Hey friend! Welcome back to another post – today, we’re talking about Nancy Randolph Davis. She was the first African American enrollee at Oklahoma A&M College, a Civil Rights pioneer in Oklahoma, and an educator for over 40 years. Let’s go learn about her amazing story and the legacy she has left behind!
“I didn’t know I was a trailblazer; I just wanted to earn a master’s degree in my home state.”Nancy Randolph Davis – Ryleigh Clem, “Trailblazer: Nancy Davis’ Legacy Lives On,” O’Colly, February 23, 2021.
TRAVEL TIP: This is what the Nancy Randolph Davis building looks like. The statue is located in this courtyard in front of the black benches pictured above. The sidewalk right before the benches on the left side of this picture leads to the Nancy Randolph Davis statue!
*Most of the photos in this post were taken at the Oklahoma State University campus in Stillwater by myself. Please read the photo captions for attributions for other photos (Websites are linked in the caption and “sources section” at the end of this post as well).
Nancy Randolph Davis
Nancy Randolph Davis was born in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. She graduated from the Sapulpa Booker T. Washington High School in 1944. The Booker T. Washington High School had been established in 1905 in Sapulpa.
Nancy Randolph Davis had five siblings and parents who encouraged her to pursue her education. Her parents were Ed Napoleon and Ernestine Randolph. Her father was a huge champion for her education and said that all of his children had to finish high school. He wanted his children to pursue education and all opportunities extended to them – three of his kids chose to pursue a college education. Mr. Randolph worked for the Frisco Railroad Company and saved money to pay for his children’s education.
Mittie Jackson was a high school teacher that inspired Nancy Randolph to pursue a college education as well. Ms. Jackson told her that she was good at cooking and sewing so she would do well in a Home Economics program.
Nancy Randolph Davis began her college education at Langston University in Guthrie, Oklahoma after graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in 1944. Langston University is an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) that was founded in 1897. (Langston University is still open today in 2022.)
Nancy was very involved on the Langston University campus and in her Home Economics program. She student taught in Luther, Oklahoma – a small, rural town in central Oklahoma. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Home Economics from Langston University in 1948.
“I was not trying to make history. I merely wanted an education. after receiving my bachelor’s degree at Langston University, I wanted to attend OSU for my master’s degree since they had one of the best home economics programs in the state. I knew that God was on my side and that with hard work and perseverance, I would prevail.”Nancy Randolph Davis – Sheri Waldrop, “Sapulpa Native Nancy Randolph Davis Educational Pioneer and Trailblazer,” Sapulpa Times, January 17, 2022.
Nancy Randolph Davis was encouraged to apply to the master’s program in Home Economics at Oklahoma A&M College. This was after Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher had won a Supreme Court case which allowed her to attend law school at the University of Oklahoma. Sipuel and Davis actually lived in the same dormitory at Langston University.
At first, Nancy wasn’t allowed to enroll in classes at Oklahoma A&M, but then Roscoe Dunjee (Editor of The Black Dispatch and NAACP Leader) and Amos T. Hall (NAACP Attorney) became involved in the case and she was allowed to enroll. Nancy Randolph Davis became the first African American enrollee at Oklahoma A&M College in 1949.
“OSU made a monumental decision that resounds loudly in the annals of history. Without the Supreme Court forcing them, OSU admitted this ambitious young black woman, granddaughter of a slave, daughter of sixth- and eight-grade graduates, and a Sapulpa, Okla., native into these halls of education.”Nancy Randolph Davis – Sheri Waldrop, “Sapulpa Native Nancy Randolph Davis Educational Pioneer and Trailblazer,” Sapulpa Times, January 17, 2022.
Nancy attended school in the summer to work on her master’s degree in home economics. During her first summer in Stillwater, she lived with the Lee A. Ward family. Ward was the principal of the Black elementary school in Stillwater – the Booker T. Washington School.
The following summer, she lived with the Jones family next door to the Ward family. Hanner Hall eventually became the dormitory for African American students at Oklahoma A&M. Married couples lived on the first floor, women on the second floor, and men on the third floor.
At first, the professors at Oklahoma A&M made Nancy sit in the hallway outside the classroom to listen to the lectures. Integration was still illegal at this time. Nancy made the second highest score on a test and her White classmates insisted that she be able to join them inside the classroom. After this complaint, Nancy joined the class in the classroom, but she was not allowed to sit with her classmates and was often forced to sit in the back of the room or in an office space within the classroom.
Nancy graduated with her Master’s degree in Home Economics in the summer of 1952 from the College of Human Sciences at Oklahoma A&M.
Teaching Home Economics
In addition to attending school in the summers, Nancy Randolph Davis was a teacher herself in the spring and fall semesters. She taught Home Economics and Childcare at Dunjee School in Choctaw, Oklahoma for 20 years. Dunjee was an all-Black school where she taught 60 kids in one room with only 5 sewing machines. Her future husband, Fred C. Davis, was the Vice Principal at Dunjee School. They were married in 1953 after she finished her Master’s degree and they had two children together, Calvin and Nancy.
After 20 years at Dunjee, she took a new position at Star Spencer High School. (For those not familiar with Oklahoma geography, Spencer is a town located in central Oklahoma just east of Oklahoma City. Spencer is just west of Choctaw where Dunjee was located.) She eventually retired from Star Spencer High School in 1991. Nancy Randolph Davis devoted 43 years of her life to the Oklahoma Public Education system and touched the lives of thousands of students in Oklahoma. She always encouraged people to “fight through adversity to pursue their dreams.” (Two OSU Buildings Renamed to Honor Civil Rights Pioneer)
When asked if she thought education was still important for young people today, Nancy Randolph Davis replied:
“Education is the key. That’s my motto. Education is the key. If you have an education and you know people and how to work with them, and you can reach out and touch others, then you will be much happier and you’ll be successful in life.”-Nancy Randolph Davis: Oral History Interview with Nancy Randolph Davis – Oklahoma Oral History Research Program – Oklahoma State University Library Digital Collections (Video & Transcript Available) (Page 24)
Civil Rights Work
Nancy was also actively involved in the community, participating in many organizations and was a major Civil Rights activist in the state of Oklahoma. Notably, she was an adviser to the Oklahoma City National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council.
Nancy had become very good friends with Clara Luper while they were teaching together at Dunjee. The two women worked together on many Civil Rights projects – including the drugstore sit-ins at the counters in Oklahoma City which began in 1958. This was the first and longest successful sit-in. Nancy Randolph Davis and Clara Luper recognized the importance of education in shaping activism and were able to use their teaching background to be successful. When asked about Clara Super, Nancy said the following:
Yes, Clara Luper was a good friend of mine. I used to go with her downtown with the sit-in movement. We would open doors at Katz department store, and at the different restaurants like Anna Maude’s Cafeteria, Skirvin Tower Hotel, and the living places where they did not want blacks, we were there. We stopped them from going to places where they had to go to the back door to eat, restaurants. Opened doors to restaurants and hotels.-Nancy Randolph Davis: Oral History Interview with Nancy Randolph Davis – Oklahoma Oral History Research Program – Oklahoma State University Library Digital Collections (Video & Transcript Available) (Page 21)
Additionally, Nancy was member of the Oklahoma Retired Teachers Association, Langston University Alumni Association, OSU Alumni Association, and the OSU Black Alumni Association. When asked how she wanted to be remembered, Nancy Randolph Davis stated:
“I just want them to remember me as a person who was reaching out trying to help others and helping myself. Remember me as a person who was an educated leader. That I was the leader but that they were just as important as I was.”-Nancy Randolph Davis: Oral History Interview with Nancy Randolph Davis – Oklahoma Oral History Research Program – Oklahoma State University Library Digital Collections (Video & Transcript Available) (Page 29)
Nancy Randolph Davis passed away on March 23, 2015. She was 88 years old and has left a lasting legacy for all students at Oklahoma State University and in the state of Oklahoma.
Honors & Awards
Oklahoma State University and the state of Oklahoma have honored Nancy Randolph Davis and her legacy in many ways. I have listed a few of her awards in this post, but this is by no means an extensive list. Nancy Randolph Davis has been celebrated in numerous ways!
- Oklahoma State University gave her the OSU Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999.
- Davis Hall was named in her honor in 2001 – this was a residential hall on the Oklahoma State University campus. Three scholarships were named in her honor at Oklahoma State University beginning in 2001. There is the Nancy Randolph Davis Scholarship for freshmen, continuing students, and graduate students. These scholarships honor Davis’ commitment to education and learning.
- OSU has celebrated “Nancy Randolph Davis Day” every February 1st during Black History Month since 2006.
- She was inducted into the Oklahoma African American Hall of Fame in 2010. Among the other 2010 honorees were Dr. Lilliantyne Williams-Fields, Dr. Linda Toure (representing Opio Toure), Emma Lee Jones-Freeman, Dr. Wallace Owens Jr., and Roosevelt Milton. Opio Toure and Emma Lee Jones-Freeman were given the award posthumously.
- She received the OSU College of Education and Human Sciences’ Enhancing Human Lives Award in 2012.
- She was inducted into the OSU Greek Hall of Fame in 2012.
- She was inducted into the OSU Hall of Fame in 2018.
- There is a 3-mile stretch on Interstate 35 west of Stillwater that is named the Nancy Randolph Davis Memorial Highway. She was given this honor in 2018.
- Oklahoma Governor David Walters designated May 31 as “Nancy Randolph Davis Day” in 1991.
- She received the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
- She was inducted into the Oklahoma Afro American Hall of Fame by Ntu Art Association.
- She was inducted into the Oklahoma African-American Educators Hall of Fame in 2015.
- A bronze sculpture of Nancy Randolph Davis was unveiled in 2019 in front of the then Human Sciences Building. Human Sciences and Human Sciences West were renamed to “Nancy Randolph Davis” and “Nancy Randolph Davis West” to honor her legacy on October 23, 2020.
I love getting to walk around the campus of Oklahoma State University whenever I get the chance. The Nancy Randolph Davis statue is located in the courtyard of the Nancy Randolph Davis building which is in the middle of campus on Monroe Street. The Nancy Randolph Davis Building is on the West side of the road. I hope you’ll take some time to go find this statue!
Happy traveling! I’ll talk to ya soon! 🙂
Oklahoma State University
106 Nancy Randolph Davis
Stillwater, Oklahoma 74078
RESEARCH TIP: Nancy Randolph Davis gave an oral history interview in 2009 at Oklahoma State University. It is linked HERE. The cataloged piece includes a video and a transcript!
“Centennial Offers Up School Reunion,” Sapulpa Daily Herald (Sapulpa, OK) Vol. 83, No. 251, Ed. 1 Friday, July 3, 1998. (The Gateway to Oklahoma History – Database from the Oklahoma Historical Society)
“Building to Remember Student,” Sapulpa Daily Herald (Sapulpa, OK) Vol. 87, No. 88, Ed. 1 Monday, December 24, 2001. (The Gateway to Oklahoma History – Database from the Oklahoma Historical Society)
“OSU Honors First Black Student Nancy Davis,” Sapulpa Daily Herald (Sapulpa, OK) Vol. 91, No. 125, Ed. 1 Sunday, February 5, 2006 (Page 9). (The Gateway to Oklahoma History – Database from the Oklahoma Historical Society)
“A Living Legend: Sapulpa Native Paves the Way for Black Students,” Sapulpa Daily Herald (Sapulpa, OK) Vol. 93, No. 69, Ed. 1 Friday, February 1, 2008 (Page 1 & 4). (The Gateway to Oklahoma History – Database from the Oklahoma Historical Society)
“African-AMerican Hall of Fame Announces 2010 Honorees,” The Oklahoma Eagle (Tulsa, OK) Vol. 90, No. 20, Ed. 1 Friday, May 14, 2010 (Page 5). (The Gateway to Oklahoma History – Database from the Oklahoma Historical Society)
“Oklahoma State University Mourns Loss of Civil Rights Pioneer Nancy Randolph Davis,” The Oklahoma Eagle (Tulsa, OK) Vol. 95, No. 13, Ed. 1 Thursday, March 26, 2015 (Page 8). (The Gateway to Oklahoma History – Database from the Oklahoma Historical Society)
Gloria J. Pollard, “Unforgotten Trailblazer: Nancy O. Randolph Davis,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Historical Society, Volume 90, Number 4, Winter 2012-13 (Winter 2012) Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (The Gateway to Oklahoma History – Database from the Oklahoma Historical Society)