By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Today, she greets everyone who comes into Booker T. Washington Community Center with a smile. Miss Pinky is an icon at the center, and with good reason.
Mary Laster-Porter, nicknamed Miss Pinky, has lived in Enid for most of her life and contributed to changing times here, all while raising six children of her own.
Her contributions to the community have made her a finalist for the annual Pillar of the Plains award. The Enid News & Eagle, along with community partners, created the Pillar of the Plains award to honor people who have been active in the community. They have taken on tasks and projects to better the quality of life in our community.
Other finalists for the award are Ken Corbin, Dr. Barbara Whinery and Gail Wynne. The Pillar of the Plains reception is 5:30-7 p.m. Jan. 9 at Convention Hall.
“She is one of those ladies that has done, and continues to do, an incredible amount for the community,” said Sean Byrne, who nominated Miss Pinky for Pillar of the Plains. “But she is the type who is rarely recognized. She’s not out there a lot and she’s done things that have made a huge difference in the community. And she continues to make them.”
Laster-Porter is one of the consistent figures who greet students at the Booker T. Washington Community Center after-school program. While growing up here, she experienced discrimination, segregation, racially motivated church burnings and participated in civil rights demonstrations. But what she is proudest of are her six children.
She moved to Enid at age 4 or 5 and spent the majority of her life here. When she was a young girl, Enid was segregated, as were many other communities in the state. Blacks lived in what was known as the East Park Addition, now called Southern Heights.
She can remember not being able to use certain bathrooms or drink from certain drinking fountains. East Park contained a 14-room boarding house, modern grocery store, ice cream parlor and other businesses. The segregation created a community cohesiveness that shaped her life and future, Byrne said.
During the civil rights era of the 1960s, Miss Pinky was one of the group of people who participated in sit-ins and marches.
“I didn’t know all the time what I was doing, but I went with the others because they were working for the entire community,” she said.
Laster-Porter said there were no paved streets in the East Park Addition. They had no swimming pool until Owens Pool was built by the city.
She remembers leaving school one day and going downtown to Sanford Strunkle drugstore, which did not serve blacks. They sat at the counter and asked to be served and were refused. Eventually, someone telephoned the principal of the school, who sent word for them to return to class immediately, she said. The students left and returned to school.
She also remembers Woolworth, where blacks could work and get orders to go but were not allowed to sit in the store and eat.
Miss Pinky said Enid has improved a lot, and there are lots of opportunities for all people.
“We had some wars with the city. They blacktopped Market Street while I was still in school,” she said.
Before the blacktopping, she recalls walking in the mud to cross the street.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes, and there are better opportunities for children,” she said.
All six of her children graduated high school and were involved in sports.
“I’ve been blessed with that,” she said.
In 1975, she helped establish, with her mother, Herbaline Laster, the seed program that eventually led to the establishment of Booker T. Washington Community Center’s after-school program. Her son, Clifford Porter, who now is executive director of the center, began attending there when he was 14 years old, when the program was operated by Dorice Allen.
“It gives the kids somewhere to go and keeps them off the streets. They work on their homework, get a meal and have activities,” Laster-Porter said.
Laster-Porter attended Carver School, then Booker T. Washington High School, which closed in the 1960s. She married and moved to Chicago, but eventually divorced and raised her six children by herself after returning to Enid.
“I lived in Chicago for eight years. I came back to Enid so the kids would have clean schools,” she said.
She has volunteered at the community center for nine years.
Laster-Porter is active in First Missionary Baptist Church. She came from a gospel singing background and sang across the state with a group. Her daughter, Stephanie Washington, teaches a youth singing group called Angelic Voices.
“I love children. ... I’ve worked with several hundred kids,” she said.
Porter has 31 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and two sets of twins who are great-great grandchildren.
Byrne became acquainted with Miss Pinky when he was director of United Way of Enid and Northwest Oklahoma. Booker T. Washington Community Center is a United Way organization. He learned of her experiences during the 1960s and became acquainted with her.
“I learned all the things she’s been through and done for the community. Things she had to overcome in her life, and I saw the amazingly positive attitude she has about everything,” Byrne said.
He said she considers all of the kids at BTW her kids.
“She would do anything in the world for those kids,” Byrne said. “I’ve never met a woman with such a big heart and such a humble attitude. She has done amazing things without having the resources.”