Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher (1921-1996)
The history of the Sooner State forever changed from the January 1946 day Ada Fisher walked onto the Norman campus of the University of Oklahoma and applied for admission as not only the first African American Law School student there, but the first post-secondary school black student anywhere in the state besides all-black Langston University. It was not her first connection with the stage of history.
Her son, historian Bruce Fisher, told the author, “The Tulsa Race Riot is the reason my mother grew up in Chickasha and not Tulsa.” Prior to Ada’s birth, her family’s home was one of the hundreds burned down in the 1921 Tulsa Race War debacle. “Her father a Church of God in Christ pastor and her mother a devoted NAACP volunteer, she excelled academically at Chickasha’s segregated Lincoln High School. She served as senior class valedictorian.
Two experiences spurred Ada toward a dream of becoming a lawyer to help others. One was a visit to the Chicago law office of her mother’s cousin. The other was hearing black future United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, already well known for his legal efforts to secure equal educational opportunities for African Americans, speak in person at her high school. Meanwhile, she married Warren Fisher in 1944 and graduated from Langston in 1945.
Her successful, years-long pursuit of admittance as an African American to the University of Oklahoma School of Law is chronicled in this OKLAHOMANS 2, Chapter 7. She earned her law degree in 1952, six years after first applying for admission at OU. She practiced law in Chickasha, then began a 30-year career in leadership at Langston. She began as chair of the Department of Social Sciences. For years prior to her 1987 retirement, she served as assistant vice president for Academic Affairs.
Along the way, she earned a master’s degree in history from OU in 1968. In 1991, that school awarded her an honorary doctorate of humane letters. The next year, Gov. David Walters appointed her to OU’s Board of Regents. It was an event of surpassing historical poignance and significance. Ada Fisher had risen to the highest level of educational leadership, the governing board, for the very school which had once—more than once—denied her admittance.
Following her 1995 passing, OU dedicated the Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Garden on its main campus in Norman. A bronze plaque memorializing her contribution to the state of Oklahoma graces the spot. On it are carved the words: “In Psalm 118, the psalmist speaks of how the stone that the builders once rejected becomes the cornerstone.”
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The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
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