Son Reflects on Mother's Contributions to Civil Rights

Saturday, February 21st 2009, 12:23 am
By: News 9

By Dave Jordan, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Long before the Supreme Court ruled racial segregation unconstitutional in American schools, the high court forced OU's law school to integrate. That case was a precedent for the landmark Brown verses the Board of Education ruling that paved the way for school integration.

Oklahoman, Ada Sipuel Fisher, had a groundbreaking role in changing education forever. Ada was a lawyer, activist and Langston University professor. Her name is synonymous with education in Oklahoma, largely because of her determination to further hers.

"It's important for people to know that education in Oklahoma didn't just happen overnight and it didn't happen after Brown verses the Board of Education," said Bruce Fisher, Ada's son.

In 1946, Ada Sipuel Fisher applied to OU law school at a time when segregation laws were in full effect. Not surprisingly, she wasn't welcomed. She filed a losing lawsuits at the county and state supreme court levels. Undeterred, Fisher appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948.

"The Supreme Court ruled in her favor, basically stating that if Oklahoma didn't have a separate but equal law school, it didn't matter. She had a right to go to law school as soon as anybody else had a right to go to law school," Bruce said.

But even with that landmark decision, Fisher's life inside the classroom wasn't easy. Prior to her death, she reflected on what she had to endure.

"We couldn't eat with the other students. We couldn't get in the line with them. We had to go in a side door to the cafeteria," Ada recalled.

Thurgood Marshall wanted to change that. He was a civil rights attorney with the NAACP at the time, and he filed another lawsuit. Once again, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.

"One day she went home on Friday and the signs were up. She came back on Monday and the signs were gone. She moved down to the front of the class and never sat in the back again," Bruce said.

Fisher went on to great success as an attorney and later a professor. But her son Bruce never heard anything of this during his childhood.

"I knew people treated her special, but I thought they treated everybody special; all moms are treated special," Bruce said. "For me, she was just mom and for the kids around me my friends, she was just Mrs. Fisher, and she made great popcorn balls."

His mother only told him after they attended the funeral of one of his mother's lawyers and she ran into someone from her past.

"This guy walked by and I heard my mom say 'Thurgood!' and he turned around and said 'Sip.' And she grabbed and hugged him and everything," Bruce said. "She was not interested in blowing her own horn about what she had done."

Bruce is more than happy to brag on his mom and her accomplishments. Fisher's degree and law license are part of a civil rights exhibit in the Oklahoma History Center where Bruce works as an administrator.

Her photograph hangs in the State Capital Rotunda, ironically just outside of one of the legislative chambers that drafted those segregation laws. Bruce said his mother would have been pleased, although she would have deflected the attention away from her.

Bruce said his mother also gave credit to some of her white students who attended law school with her. After class, they shared notes and sometimes studied together.