When Oklahoma Vied to be the Home of the United Nations

The chairman of the delegation from Brazil signs the UN Charter at the
Veterans’ War Memorial Building in San Francisco on June 26, 1945.

In 1945, as a permanent global organization for collective security was rising, forward-thinking Oklahomans hoped to make our state the center of the new world.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. We’re helping to celebrate this anniversary by remembering the history of the nascent UN from its earliest days in World War Two.

Seventy years ago today — June 28, 2015 — the United States Senate ratified the United Nations Charter by a vote of 89 to 2. This followed years of discussions by the wartime allies about the need for a permanent organization to enforce a lasting peace in the world.

Oklahoma Governor Robert S. Kerr
in 1945. In his State of the State
Address, he said: “Now that we are
beginning to turn our eyes to the
winning of the peace…. Civilization
will have to be rebuilt on a more
enduring basis.”

As early as 1942, representatives of 26 nations met in Washington, DC, to sign the Declaration of the United Nations endorsing the Atlantic Charter. The United Nations pledged to use their full resources against the Axis powers.

(The flags of those 26 nations are represented on the cover of our annual report, “In Larger Freedom” (pdf)).

Throughout the years of the second world war, discussions continued about forming a permanent organization for collective security. In 1943, world leaders met in Quebec to pursue this subject. Talks continued in Dumbarton Oaks (1944) and San Francisco (Apri – June, 1945).

By the time the Charter was ready to be signed in 1945, there was intense interest in the location of the future UN headquarters. Many observers realized that the location of the UN General Assembly and Secretariat would have great importance as a “world capital” city — not just a headquarters building.

The McAlester Democrat newspaper told its readers:

“This new or future city of such world-wide importance will be a continuous world’s
fair, and the magnitude and importance which it will display and have over world affairs
is hardly possible for the mind to conceive at this time.”

Source materials for this article are from
Charlene Mires, “Capital of the World:
The Race to Host the United Nations,”
New York University Press, 2013

Oklahoma Representative Ben P. Choate — a state representative from Pittsburg County — was fascinated by the idea of locating the UN Headquarters in Oklahoma.

Rep. Choate’s personal history was rooted in Tuskahoma, where the historic capital of the Choctaw Nation stands. In 1945, he launched an energetic campaign to locate the UN Headquarters in Tuskahoma.

After consulting with Will Durant, the Choctaw chief, Rep. Choate wrote persuasive letters to Governor Kerr, to Oklahoma’s representatives in Congress, and to President Harry Truman.

As described in “Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations,” Rep. Choate:

“…Extolled the merits of Oklahoma climate and geography, and he imagined that air transportation would make Tuskahoma as accessible as any other place on the planet.”

Additionally, he called attention to the symbolic message that would be communicated by locating the UN in a place known for the history of its indigenous people.

The UN Headquarters Building
in New York City. The UN
hosted the first World Conference
on Indigenous Peoples here
in September, 2014.

Rep. Choate wrote in October, 1945:

“Since the prime motive of the [United Nations] was for the protection and help to the minority nations or races, no more fitting and timely gesture could be made than by placing the World Capital here at a place formerly used as the seat of a Government of a minority Nation here in our country.”

Charlene Mires, author of “Capital of the World,” noted:

“Choate’s promotion of Tuskahoma reflected the growing global consciousness of the common concerns of colonized people — whether Native Americans in Oklahoma or peoples in Asia and Africa — seeking freedom from European empires. For many, the United Nations represented hope for a more equitable future.”

For an instant in time, Rep. Choate’s proposal caught the imagination of forward-thinking Oklahomans.

Methodist Central Hall in
London (Westminster) hosted
the first meeting of the United
Nations General Assembly
in January, 1946.

Governor Robert S. Kerr’s economic development agency of that era was the Oklahoma Planning and Resources Board, and it embraced Rep. Choate’s proposal as an opportunity to promote an economic revival in southeast Oklahoma. The agency boosted the campaign by drawing maps for the United Nations and by developing a promotional brochure to send to London (where the first meeting of the UN General Assembly was held).

The chamber of commerce in McAlester also supported the Tuskahoma campaign.

As it turned out, the idea of placing the UN Headquarters in Tuskahoma never achieved the success that was hoped for. (A similar campaign for Claremore also failed). New York City ultimately became the hub for UN operations around the world, supported by UN offices in Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi.

Even so, this brief episode in our state’s history helps to illustrate the keen interest that Oklahomans had — and continue to have — in the mission and purpose of the United Nations.

The old Choctaw Capitol building
in Tuskahoma, where Rep. Choate
wanted the United Nations head-
quarters to be located.

Over the years, many great Oklahomans have served America in the United Nations — including Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Secretary of State Hannah D. Atkins, and University of Central Oklahoma President Don Betz.

The people of Oklahoma have a continuing appreciation for the goals and values of the United Nations. We are among the 87 percent of Americans who agree that it is important for the United States to maintain an active role within the United Nations.

The members of the UN Association in Oklahoma are proud to support these noble sentiments.

Are you a member yet?

The UN works! Peace is being restored to conflict zones. Child mortality rates are falling. The UN is making important contributions to our understanding of climate change and sustainable development. The UN is at the heart of the global movement to promote a world-wide culture of peace. 

Join us today.

www.unausa.org/membership

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