Members of a committee assigned with developing a plaza on the state Capitol grounds to honor Oklahoma’s black history are concerned racial prejudice may be blocking their efforts.
Sen. Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, tried unsuccessfully this past session to get legislation passed to give supporters another five years to raise money for the plaza, which now is estimated to cost $10 million. Original estimates were $2 million. The measure was included as an amendment to a Senate bill and passed the House of Representatives, but the amendment was taken out in the version approved by the Senate.
Johnson says she expects opposition to the plaza project next session.
“That’s what we found out this year,” she said Wednesday.
Committee member Ernest Holloway says he is appalled legislators did not extend the fundraising deadline. The land is to revert back to the state Monday, according to the 2006 legislation, because money for the project has not been raised.
“It is outright disgraceful,” said Holloway, former president of Langston University. “Oklahoma apparently is not ready to acknowledge part of its citizens who made a contribution to this great state.
“We’ve got to re-energize this or otherwise we won’t ever get this done,” he said.
Legislation passed in 2006 approving the project gave supporters two years to raise money for the plaza, to be built in the median of Lincoln Boulevard, just north of NE 18. Legislators declined to appropriate state money for the plaza.
Johnson says fundraising efforts stalled last year because it was uncertain whether the committee could use money raised for the plaza to pay for efforts to secure contributions. The sculptor selected by the committee, Ron Firmin, agreed to raise money for the project for a fee. About $28,000 was raised, with about $12,000 being paid to Firmin for his sketches and proposal.
Committee members suggested Johnson contact the Oklahoma Centennial Commission’s nonprofit entity, which is holding the unspent $16,000 raised for the project, to see if it would handle fundraising efforts for the plaza.
They also encouraged Johnson to draft legislation to be introduced next session that would again reserve the tract of land for the plaza and give supporters more time to raise money. Getting support from various state and community leaders also was suggested.
Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau