- Black History Month: Honoring Lawton's first Black City Councilman
Black History Month: Honoring Lawton's first Black City Councilman
Published: February 8, 2023
Caitlin Gatlin | Communications & Marketing Manager
To celebrate Black History Month, we are paying tribute to a Lawton legend.
Adam Matthews became Lawton’s first Black City Councilman in 1972, but even before that, led an extraordinary life, and continues to do so at 95 years old.
He was a pilot, a soldier, he owned a pawn shop and an electronics store you may remember that went by the name of Matthews TV.
But he was also the first Black man to be elected to Lawton City Council. He served two terms as an at-large councilmember from 1972 to 1976.
"There were all these guys standing in the hall with a grin on their face," Matthews said. "I said, ‘What’s going on?’ And they said, ‘They appointed you as Councilman at Large. And that’s how it got started.”
Matthews wanted to improve the City of Lawton through a new downtown, better streets, more industry, increased law enforcement, and better facilities for teenagers & the elderly.
While he built his platform around those five initiatives, he recalls one of his most memorable successes, Mobile Meals, a program to support the elderly.
"They couldn’t go to the grocery store to get food for themselves, or fix food for themselves," he said. "Some of them were in wheelchairs.”
In 1975, he became Mayor Pro Tem, filling in for Mayor Wayne Gilley when called upon. A year later, in 1976, he didn’t seek re-election and retired from City Council.
And now in 2023, he sees how much the City of Lawton has changed & Matthews says the current Council is just doing the best they can.
"You can’t be on the outside telling people that is in the mix of it," said Matthews. "I had a friend that said, ‘You can stand outside of a tornado & speculate all you want to about what’s going inside there, but you won’t know unless you inside that bad boy.'”
Matthews’ time on the dais is just a sliver of his contributions to society. He served in the military from 1945 to 1966 experiencing racial injustice during his early years first few years as a soldier after moving to Lawton in 1947.
African American soldiers had to serve in segregated units, excluded from the “white-only” facilities.
"It was kind of a tough deal," said Matthews. "When I tell you it was a culture shock, it was a culture shock.”
But then in 1948, President Harry Truman signed an executive order abolishing racial discrimination in the U.S. Military.
Despite the culture shock when he first arrived to Lawton, Matthews saw the progress being made in the community. He & his wife, Mimey, chose to stay to raise their six children. Matthews says he knew they’d stay out of trouble, but he would also be able to protect them from the discrimination he faced as a kid.
"I wanted my kids to not go through some of the things I had to go through," said Matthews. "That was why we stayed in Lawton. Lawton was, as a town, was growing & becoming better & better for kids to grow up in.”
Matthews was also the proud owner of Matthews TV, that sat at 14th & Lee Boulevard. His infatuation with electronics started at a very young age.
"I started playing with electricity when I was 5 or 6 years old," he said. "I can’t tell you how many times I got shocked playing with electric motors as a kid.”
In addition to electronics, he was fascinated with aviation. At just 20-years-old he bought his first plane for $500 and later would become Lawton’s first Black flight instructor for the FAA.
"I trained all sorts of pilots," said Matthews. "I had privates, colonels, I had everybody in the ranks while I was training & teaching people in the military.”
At the age of 95, Matthews is still well versed in flying. In fact, he has a flight simulator set up in his living room and is still licensed to teach.
There are many lessons to be learned by Matthews. Like how to fly a plane, how to love & care for others, and the importance of treating everyone like your friend.
"You can do anything you want if you just work at it," he said. "Be the best you can be. Don’t be mean to anyone.”
Matthews was awarded a commendation from Mayor Booker to not only wish him a Happy 95th Birthday, but also to thank him for his contributions to the City of Lawton.
Matthews served his community well. He was also a board member of Citizens National Bank, the City of Lawton’s Urban Renewal Board & the Airport Authority.
His birthday was actually in December, but it was only a few weeks ago that I sat down for an interview with him. On behalf of the City of Lawton, Happy Belated Birthday, Mr. Matthews. And thank you for your dedication to our City.