Cause for Change: South’s 1st Black Law Student’s Legacy Stronger Than Ever

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Thurgood Marshall

By Damario Solomon-Simmons, M.Ed., J.D.

Sixty-five years ago this year, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher became the first Black person to attend law school in the South when she enrolled at the University of Oklahoma College of Law (“OU Law”). After initially being denied admission because she was Black, and supported by hundreds of small donations from all over the Nation, Fisher filed a lawsuit in 1946 against OU Law. She was represented by legendary jurists Thurgood Marshall (who later became the first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice) and Amos T. Hall (who was later became the first Black judge in Oklahoma). Fisher’s lawsuit took two years to work its way through the legal system, but when it was finally heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the high court ruled that Fisher was entitled to attend OU Law because the state did not have an alternative “separate, but equal” law school for Blacks.

In an attempt to maintain the integrity of Oklahoma’s segregation laws — purpose of which was to keep “the races from mixing in public places“ — the Oklahoma State Legislature hastily created an all-Black law school before the academic year at OU Law was supposed to start. However, Fisher was able to show that the so-called “separate, but equal” law school established for Blacks was inferior.

Fisher, an Oklahoma native, had the same freedom-loving spirit of many Oklahoma Blacks who fought for civil rights with an attitude similar to Black lawyer and newspaper man William H. Twine, who wrote in 1905, two years before Oklahoma Statehood:

Some of us have made our last move and we propose to stand our ground where we have our homes and our investments until h**l freezes over and then fight the devils on ice.

Once Fisher was admitted, OU Law forced her to sit in a chair marked “colored,” and roped it off from the rest of the class. Additionally, Fisher ate in a separate chained-off, guarded area of the law school cafeteria. Fisher often recalled how some white students would secretly share class notes with her and how a few would actually crawl under the chain and eat with her when the guards were not around.

Fisher graduated in 1951 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.

Always classy and committed to justice and equality, Fisher was frequently quoted as saying the decision was “not a decision for Ada Lois, it was a decision for America.” Indeed it was. In fact, today the Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Colbert and Presiding Judge of the Court of Appeals David Lewis are African-American graduates of the Oklahoma College of Law.

Damario Solomon-Simmons, M.Ed., J.D., an honors graduate of the Oklahoma College of Law, is managing partner of SolomonSimmonSharrock & Associates and professor of African and African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He can be contacted at www.solomonsimmons.com or @solospeakstruth.

7 Responses to Cause for Change: South’s 1st Black Law Student’s Legacy Stronger Than Ever

  1. Did a lot more than Clarence Thomas huh?!? ;-)

  2. These stories prove how racist and ignorant crackers were back then, and how they remain the same today!

    They didn’t want us to read, write, or speak out against their sorry azzes, but STRONG Black men and women kept pushing forward.

    What their his-story/his-LIE books NEVER print is that Black Afrikans introduced law to the world. Musa aka Moses wrote the Book of Laws, and he also said, that Blacks WERE GODS!!!

    CHECK:

    John 10:34 reads: “The Black Messiah (erroneously call ‘jesus’) answered them, Is it not WRITTEN IN YOUR LAW, I said, YE ARE GODS?”

    THE BLACK MESSIAH LIVES!!!

  3. THOSE WHO BECAME ATTORNEYS BACK IN THOSE DAYS WERE BRAVE PEOPLE!
    One common thread and good quality that is shown in our ancestors is that they did not let white racism stop them from pursuing education or whatever goals they had. In spite of white folks putting them in the back of the bus…or in segregated seats in classes…or insulting them with racial slurs…they still continued and graduated.

    THURGOOD MARSHALL was a Black hero who helped to break down a lot of racist practices and laws that were in place back then. Had we not had pacemakers like these people…many of our Black lawmakers, attorneys, and judges would not be here today. Our President is an attorney too.

    Whether one likes him or not…or agrees with his policies or not…Pres. Obama has worked in the lawmaking arena to help people…
    BY GETTING LAWS PASSED and pushing certain policies, such as:
    *(1) paying settlements for black farmers,

    *(2) increased funding to historically black colleges and community colleges,

    *(3)the fair sentencing act of 2010,

    *(3)directing the justice department to fight against the voter ID laws and defend affirmative action in the supreme court,… and many others that don’t get much media attention.

    UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS OF POLITICS AND LAW is important. For example…one basic mistake that many people are making is that they seem to think that the position of PRESIDENT gives that man the GOVERNMENT CHECKBOOK…and that Obama can just issue money to the Black community (all by himself). That’s not how it works.

    THE MORE WE LEARN ABOUT THE POLITICAL PROCESS AND THE LAW…the better off we will be …and the more we can push for laws that help us or get rid of those laws and policies that are not beneficial.

  4. You can move your date for first back a bit if you consider Howard University part of the South. My great-grandmother, Lavinia Marion (Fleming) Poe, graduated from its law school in 1925, and then became the first woman of color admitted to the Commonwealth bar in Virginia.

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