Background on NAACP Thurgood Marshall & the FBI Military Desegregation  
Chambers v. Florida(1940) Smith v. Allwright(1943) Shelley v. Kraemer(1947) Sipuel v. Univ. of Oklahoma(1948) Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)

Sipuel v. University of Oklahoma (1948)
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (1950)


    Despite the Plessy “separate but equal” precedent, schools and colleges for blacks and whites were nowhere near equal. Black schools were poorly funded, resulting in few books and mediocre teachers. In the 1930s the issue of the inequality between black and white colleges was brought to light in a series of cases, beginning with the Gaines case. Lloyd Gaines, an African-American, had been refused admission to a law school in Missouri because of his race. The Supreme Court ruled that a state offering legal education for whites must offer it to blacks as well, but did not specify that it must be in the same facility.

    In 1948 Marshall argued the case of Ada Sipuel, who had been denied admission to the University of Oklahoma’s law school, before the Supreme Court. He had lost in the Oklahoma state court, which had ruled that although there was not a law school for blacks in Oklahoma, the Gaines precedent did not require a state with segregation laws to admit black students to the white law schools. Marshall appealed to the Supreme Court, where he also questioned the continuing influence of Plessy: “Beyond that [the immediate issue of the lack of legal educational for African-Americans in Oklahoma], the petitioner contends that the separate but equal doctrine is basically unsound and unrealistic and in the light of the history of its application, it should now be repudiated.”1 The Court gave a short decision holding that the state had to provide equal education opportunities for blacks as soon as these facilities were available to whites, and did not mention Plessy.

    In 1949 Ada Sipuel was finally admitted to the law school in Oklahoma. The University established a law school just for her - in a roped off section of the state capitol in Oklahoma city, where they assigned three instructors to teach her. She suffered this treatment until Marshall won the McLaurin case in 1950. George McLaurin was a sixty-eight year-old African-American with a master’s degree in education pursuing an Ed.D. at the University of Oklahoma. He, like Sipuel, was segregated within the school itself; he was required to sit at a special table in the classroom, library, and cafeteria because of his race. Marshall lost the case in the local court but appealed immediately to the Supreme Court. Unanimously, the Supreme Court declared that black students must receive the same treatment as the white students and that the schools could not be segregated. This greatly improved the situation in colleges, but not necessarily in lower schools. The Court again skirted the issue of overturning Plessy, but it was to be resolved five years later, in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka.

1 Thurgood Marshall & The Persistence of Racism in America (p73)