Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher
Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher was the first African-American student admitted to the University of Oklahoma’s law school in 1949. Fisher was initially denied admission so she and her team of lawyers sued.. Fisher's case was heard by the Cleveland Country Court, Oklahoma Supreme Court, and the United States Supreme Court. The ruling of the Supreme Court case, Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, delivered a landmark decision that deemed it illegal to deny students admission to Universities based on their skin color.
Backstory and Context
Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma in 1924. After a very successful academic career in high school, Fisher attended college at Arkansas A&M at Pine Bluff for a year and finished her undergraduate studies at Langston University with hopes of someday becoming a lawyer. Fisher's ambitions were halted after graduating from college due to Langston not having a law school and the state of Oklahoma having legal statutes that “prohibited blacks from attending white state universities”. That did not stop Fisher from partnering with the NAACP to sue the University of Oklahoma for rejecting her admission to their law school on the basis of Fisher’s race.
The twenty-one-year-old Ada Fisher and the NAACP however courageous, were up against a tough opponent. The state of Oklahoma “prohibited whites and blacks from attending classes together”. Violation of this legal statute meant that the individual or individuals involved would be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $50. Being “involved” in integrated classrooms ranged from teaching a class where students of all races were in attendance, to simply being a student in attendance of a class where white and black students were in the same room.
Beyond legal standing that banned Ada Fisher from attending law school at the University of Oklahoma, the OU Board of Regents stood in strong opposition to her admittance. Minutes that were recorded from a board meeting in 1948 discussed at length the "situation" of admitting Fisher to OU’s law school. The President of OU and the Board of Regents unanimously decided to deny Fisher’s request to attend OU law. The board went on to request “advice and procedure to be followed upon any application by a person of African descent for admission to any department of the University” from the Attorney General.
Fisher's lawsuit against the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents claimed that because of the poor educational conditions or the entire lack there of, the University was not in accordance with the "separate but equal" mandate. That would have violated federal law so Fisher claimed she must be permitted to join OU Law School. The OU Board of Regents and the state of Oklahoma countered by denying Fisher admittance to OU law based on her race and then establishing Langston University School of Law. Fisher and her team of lawyers, one of whom was famed NAACP lawyer, Thurgood Marshal, argued against this response on the ground that the newly established Langston University School of Law was not in compliance with "separate but equal".
The case of Sipuel v. Board of Regents rose through the ranks of the US legal system to be debated and have decisions made on it. Finally, the case came before the Supreme Court in 1949 where the court decision was a unanimous, 9-0 vote, in favor of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher. The ruling demanded the University of Oklahoma admit Fisher to their law school and in 1952 she graduated from OU Law. "After briefly practicing law in Chickasha, Fisher joined the faculty of Langston University in 1957 and served as chair of the Department of Social Sciences. She retired in December 1987 as assistant vice president for academic affairs". "On April 1992, Fisher was appointed to the OU Board of Regents by Governor Walters. Three years later in October of 1995, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher passed away at the age of 71.
Melvin C. Hall, "Fisher, Ada Lois Sipuel," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=FI009.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Sipuel v. Board of Regents." Encyclopædia Britannica. January 05, 2019. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/event/Sipuel-v-Board-of-Regents.
University of Oklahoma Board of Regents Minutes. January 21, 1948. Discussion between the board on the topic of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher's admittance to the University of Oklahoma.
Hardzinski, Brian. "Before 'Brown V. Board,' Oklahoma's Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Helped Desegregate Public Education." KGOU. Accessed May 09, 2019. https://www.kgou.org/post/brown-v-board-oklahoma-s-ada-lois-sipuel-fisher-helped-desegregate-public-education.
BlackPast. 2019. “Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher (1924-1995) • BlackPast.” BlackPast. February 6, 2019. https://www.blackpast.org/aaw/vignette_aahw/fisher-ada-lois-sipuel-1924-1995/.