Ada Lois Sipuel v. Board of Regents University of Oklahoma, 1948-

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Creator:Oklahoma. Supreme Court
Title:Ada Lois Sipuel v. Board of Regents University of Oklahoma, 1948-

Housed in the Oklahoma State Archives, this digital collection features 251 imaged documents from the Oklahoma State Supreme Court, Civil Case No. 32756 regarding the first African-American woman admitted to the University of Oklahoma law school in 1948. The collection includes defendant and plaintiff briefs as well as a trial transcript from the district court, all available through Oklahoma Crossroads.

A leading activist, lawyer, administrator, and educator Ada Lois Sipuel came of age during Oklahoma's Jim Crow era, Sipuel challenged the legal fiction of "separate but equal", opening higher education to African-American students in the state and laying the foundation for the Brown v. Board of Education landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court. Born on February 8, 1924, and raised in Chickasha, Oklahoma, Sipuel was the daughter of a minister and a homemaker. Her parents provided the family with financial security and a strong belief in racial equality. Following her brother's rejection of NAACP leaders suggestion to serve as plaintiff to challenge the segregationist admissions policy of the state's exclusively white law school at the University of Oklahoma, in the fall of 1945, her family volunteered Sipuel, a top student at Langston University. On January 14, 1946, the University of Oklahoma Law School rejected Sipuel's application for admission. Sipuel's attorneys, led by Thurgood Marshall and Oklahoman Amos T. Hall, filed a lawsuit alleging that the failure of the state to provide a comparable law school for African American students required that Sipuel be admitted to the university. Losing in state courts, Marshall argued Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma before the United States Supreme Court. There, Marshall argued that the state law school must open its doors to Sipuel, because it offered no comparable facility and that the entire doctrine of "separate but equal" should be abandoned. On January 12, 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that Sipuel was entitled to a legal education provided by the state and that Oklahoma must provide instruction for blacks equal to that of whites. In order to comply, Oklahoma officials stonewalled efforts to admit Sipuel to the University of Oklahoma by quickly constructing a makeshift black law school in the state capital building, Langston University School of Law. Further litigation was necessary to prove that this law school was inferior to the University of Oklahoma law school. Before a lawsuit challenging the new school was resolved, the law school ran out 1 of funds and this facility closed in 1949. The president of the University of Oklahoma law school admitted Sipuel who enrolled on June 18, 1949, becoming the first African American woman to attend an all white law school in the South. New challenges awaited Sipuel inside the classroom, including sitting in a segregated seat marked "colored" that was roped off from the rest of the class. She also had to eat in a separate chained-off guarded area of the law school cafeteria. Her lawsuit and tuition were supported by hundreds of small donations, and she believed she owed it to those donors to succeed. With the support of classmates, professors, and family, she graduated in 1951 with a law degree from the University of Oklahoma. After passing the bar, Sipuel practiced law until 1956, when she left legal practice to work as the public relations director for Langston University. She became a full time faculty member in 1959, eventually becoming head of the school's social science department. She returned to the University of Oklahoma, where she earned a master's degree in the late 1960s, and in 1991 she received an honorary doctorate from the law school. In 1992, Sipuel's life came "full circle" when she was appointed by Governor David Walters as a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma. Sipuel passed away on October 18, 1995, one of the most outstanding black women to have affected the course of American history.

Types:Judicial records
Subjects:Fisher, Ada Lois Sipuel, 1924- --Trials, litigation, etc. | Discrimination in education-- Law and legislation--Oklahoma | African Americans--Civil rights--Oklahoma | African Americans--Segregation | Segregation in higher education--United States | African American women civil rights workers--Oklahoma | University of Oklahoma. Board of Regents | Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education | Oklahoma. Supreme Court | United States, Oklahoma, 35.007752, -97.092877
Institution:Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Archives and Records Commission
Contributors:Oklahoma. Department of Libraries
Original Material:

Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma, Civil Case No. 32756

Rights and Usage:

Oklahoma State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. For further information regarding the rights to this collection, please visit

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