Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, an Oklahoma legend
Ada Sipuel Fisher
*On this date in 1924, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher was born. She was an African American lawyer, administrator and activist.
From Chickasha, Oklahoma she was the daughter of a minister. Her brother planned to challenge segregationist policies of the University of Oklahoma, but went to Howard University Law School to not delay his career further by protracted litigation. Sipuel was willing to delay her legal career in order to challenge segregation. In 1946, she applied at the University of Oklahoma and was denied because of race, and in 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Oklahoma must provide instruction for Blacks equal to that of whites.
In order to comply, the state of Oklahoma created the Langston University School of Law, located at the state capital. Further litigation was necessary to prove that this law school was inferior to the University of Oklahoma law school. Finally, in 1949, Sipuel was admitted to the University of Oklahoma law school becoming the first African American woman to attend an all white law school in the South. By this time she was married and pregnant with the first of her two children. The law school gave her a chair marked "colored," and roped it off from the rest of the class. Her classmates and teachers welcomed her, shared their notes and studied with her, helping her to catch up on the materials she had missed.
Sipuel had to eat in a separate chained-off guarded area of the law school cafeteria. She recalled that years later some white students would crawl under the chain and eat with her when the guards were not around. Her lawsuit and tuition were supported by hundreds of small donations, and she believed she owed it to those donors to make it. She graduated in 1951 with a Master's degree, and began practicing law in her hometown of Chickasha in 1952.
In 1992, Oklahoma's governor David Walters appointed her to the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, which she noted in an interview, "completes a forty-five year cycle." She further stated, "Having suffered severely from bigotry and racial discrimination as a student, I am sensitive to that kind of thing," and she planned to bring a new dimension to university policies.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
Today in American History