Local civil rights and education icon Thelma Reece Parks was laid to rest Wednesday. She died last week at the age of 96.
Parks’s memorial service brought hundreds of people to Fairview Missionary Baptist Church to honor her. The main message for friends and family was that giving the way she did is essential to living.
Granddaughter Diaka Melendez said to the crowd, “For as many people to talk about my grandmother the way that she was when she was a teacher, I know she had to be a good teacher.”
Over her more than 50-year education career, Parks was among the first teachers to integrate Oklahoma City schools and continued to fight for equality for all students as a school board member.
Former mayor Kirk Humphreys remembers their time on the board together fondly.
“I showed up to her home, picked her up, and she was so delighted,” Humphreys said. “She said, ‘this is Driving Miss Daisy!”
As the crowd laughed more than cried, the impact Parks had was apparent in her students who showed up to pay their respects.
Close friend Joyce Henderson also remarked on how special it was for Parks to have a school named after her while she was still alive.
“Those children got to touch and hug the person for which their school was named,” said Henderson. “Now that is living history.”
Sen. George Young (D-Oklahoma City) went on to say how Parks inspired him to go into politics after becoming a pastor, but her grandchildren gave an inside look at her personal life.
Parks was full of sharp wit and brutal honesty, and Russell Carter remembers when he moved into the house his grandmother owned across the street from her own.
Carter recalled, with a round of laughter in response, “She said, ‘The rent is due on the first of the month.’ I turned around to her. I said, ‘Isn’t this my house?’ She said, ‘Not yet!’”
Loved ones now encourage everyone else to raise capable children for the community.
Eulogist and Fairview pastor Rev. Dr. John A. Reed, Jr. said, “We all sitting here today know that we have not truly realized that dream as yet, but we are still fighting.”
The family asks that instead of flowers or money you may want to give them in Parks’s honor, please donate to her namesake elementary school to keep her legacy going.