1948 January 12

Supreme Court Requires Oklahoma to Provide Equal Law School Opportunity for African-Americans


In Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, decided on this day, the Supreme Court ordered the State of Oklahoma to provide law school education for African-Americans equal to that provided for whites. Ada Sipuel had applied for admission to the law school in 1946, but was denied admission. She was represented by Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Sipuel enrolled in the law school but was forced to sit in the back of classrooms, behind a row of empty seats, and with a sign marked “Colored.” She graduated and spent her career at Langston University in Oklahoma, where she had previously earned her bachelor’s degree. In 1992, in a gesture that partly righted the earlier wrong, the governor of Oklahoma appointed her to the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma.

Ada Sipuel’s case was one of many that led up to the historic Supreme Court decision, in Brown v. Board of Education, on May 17, 1954, which declared “separate but equal” schools unconstitutional. See also the earlier case involving the University of Missouri law school, Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada, decided on December 12, 1938.

Learn more about Ada Sipuel: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/f/fi009.html

Read her story: Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, with Danney Goble, A Matter of Black and White: The Autobiography of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher (1996).

Learn about the civil rights cases that led to Brown v. Board of Education: Richard Kluger, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality (1975)

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