McAlester is a city in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, United States. The population was 17,783 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Pittsburg County. It is currently the largest city in the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, followed by Durant.
The town gets its name from J. J. McAlester, who later became Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma and was immortalized as a character in the 1968 novel True Grit, which was made into feature films in 1969 and 2010.
McAlester is the home of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, site of an "inside the walls" prison rodeo from which ESPN's SportsCenter once broadcast. Sometimes Oklahomans refer to the state prison simply as "Big Mac" or "McAlester," and the town is referenced in that manner in the opening pages of The Grapes of Wrath when Tom Joad is released from there. The prison was also the site of a 1973 riot that lasted for days and is generally regarded as one of the worst in American history.
McAlester is also the home of many of the employees of the nearby McAlester Army Ammunition Plant. This facility makes essentially all of the bombs used by the United States military. In 1998 McAlester became the home of the Defense Ammunition Center (DAC) which moved from Savanna, Illinois and relocated as a tenant on McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.
McAlester is known in political circles for having been the home base of several noted American politicians - U.S. Speaker of the House Carl Albert, who was once a heartbeat from the presidency, and longtime Oklahoma State Senator Gene Stipe, whose career ended in a series of legal problems. Former Oklahoma Governor George Nigh and Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven W. Taylor also hail from McAlester. McAlester is still known in Oklahoma as the "Capital of Little Dixie," for its old-time Democratic politics.
Location of McAlester, Oklahoma
Pride in McAlester is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that works with the McAlester community to clean, beautify, and enhance the community. The organization was established in April 2008. In addition to providing assistance and opportunity for recycling, the organization provides educational services. Pride in McAlester also operates a Flea Market allowing community members to recycle and reuse most materials. The organization participates in scholarship opportunities, community functions, and helps in revitalizing areas of the city. Pride in McAlester organizes and operates city wide cleanup events, mainly in the Spring and Fall.
McAlester Public Schools operates public schools.
The McAlester Public Library is located in McAlester. The current library was built in 1970. As of 2010 the city has plans to build a new library. The Friends of the McAlester Public Library is financing the new branch.
McAlester includes Kiamichi Technology Center which has enrollment of over 300 students per school year. There is also an extension of Eastern Oklahoma State College which partners with Southern Oklahoma University and East Central University.