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University of Oklahoma

School Desegregation and Civil Rights Stories:
University of Oklahoma

The ideology of "separate but equal" was enshrined in the American society in 1896 with the Supreme Court's Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. In practice "separate but equal" produced situations that were separate and mostly unequal.

Three years after the ruling, the Court heard a case involving a Georgia school board's decision to turn a colored high into a grade school, leaving African Americans without a high school. The justices unanimously upheld the Georgia school board, leaving a less than equal situation for the African American community and confirming state's rights. Cases like this continue to spur legal activism with dozens of legal battles conducted at the local level by the NAACP and other civil rights groups. Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston led the NAACP's effort and undertook legal investigations and litigations to overthrow segregation in publicly run schools.

George W. McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents for Higher Education is one of the cases undertaken by Marshall. In 1948 George McLaurin, a retired professor, won the right to pursue a doctorate in education at the University of Oklahoma. However, the University enrolled him on a segregated basis, requiring him not to mingle or sit with the white students. McLaurin sued the university again and in 1950, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that that school violated the 14th Amendment and that McLaurin's segregation "handicapped him his pursuit of effective graduate instruction." The Court further stated that the restrictions impaired and inhibited his ability to study, to engage in discussion and exchange of views with other students and to learn his profession. The school violated McLaurin's right to equal educational opportunity.

The McLaurin case became an important precedent in the NAACP's fight to end school segregation.

Classroom Seating Arrangement to Accommodate African American Law StudentClassroom Seating Arrangement to Accommodate African American Law Student, McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents, United States Circuit Court for the Western District, Oklahoma City Division,
RG 21, National Archives Southwest Region.
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