NORMAN — Tucked conveniently between two historic buildings near the OU campus’ front door, a quiet monument reminds visitors of a more turbulent time in Norman. The soothing sound of the fountain is testament to calmer days, not anything like the civil rights struggle that played out a few hundred feet to the southwest in Monnet Hall.
The war to end all wars was over and America was beginning to realize its own injustices at home. On campus, a young woman from Chickasha, with a diploma from Langston University, would be selected to challenge the university’s whites-only policy in graduate schools. Her fight to enter the College of Law would eventually be decided before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, a 20-something African American, was recruited for the job. Segregation was one of the first laws the young legislature would pass after statehood in 1907.
“My mom was asked if she would be the plaintiff — she was the guinea pig,” says Bruce Fisher, son of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher. “At that time the only place Black people could go to school was Langston and mom wanted to go to law school and Langston didn’t have a law school.”
With the counsel of famed civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall and the support of newspaperman and civil rights leader Roscoe Dunjee, Fisher was finally admitted to the OU College of Law in 1949. Her 1952 diploma, signed by OU President George Cross and law dean Maurice Merrill, are part of “Realizing the Dream,” a new exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center northeast of the Capitol in Oklahoma City. The exhibit was opened as part of Black History Month.
“She never even took the diploma out of the canister and she never hung it on the wall,” Bruce Fisher said during a tour of the exhibit. “I never knew why. She died before I could ask her about it.”