‘A Period of Growth’: OU Alumnus Reflects on the Impact of his OU Experience
While attending the University of Oklahoma during the 1960s, Elmer Ray Jackson had to overcome many challenges as one of the few Black students on campus. The now 73-year-old OU alumnus credits his time at the university and in the OU Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, where he served as what is believed to be the first African American battalion commanding officer, for his productive and successful life.
Eager and excited to attend OU, Jackson quickly came to the realization that things on campus would be very different than they were back in his hometown of Tulsa.
“There were people everywhere on campus, but unlike in the neighborhood where I was raised, they were almost all white,” he recalled. “No one was talking to me. I felt alone even though I eventually met up with about 40 other African American students on campus. As time passed, I formed friendships with Caucasian students from several of my classes. Campus was officially integrated; however, many people were not welcoming.”
With the Vietnam War draft in full swing, Jackson decided to join the NROTC, which trains future officers in both the Navy and Marine Corps. It was 1966, and Jackson was one of only two Black cadets. He forged strong friendships with other cadets, though his relationship with the midshipmen remained strictly “cordial.” Eventually, Jackson switched to the Marine Corps option, citing that it was a better fit for him.
In 1968, during his junior year as a double major in business marketing and business management, Jackson married his high school sweetheart, Doris Jean Crutcher, who left her studies at Langston University to join him as an OU student. Doris – who came to OU with a 4.0 GPA to study business education – helped ground him and inspired him to study more and attend classes regularly.
Elmer Ray Jackson and his wife, Doris
“I couldn’t let her outdo me too much,” he quipped. “My life, and grades, radically changed for the better. My Marine officer instructor, Maj. Howard L. ‘Tank’ Long, told me that he couldn’t believe the transformation that I went through after my marriage. He said I was a new person. Told me to keep it up and that I was going to do great things.”
“Tremendously honored” is how Jackson described his reaction upon being selected as the first African American battalion commanding officer at OU. “Many people underestimated me because I was Black. I just needed an opportunity to demonstrate who I was and what I was capable of. Serving as battalion commanding officer was an introduction to a world larger than I had previously known. I loved it and wanted more than ever to do a great job in the Marine Corps and represent well.”
In 1971, Jackson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he achieved the rank of captain and earned his Pilot/Aviator’s Wings and flew the Phantom F4J fighter jet aircraft. Later, as a civilian, he was a flight instructor in charge of training military jet pilots in the intricacies of aerial navigation and combat. He served until Dec. 31, 1977.
Jackson, who would later become an ordained minister, now resides in San Marcos, Texas, where he established Lone Oak Fresh Air Farm – a West Side Christian Academy program that helps inner-city children connect with nature.
Jackson describes his time at OU as a “period of growth,” having benefited just as much from the challenges as he did the opportunities at OU.
“I look at the kids at school now and just smile because progress is being made,” he said. “As we become more receptive of others, good things are going to happen – we will have a better country, world and lives.”
By Jerri Culpepper
Article Published: Wednesday, August 25, 2021