An incident at an agriculture education organization’s convention, sparked outrage after it was made public in a release from the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus.
According to members of the Caucus, 70-year-old Elk City Agriculture teacher Larry Long was being honored for retiring after 49 years of teaching. During the ceremony, Long asked a black colleague to join him on stage, where he presented him with a white robe, hood and what some say was a confederate flag. All symbols of the hate-group the Klu Klux Klan. Long was also heard making several racist comments.
Some close to Long say the incident was meant as a joke. The incident was confirmed to be true by the organization, CareerTech and the Elk City School district. CareerTech has an education department which provides resources in agriculture for Oklahoma teachers.
In the release, members of the Caucus said attendees of the CareerTech convention were told not to talk to the media about what happened, and they were told to erase all evidence of it from their phones.
“I was just tired, disgusted and discouraged,” Caucus Vice Chair Rep. George Young (D-Oklahoma City) said. “Because I feel like we've had enough of this and it just kind of made me very sad as we continue to encounter these types of events.”
The Caucus members also called for diversity training and the positioning of more African-Americans in the agency. CareerTech officials said the department would be conducting an immediate internal investigation and would begin working to increase diversity within the department.
In a statement, CareerTech spokesperson Paula Bowles said "the department does not condone or tolerate this type of behavior and finds it totally unacceptable. We are taking steps to ensure this type of offensive behavior does not occur in the future. This incident is not representative of the CareerTech system."
Elk City Schools recently voted to rename a building after Long to honor his career, according to the minutes of a board meeting in May. However, in a statement Thursday the School Board said it would be removing his name from the building, saying in part, the seriousness of [Long's] actions do not align with the district's philosophy.
Long had received several state and local accolades during his tenure as an agriculture teacher including his work with the Future Farmers of America organization. It’s unclear whether there were similar racially charged incidents in the past surrounding Long, but Young said he suspects that would be the case.
“You would have to believe existed and so it may have shown itself, revealed itself, exposed and manifested itself in some form or fashion to students and other individuals,” Young said.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch Tracking System, Oklahoma is home to 17 different hate groups. Ten of those groups were classified as KKK groups, although none were located near Elk City.
News 9 reached out to Long, and he did not return a request for a comment about the incident.
But Thursday evening Long released a statement to the Associated Press saying, " he says he realizes his actions were 'harmful, offensive and hurtful'." Also according the the Associated Press, Long says he requested a meeting with the members of the Oklahoma Black Caucus.