As a prominent member of the local civil rights movement, Melvin Porter was elected to the Oklahoma Senate as its first African-American member 50 years ago.
The Oklahoma Senate honored Porter with a resolution Wednesday.
“There was a general attitude that we stay where we are,” Porter, 84, said about Oklahoma City’s black community at the time of his election. “The white community did not want the black community to infringe on it. The lines were pretty well drawn that separated black and white.”
Prior to Porter’s election, there was only one Senate district representing Oklahoma City, the state’s largest city. Following a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that state legislative districts be based on population, the door was opened for Oklahoma City to have nine senators, including Porter, who began his term in District 48 in 1965 and served for 22 years.
“The old guard, leadership in the black community, came to me and asked me not to run,” Porter told Oklahoma Gazette before his recognition by the Senate Wednesday. “I said, ‘No. It’s open, and I’m going to run for it.’”
Porter beat F.D. Moon and Republican Jim Duke.
During his tenure, Porter introduced Oklahoma’s Anti-Discrimination Act and legislation to include black history in textbooks.
“He wanted to live in an environment where all people are treated equally,” said Sonya Porter, one of Melvin’s seven children. “Just being in his household was a household where you were taught to appreciate everything you have, to give to others and fight for equality.”
Porter’s election was one in a series of historic moments for Oklahoma City’s African-American community, which was fighting for the right to have equal access to restaurants just two years prior. Prior to his election to the Senate, Porter was president of the Oklahoma City National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“When Oklahoma redistricted based on population for the first time in 1964, many injustices were finally addressed,” Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, said. “The greatest of these was the lack of African-American representation in our Oklahoma Senate. Senator Porter’s election 50 years ago was a major milestone, and one that I am glad we took the time to recognize. I hope all Oklahomans will take a moment to consider what his election meant to our state.”
Contemplating his election and the local civil rights effort 50 years ago, Porter said he was proud of the lack of violence, especially when compared to other parts of the country.
“I had a little temper about things that were not right, but there was never any striking out,” Porter said. “The Good Lord has blessed us abundantly, and I just thank God for the opportunities to see change take place.”