Norman City Councilors passed a proclamation formally acknowledging, condemning and apologizing for the city’s former status as a “sundown town.”

Until 1967, there was an agreement among realtors to not sell homes to minorities. That was until Dr. George Henderson, his wife, mother-in-law and seven children moved to town.

 

“I didn’t really realize until after we got here that this was a sundown town,” Henderson said.

Years later, Henderson asked the realtor why his company sold the home to the family.

“He told me if we had not sold you a house, I couldn’t’ have lived with my conscience,” Henderson remembered.

“To move us forward from our past, we have to acknowledge it,” Norman Mayor Breea Clark said. “The point of the proclamation is not to make people feel bad, it’s to acknowledge where we were and where we want to go in the future.”

Even though Henderson was able to purchase a home, not everybody in Norman was ready for its first African American family.

“Obscene telephone calls, garbage on the lawn, people yelling profanities, racial slurs, police stopping me at night asking why I was in the neighborhood,” Henderson recalled. “It was just the opposite of what I was looking for.”

While Henderson was the third African American professor at the University of Oklahoma, none before dared to live in town. Even OU’s first African American student, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, lived in Oklahoma City while attending the school after struggling to gain admittance in 1949.

Even after death threats to him and his family, Henderson said Norman was always the place he was meant to live and teach.

“I talked about wanting and supporting desegregation. I lived in an all-black neighborhood until we moved to Norman.” Henderson said. “Norman, Oklahoma gave me an opportunity to be an honest teacher of integration because we live it here.”

“What was it like?” Henderson asked. “It was my moment of truth.”

Henderson said he will accept the proclamation tonight, but he believes his victory came just a few years after moving to town, when the Norman Human Rights Council was formed to improve life for minorities. His wife Barbara played a key role in the commission’s early years.

“We talked about love in the Civil Rights Movement, I found it here, on this campus, in this town,” Henderson said. “We have become Norman, not just in proclamation, but in terms of living.”