City honoring historic figure with updated signs

City crews recently started changing out signs along Dr. Willa A. Strong Boulevard to highlight and honor the namesake who was a pioneering educator in McAlester.

Dr. Willa Allegra Strong's legacy is deeply rooted in her contributions to McAlester Public Schools, especially L'Ouverture Elementary and High School, where she served as a principal for 30 years. Citizen Maureen Harrison recently told city councilors at a meeting about Dr. Strong and asked them to help educate people about the historic figure by adding her full name to the signs along the street dedicated in her honor.

Harrison said she believed it was important to honor Dr. Strong because she was a longtime public educator and civic leader known nationwide for her commitment to academic excellence.

"The community is very grateful to see this civic leader’s legacy being recognized," Harrison said. " Dr. Strong's legacy will serve as a source of inspiration for generations."

Strong was born in 1908 in South McAlester and pursued higher education at the University of Kansas and the University of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in education from the University of Oklahoma. She began teaching at L'Ouverture in 1929 and became principal in 1939, influencing countless students through her dedication and advocacy for Black history education.

After the integration of L'Ouverture with McAlester Public Schools in 1968, Dr. Strong continued to serve as vice principal at McAlester Junior High School until her retirement in 1970. She also served as president of the East Central District Association of Negro Teachers and the Oklahoma Association of Negro Teachers.

Dr. Strong died in 1971 and the L'Ouverture Alumni Association dedicated a monument to her in 1978 on the street that bears her name. Her influence was also recognized posthumously with her induction into the Oklahoma African American Educators Hall of Fame in 2014.

Ward 2 Councilor Justin Few said he didn't know about the street's namesake until Harrison spoke at the meeting and he thought it was important to update the signs before upcoming Juneteenth festivities in the community.

"I thought this was just a great way to honor one of the leaders of McAlester and educate the community," Few said. "This is such a cool piece of history for McAlester that's been overlooked, and I thank Maureen for bringing it to the council's attention."

"Updating the street signs to honor Dr. Willa A. Strong is an important step in recognizing the profound impact she had on our education system and our community," City Manager Dave Andren said. "This highlights her legacy of excellence and serves as a symbol of our city's appreciation for her invaluable contributions."

“Dr. Willa Strong made a significant positive impact on our community,” Mayor John Browne said. “This slight change to our street signs will better honor her legacy and showcase the significance she had in our community.” 

Few and Andren discovered the street signs matter didn't require council action through the street renaming procedures because the signs were being changed to the street's originally approved name.

Council members on Aug. 12, 1975 renamed Eleventh Street, Thirteenth Street and the connecting loop from Electric Avenue to East South Avenue as "Dr. Willa A. Strong Boulevard." The roadway includes some of the city's busiest intersections and connects important locations like McAlester Regional Health Center, Eastern Oklahoma State College, the Warren Clinic, McAlester High School, Puterbaugh Middle School, Will Rogers Elementary, and more.

Crews recently started updating signs at intersections with stop lights and will continue changing out the signs along Dr. Willa A. Strong Boulevard.

Harrison thanked Few and the City of McAlester for making the changes to better recognize Dr. Strong.