Vol. 8: Sandra Alexander ’69
Excerpt from the Holland Hall History Book Volume II, written by former faculty Ron Palma.
“In order for there to be change, somebody has to be first.”
So says Sandra Jeane Alexander ’69, Holland Hall’s first African American graduate. Ms. Alexander not only graduated from Holland Hall in 1969 after two years at the school but also served on the Board of Trustees for 12 years (1988–92 and 1996–2002), where she was again the school’s first African American representative.Her motivation to attend Holland Hall came from her mother, but the opportunity came from her father, John. He was a popular bartender and waiter at postwar social gatherings of upper-class Tulsans, in their homes or venues such as the Tulsa Club and the Petroleum Club. The wives of Tulsa’s civic leaders and corporate executives often engaged John Alexander in conversation while making party arrangements. They asked his opinion on topics such as what should be done about segregation in Tulsa. Alexander worked many parties hosted by Holland Hall’s headmaster and patrons for 40 years. “Dad became part of Holland Hall. He was an institution.” She says, “One evening Daddy came home from working a party and brought with him a Holland Hall catalog.”“Our next-door neighbor was Mr. Marshall, who was in his 80s, and when he died, he left funds for my brother Paul and me to attend college. My family used these funds to send me to Holland Hall. When I arrived at school for the first day to buy books, accompanied by my father, a number of students, who knew him through their parents’ social events, ran up to greet him. Several came up to me and said, “I’m going to be your friend.”Ms. Alexander’s transition to Holland Hall was not without its challenges. She has a vivid memory of receiving in August, before school opened, an engraved invitation to be a debutante. “All Holland Hall girls were debs,” she said. “Nobody knew me yet; nobody knew that I was a tomboy and that I would only wear a dress under duress. Plus, I was black.”
Holland Hall class of 1969.Ms. Alexander’s dream was to become a sports photojournalist, but she characterizes herself as “a Renaissance person.” As a young student, she became a “techie,” interested in the New Math and writing programs in the computer programming language of Fortran. True to the variety of her interests, she worked in the archives at Gilcrease Museum for her Holland Hall senior intern project. On a full-tuition scholarship, she became a political science major at Swarthmore College, in Philadelphia. Ms. Alexander graduated from the University of Tulsa law school in 1976 as the third black female law graduate in Oklahoma and was the only African American female in private practice until the late 1980s. Ms. Alexander has served as an adjunct college professor and as a municipal court judge, as well as working in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C. She serves or has served on various civic and national boards, including Hillcrest Medical Center, Leadership Oklahoma, Trinity Ministries, and Planned Parenthood, and she has been active as a member and leader in civic organizations. Interestingly, as she reflected on her life, she said, “I have suffered more discrimination as a woman, than as a black.”
“Holland Hall totally changed the course of my life. I was the first.”
“My [Holland Hall] education assured me access, but it was up to me what I did with it.” She spoke of the late sixties as a time when segregationists in Tulsa were trying to prevent integration. Ms. Alexander observes that Holland Hall did not want to become such a school and preemptively and publicly decided to seek out African American students for admission. She paraphrases the Holland Hall attitude: “We’re going to stop doing things this way. The status quo will not be the future.” She says, “Holland Hall totally changed the course of my life. I was the first.”