Stephenson on How the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Influenced the Desegregation of the American Educational System @SouthernULaw @TulsaLawReview

Gail S. Stephenson, Southern University Law Center, is publishing Were It not for Tulsa: How the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Influenced the Desegregation of the American Educational System in the Tulsa Law Review. Here is the abstract.

The effects of the horrific 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre went far beyond the destruction of 36 blocks of Black-owned property in the Greenwood section of Tulsa. The Sipuel family, burned out of their Greenwood home, moved to Chickasha, Oklahoma. Mrs. Sipuel became a civil rights activist, and she and her husband told and retold the story of the Massacre to their daughter, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher. Fisher’s upbringing influenced her to become the test plaintiff in the lawsuit that forced the desegregation of the University of Oklahoma (“OU”).

In Sipuel v. Oklahoma, the Supreme Court held that under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Blacks had a personal right to legal education equivalent to the education states offered to students of other races. Courts throughout the south relied on Sipuel in ordering the admission of Blacks to graduate and professional schools. The Supreme Court cited Sipuel in Sweatt v. Painter, which ordered the desegregation of the University of Texas School of Law despite the state’s hasty creation of a separate Black law school. Ultimately, the Supreme Court built on Sipuel’s holding, ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal” has no place in public education.

The Article begins with the Sipuel family’s experience in Tulsa and Fisher’s upbringing in Chickasha. It reviews the litigation to desegregate American education brought by the National Association of Colored People and Thurgood Marshall prior to the Sipuel case, including their legal strategy and careful selection of test plaintiffs. The Article details the Sipuel case, the legal machinations of the State of Oklahoma to prevent Sipuel from enrolling in OU’s College of Law, and George McLaurin’s suit to enroll in OU’s graduate school. It concludes that were it not for the Massacre, Fisher might never have stepped forward, and the desegregation of American education may have been significantly delayed.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.