Concerned citizens have made Lawton what it is today. They visualized what this community could be, and they took the steps to make it happen.

That was the message of Albert Johnson Jr., Cameron University vice president for university advancement, who was the guest speaker at the installation's annual Black History Month observance Feb. 21 at the Patriot Club.

"What began as the Emancipation Proclamation has resulted in an amazing community," said Johnson, a retired colonel, whose last Army assignment was as the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill deputy commanding officer and Field Artillery School assistant commandant in 2007.

He cited Brown versus the Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as well as the actions of individuals such as the commanding general of Fort Sill, the Lawton mayor, and citizens, that led to social changes in Lawton.

"Let us commit with our efforts today to ensure our community continues to grow and to prosper with equities and opportunities for all," he said.

The annual commemoration was co-sponsored by the 434th Field Artillery Brigade and Installation Equal Employment Opportunity Office, and hosted by Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general.

This year's theme is "At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington."

The Lawton-Fort Sill Chapter 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Association Buffalo Soldiers posted the colors, and Staff Sgt. Joshua Hills, 95th Adjutant General Battalion, performed "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The program featured entertainment by Jeanette Davis, Fort Sill Protocol officer, singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," Todd Corbitt, of Atlanta, performing "Change Gonna Come" and Jeremyra Cross, Cameron University Ebony Society, who recited the "Million Man March." The lunch included smothered pork chops, fried chicken, collard greens, red beans and rice, and cornbread.

Family heritage
Johnson, who grew up in Lawton, said: "I'm a proud graduate of Douglass Elementary School, a proud grad of Central Junior High School, a proud grad of Lawton High School, then Cameron University."

He spoke about his family's history in Lawton.

His grandfather was a Buffalo Soldier, who served at Fort Sill in the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. His grandfather later served alongside Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, who worked with black troops and had high regards for those Soldiers.

His father Albert Johnson Sr., age 85, was born at Fort Sill in Taylor Hall, which then was the post hospital. Johnson Sr. was the last principal at Douglass High School in 1966, and he went on to become the deputy superintendent of the Lawton Public School system.

Johnson's mother, Jo, now 88, graduated from North Carolina College for Negroes, now North Carolina Central University, at the age of 19.

She moved to Lawton in 1954 to run the black United Service Organization (USO). It's now the Patterson Community Center.

In the 1970s at the USO, she created the Quality of Life program which taught spouses at Fort Sill about Army life and community services.

Johnson said he believes his mother's work was the seed for Army Family Team Building programs because Gen. Dennis Reimer, who was deputy commandant of the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill in the early 1980s, implemented many similar programs in the Army when he become the Army Chief of Staff from 1995 to 1999.

"The next time that you are looking at Army Family Team Building, think of my mom, Jo Johnson," he said.

Inspirational officers
In his remarks, Johnson talked about Lt. Henry Flipper, the first black graduate of the United States Military Academy in 1877. As a young engineering officer, Flipper worked at Fort Sill and created a field drainage system. It is still in use and known as "Flipper's Ditch."

Johnson also spoke about Col. Charles Young, the third black graduate of West Point, and the first black colonel in the military. He later commanded Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

"When you talk about a legacy of greatness, you think about Charles Young and what his role was," Johnson said.

Johnson spoke about Mrs. Spears, a colonel's wife here, who in the 1960s helped implement social change by refusing to patronize Lawton businesses that had segregation policies. She along with several couples would go and sit in restaurants. If the business did not serve blacks, the couples would simultaneously leave.

Family legacy
McDonald thanked Johnson, called his speech phenomenal and presented him with a plaque.
"He comes from a legacy, is a legacy and leaves a legacy," McDonald said of Johnson. "Your words were absolutely on target."