Business Development Center, which provided professional assistance to minority people wanting to start their own business.
The top program and management staff became of age during this period. One resigned after 18 years, one wanted a career change after 16 years, two others, including the CEO, retired after serving 25 and 29 years respectively. These staff changes represented eighty or more years of service and experience. A new and younger staff had been given the mantel of responsibilities. They had more energy, new ideas and different approaches for solutions to the problems of racism, prejudice and discrimination.
The Urban League of Greater Oklahoma moved to its present location at 3900 N. Martin Luther King Ave.