The case of Sipuel v. The Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma laid the early groundwork for other “separate but equal” cases such as the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Ada Louis Sipuel’s racial discrimination case against the school was decided on this day in 1948, making it possible for her to become to first Black woman to attend an all-white law school in the south.
Ada Louis Sipuel Fisher, born February 8, 1924 in Chickasha, Okla., attempted to enter the school in 1946. Her brother intended to challenge Oklahoma’s racist policy, but instead opted to attend Howard University’s law school. Sipuel was determined to win the fight and gained the assistance of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund to take her case.
On the state level, the legal team faced difficulties but persisted on Sipuel’s behalf. Thurgood Marshall, Amos Hall, and Frank D. Reeves were the petitioners for Sipuel’s case and take the matter all the way to the high court. According to records, Marshall’s careful but pointed delivery in front of the justices swayed the decision into Sipuel’s favor and made it so that Oklahoma could no longer her deny her based on race.
The school attempted to bypass the legality of the matter by constructing a makeshift all-Black law school that was of lesser standards that the white facility in a bid to desperately keep Blacks out. However, Oklahoma relented and Sipuel entered its halls in the summer of 1949. She practiced law in her hometown until 1956 before moving into the private sector and later worked as an educator at Langston University.
In a show of respect, the University of Oklahoma named Sipuel as a Board of Regents member in 1992. Ms. Sipuel passed in 1995.