A painting depicting a woman whose U.S. Supreme Court case helped to break the racial barrier in Oklahoma’s higher education system will now grace the walls of the State Capitol, according to Sen. Charles Ford, R-Tulsa.
The painting of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, the first woman of color to be admitted to the University of Oklahoma law school, was dedicated today in the Senate Chamber. Artist Mike Wimmer of Norman created the painting, which was sponsored by Sen. Penny Williams, D-Tulsa.
In 1945, Fisher graduated from Langston University and was chosen by the Oklahoma delegation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as a plaintiff in litigation against Oklahoma’s segregation laws. In 1946, Fisher applied to the University of Oklahoma law school but was subsequently denied admission because of her ethnicity.
Fisher took her case to state and federal courts before winning an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorneys Thurgood Marshall and Amos T. Hall, who are also depicted in the painting, argued the appeal in 1948.
In a swift decision, the nation’s highest court issued a ruling that entitled Fisher to receive her education from a state institution as soon as it would be provided to any other citizen. However, the court did not rule segregation unconstitutional.
The State of Oklahoma created the Langston College of Law at the State Capitol in 1948 and hired three part-time instructors.
Fisher refused to attend, instead seeking further litigation to prove that the Langston school did not represent an equal opportunity. She was finally admitted to the University of Oklahoma law school in 1949, albeit under segregated conditions.
“The history behind this painting reflects Oklahoma’s struggles to overcome decades of inequality in education,” noted Sen. Ford, President of the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund, Inc., and Vice Chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
“Ms. Fisher’s fight to obtain a quality higher education is a lesson in courage, and I am thrilled that we have a permanent reminder of her story in the Capitol,” Ford said.
Fisher graduated from law school and passed the state bar examination in 1951. She later practiced law in Chickasha and went on to become head of the social studies department at Langston University.
In 1968, Fisher earned her master’s degree in history from the University of Oklahoma. Gov. David Walters appointed her to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents in 1992 – more than 45 years after she was first denied admission to the university’s law school. She died in 1995.
Sen. Williams, who chairs the Senate Education Committee and has long fought for improvements in Oklahoma’s education system, said that Fisher’s journey and her numerous accomplishments represent how far Oklahoma has come since the early days of segregation.
“We can take much inspiration from her bravery as we continue to unevenly seek social justice in our state and throughout our nation,” Williams said.
“It is ironic that we recognize her during Black History Month. Actually, Ada was one of our greatest champions for real quality in education and equal opportunity for that quality, not only for all Oklahomans but also for all Americans. I am particularly honored to sponsor this work of art.”
The painting of Fisher, along with other works of art commissioned by the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund, Inc., can be found on the Internet at www.oksenate.gov.