Education leader to be honored with highway dedication

Education leader to be honored with highway dedication

Ethel Hedgeman Lyle taught in Eufaula in 1909

By Jerry Fink

Managing Editor Eufaula Indian Journal

Eufaula will be in the national spotlight Saturday when a stretch of SH 9 south of town will be dedicated to the memory of Ethel Hedgeman Lyle – who, in 1909, became Oklahoma’s first African American teacher, according to a spokesperson for the international Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

The Ethel Hedgeman Lyle Memorial Highway Ribbon Cutting Ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday on SH 9 between the VFW and the Pittsburg County line.

Brenda A. Lewis, of Tulsa, who is one of the organizers of the dedication ceremony, said Lyle taught music for one year at Sumner Normal School in Eufaula as her first teaching assignment after graduating from Howard University in Washington D.C.

Sumner was a school that trained high school graduates to become teachers. They were called “normal” schools because they taught “the norms of education.”

“We are excited about the dedication,” Lewis said. “Members from all over region will be there.”

Dedication of the highway was approved by the Oklahoma Legislature last year, Lewis said.

While at Howard, in 1908 Lyle was the primary founder of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, which is now the oldest Greek-letter organization in America established by black college women.

The Sorority’s International President Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson, its 24th International President Eva L. Evans, Mid-Western Regional Director Jan M. Carpenter-Baker and other current and former members of the AKA’s Board of Directors will be among those who will attend the event.

Eufaula native Regina Bassett McCarty, a graduate of Eufaula High School and a member of the Sorority, also is expected to attend.

McCarty now lives in Wichita, Kan.

AKA members from Dallas, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Chicago will attend the ceremony as well.

In addition to becoming the first college-educated black teacher in Oklahoma, Lyle was the first African American teacher to receive a Teacher's Life Certificate from the Oklahoma State Department of Education

After leaving Oklahoma in 1910, Lyle moved to Centralia, Ill., where she taught in public schools.

Lyle had a forty-year career as an educator and was active in public life. She was national treasurer of the AKA sorority for more than twenty years, and founder and first president of Omega Omega, its first alumnae chapter in Philadelphia and was the founder of the West Philadelphia chaper of the League of Women Voters.

In 2000, the Ethel Hedgeman Lyle Academy, a charter school in St. Louis, Mo., was founded in her honor.

Lyle died in 1950.

Carpenter-Baker said Lyle’s assignment in Eufaula was significant, and therefore the AKA decided to honor her with the highway dedication ceremony.

“That was her first teaching position, which makes it significant to us,” she said. “It is a great honor for us to come to Eufaula to do the unveiling of the highway signs.

President Wilson says because of Lyle part of the AKA’s history is in Oklahoma and they wanted to come here to honor her.

“We are doing similar things with our past national presidents,” Wilson said.

In July B. Beatrice Scott and Ida L. Jackson were honored in Vicksburg, Miss. Scott was national president from 1925 to 1927, Jackson from 1933-1936.

“We want to make sure those who built this organization are recognized,” Wilson said.

AKA has 60,000 active members; 965 chapters nationwide and 15 internationally.

“Once we graduate college, work with the sorority does not end,” Wilson said. “It is a lifetime of service.

“We go into chapters in communities nationwide.”

The AKA works with young people, families and adults all over the country, Wilson said.

“We invest heavily in young people going to college,” she said.

Wilson said the AKA provides service in many ways, including scholarships.

“We keep the organization alive, vibrant and thriving,” she said. “We perpetuate it through active service.”