A statue depicting Nancy Randolph Davis, the first African-American student to attend Oklahoma A&M College, was dedicated in a ceremony Thursday when her lifesize sculpture was unveiled on the Oklahoma State University campus. The bronze figure depicts a young student in a graduation cap and gown crossing a threshold and looking ahead to a bright future.
Davis became a civil rights pioneer in 1949 when she crossed racial barriers to enroll at OSU, earning a master’s degree in 1952. A large crowd, including many members of Davis’ family, OSU students and officials and Davis’ former students from when she was a high school teacher, were on hand at the College of Human Sciences for the ceremony and unveiling of the statue, only the second on campus honoring an individual with a lifelike sculpture.
Speaking for the artist Jane DeDecker, College of Human Sciences Dean Dr. Stephan Wilson said the statue depicts Davis as the proud, forward-thinking young graduate in a thoughtful demeanor as she crosses the threshold of opportunity. The Davis statue is in the Human Sciences courtyard facing Monroe Street on the OSU campus.
“My mother, if she were here, would probably say I don’t need all that. It’s too much, said Calvin Davis. “She would say she wouldn’t want it to be about her. She would want it to be a beacon of hope, of determination, of encouragement.”
Davis earned a bachelor’s degree from Langston University in 1948 before enrolling at Oklahoma A&M, where she was required to sit in the hallway outside a classroom. Her fellow students complained until she was ultimately allowed a seat in the class. Davis earned a master’s degree in home economics from what is today the College of Human Sciences and taught home economics in Oklahoma high schools for 43 years.
“This sculpture represents an incredibly powerful and profound moment for this institution. This is a commitment to inclusion that is unwavering,” said Dr. Jason F. Kirksey, vice president for institutional diversity and OSU’s chief diversity officer.
Throughout her life, Davis remained active in the civil rights movement in the state including working as an adviser to the Oklahoma City National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth Council. In 2008, she received the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission Lifetime Achievement Award.
Honors from her alma mater include the Enhancing Human Lives Award from the College of Human Sciences, the OSU Distinguished Alumni Award and a 2018 induction into the OSU Alumni Hall of Fame. And though she wasn’t allowed to live on the Oklahoma A&M campus as a student, OSU named a residence hall in her honor in 2001.
Davis was also recognized in 2018 by the state, which named a three-mile stretch of Interstate 35 west of Stillwater the Nancy Randolph Davis Memorial Highway. She died in 2015 at the age of 88.
OSU President Burns Hargis referred to the inscription on the statue quoting Davis who said, “I didn’t set out to make history, I just wanted to earn my education.”
“Well, she made history, and we’ve all benefited from her,” Hargis said. “So, every time we walk by the statue we need to thank her for all she did.”