Lifting Roscoe Dunjee to the Light

By William Franklin

In the past few years there has been a movement by journalists, scholars, and activists which
continues the tradition of affirming the status of African-Americans as first-class citizens of this
country.  From the 1619 Project through the Black Lives Matter movement to the 100 th
Anniversary of the Tulsa Wall Street Massacre, these movements and moments have galvanized
the community to show unequivocal support and to even encourage people to become active in
the movement.

It has also inspired others to find ways to contribute to the cause. For me that contribution was to
ensure that Roscoe Dunjee was properly honored with the other great citizens of this state as an
inductee in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

Roscoe Dunjee was a towering figure in the Black community in the early years of the state.
Born in West Virginia in 1883 and moving to Oklahoma territory in 1892, the young Mr. Dunjee
displayed a dazzling intellect and a tireless work ethic that would serve him well in his pursuit of
future endeavors. After his father died in 1903, Mr. Dunjee helped support his family by raising
and selling vegetables. He attended what is now Langston University for a short time, where he
learned printing. He bought a printing plant and started the “Black Dispatch” newspaper in 1915.
The newspaper became the foundation for his work advocating for the rights of African
Americans in the Oklahoma City community, the state, and the nation. 

Mr. Dunjee’s leadership manifest itself in numerous ways. He brought the NAACP to Oklahoma,
helping to establish their state chapter in 1936 and leading its executive board for 25 years. He
spearheaded voter education and training for African Americans in Oklahoma City through the
Progressive Voter’s League. He supported legal actions against discrimination, such as Ada Lois
Sipuel Fisher’s successful lawsuit to gain admission into the University of Oklahoma’s law
school.   He fought fervently against housing discrimination laws.

Mr. Dunjee also worked to expand economic opportunities for African Americans in Oklahoma
and throughout United States. He was active in the National Negro Business League, serving as
its president from 1944 to 1947. Mr. Dunjee was lauded for his efforts with such honors as
having a school named after him (Dunjee High School, 1947-1972), the NAACP Merit Award
for Distinguished Service in 1935, and a host of other awards. The Oklahoma State Legislature
honored Mr. Dunjee with a resolution in his honor after his passing in 1965 and he is in the
Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame; however, he was conspicuously absent from the Oklahoma
Hall of Fame.

I was reading the book “Boom Town” by Sam Anderson when I found out Mr. Dunjee was not
in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. I called the Hall and to my chagrin they not only confirmed that
he was not an inductee, but he had never been nominated. While disappointed by this news I saw
it as an opportunity for me to act on his behalf. I viewed it as a small thank you to him and all
those who came before me for the work they had done for future generations of Black
Oklahomans. In addition to my research, I reached out to Russell Perry, a protégé of Mr. Dunjee,
to talk to him about Mr. Dunjee. I sat in the Perry Publishing and Broadcasting headquarters with

Mr. Perry and his son Kevin and received a master class on Mr. Dunjee and his work in
Oklahoma City and the state. I left that conversation with my position reinforced and my
commitment to seeing this through to the end goal reaffirmed. I went to the Oklahoma Historical
Association and the Library of Congress in Washington DC. I looked up old newspapers, pored
over books, and even went to the Fairlawn Cemetery in Northwest Oklahoma City where Mr.
Dunjee was laid to rest.

I spent a year preparing the nominating packet, and with great pride I submitted Mr. Dunjee’s
nominating packet in time for time for the 2020 class. We had to wait another year for his
nomination to be accepted but it was worth the wait. It’s not just correcting an oversight. It is a
step in the forward progress of making sure that black history is properly documented and
highlighted, but we must ensure that our history is woven into the fabric that is Oklahoma history
and American history, because those stories are not complete without us.

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