One of the things I love about my research on Oklahoma is that I have an abundance of interesting sources. Sometimes it feels like I have too many sources. I struggle to decide how to deploy them and which ones to highlight in the text of my chapters. This video from 1957 is one of those sources. It was created as a part of the Oklahoma Semi-Centennial by the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. It operates as both an industrial recruiting tool and a reflective history of the state’s growth and modernization. Similarly to the video, the OKC Chamber also paid to have a special sixteen-page section in the March 10, 1957 New York Times, promoting the state and celebrating its Golden Anniversary. The celebration in 1957 was a HUGE moment for the state that featured a World’s Fair type of exposition themed “From Arrows to Atoms” and prominently featuring exhibits sponsored by the Frontiers of Science Foundation of Oklahoma. Videos like this one built on that mood and longstanding efforts begun as early as 1947 to both diversify the state’s economy and rehabilitate its image.
Football, I argue, was at the center of many of these efforts, and like its inclusion in this video, it held a central place in the Semi-Centennial celebration. Bud Wilkinson has his own “day” at the exposition in June-July, and as the actual anniversary of statehood approached in November, the Sooners’ undefeated streak kept the state in national headlines. Indeed, as the Semi-Centennial Celebration concluded with a “Pride in Oklahoma Week” leading up to its Founder’s Day, Oklahoma invaded primetime. Eisenhower gave a speech on “Our Future Security” from Oklahoma City on November 13 before Oklahoma hosted Notre Dame in the national game of the week as it sought to extend its winning streak to 48 consecutive games on Saturday, November 16 — the state’s 50th birthday. Unfortunately, Oklahoma lost, spoiling (to some extent) the party, but, as I argue, the state had already won. Steinbeck reversed course on his pejorative “Okie” stereotype and became embraced as an “Oklahoma Booster” that May, business had begun flooding in, too. As early as 1954, Oklahoma boasted that it was in the “economic top 10,” the Cowboy Hall of Fame was under construction after picking OKC over other cities, and Senator Mike Monroney, who once hoped that Oklahoma City could “become the Detroit of the aviation industry,” continued on his quest to keep the CAA in OKC (he’d write the FAA bill in 1958, accomplishing this task).
As you can see from this synopsis, this chapter could probably be its own book. Instead, it is my penultimate chapter, tying together efforts of boosters to build the state and change its image. Other chapters help set the stage exploring the history of the state and the football team before I tackle things such as the growth of the university, fights with the NCAA on who controls and regulates football and television, and racial integration. The last two chapters are where I try to connect and explain how winning football paved the way for economic development and political transformations. Throughout each chapter, I focus on how the team serves as a key public relations tool for the state and the university, giving it cultural cache in conversations with business and political leaders that help propel its coach, Bud Wilkinson, into electoral politics. The larger project, I see as an important blending of sport history and political history that also pushes certain aspects of Sunbelt history into the 1950s. I see Wilkinon’s football success during the 1950s as central to the rehabilitation of the “Okie” image from Steinbeck to Haggard, helping with Oklahoma’s economic diversification and pushing the state to the right politically laying the groundwork for OKC and Tulsa to be important Sunbelt cities in Kevin Philips New Republican Majority.
Now if only I could stop being so indecisive on how and where to use certain sources and just finish my last two chapters….