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Fannie became attuned to discrimination against minorities as a child, and wasted no time in joining the struggle for equal rights and opportunities alongside them. At 18, attending Easter Oklahoma State College, she founded that school’s first multi-racial co-ed student-led organization. In 1971 she joined the NAACP, and has been a member ever since. She has served on the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma State and Regional Executive Boards for that organization. She has also worked with the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes and other indigenous organizations.
She is a creative person as well, playing multiple instruments, and teaching others those skills. She also is a community theater playwright and producer, having used her talents to educate and advocate for dignity and justice for all through stage productions that address AIDS and other timely issues. After attending law school (but not graduating), Fannie spent several years working in legal services to assist attorneys working to help those not getting a fair shake from the criminal justice system in Oklahoma.
All of that would qualify Fannie for this human rights award, but there is another tremendous and long service role she has played in central Oklahoma — as an elementary and special education teacher, focusing her employment in inner city schools with the most vulnerable children. She did not just teach, she became a trusted friend and mentor for her student, and all too frequently to her students’ siblings and parents, or extended family. She organized countless numbers of extra activities to give students a well-rounded and fun-filled education: talent shows, science fairs, cultural outings, and those frequently took place on her days off, but Fannie never really had a day off as a teacher, not in her own mind, anyway.
And her connection with those students did not end with on the last day they attended her classroom, but carried on for years if not decades, as she continued her relationship of education, inspiration and coaching as they journeyed through the rest of their lives, in school and beyond. She saw the possibilities in so many young people who others had passed over or dismissed as beyond reach or without a chance. She helped them find their passions, focus their mind and propel their drive to excel, leading them forward with affirmations of their abilities, and then giving them the tools to go on to higher learning, in some cases getting full scholarships to Ivy League universities. One of Fannie’s obsessions as both an educator and activist is the life stories of people of color who have contributed greatly to their communities and our country, but who have been too often forgotten.
She uses every opportunity to tell those stories and make sure we remember those who came before us in the fight for equality. One such person is Roscoe Dunjee, the Oklahoma man who started the first African American newspaper in Oklahoma, among many other accomplishments. After retiring as a teacher in the public schools, Fannie, who was by no means done educating, started a very unique school which she named for that hero of hers: Dunjee International School. She has been teaching English to people in Afghanistan, including women and girls, over the Internet. Six days a week, Fannie gets up in the middle of the night — which of course is daytime in central Asia — and runs her students through lessons from beginning to advanced English usage, both aural and written. Her technique, which includes having her students in turn teach others in their community, has been changing lives of women and girls in a culture where the chances to learn are limited. With English speaking skills, they can gain employment in a variety of respected career fields, support their families and if necessary attain independent living.
There are many other significant contributions to human rights that Fannie has made, but with time constraints let it just be said that Fannie Bates is more than worthy of recognition as a Oklahoma human rights hero and deserves our thanks for all she’s done and continues to selflessly do for others.