Race and Equity in Education
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents
Kelly Lynn Snyder
Strayer University Online
Dr. Sonja Summers
Education and the Law EDU 520
July 29, 2009
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regent was a case that occurred on April 3-4, 1950. The verdict came back on June 5, 1950. This was a case involving a Negro gentleman who wanted to attend The University of Oklahoma to get his masters degree. This was a very important case that leads up to the Supreme Courts decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case. This decision struck down the Oklahoma statute that mandated segregation in education. The Oklahoma statute states that operating a school that enrolls both black and white students is a misdemeanor.
This case came about when The University of Oklahoma denied admission into the graduate program in education to George W. McLaurin. McLaurin had no choice but to fight for his rights by filing suit in federal court in Oklahoma City. McLaurin had every right to attend The University of Oklahoma to get his masters degree. There was no reason he should have been denied admission when he was just trying to better himself by getting more education. The purpose of filing this suit was to stand up for what he believed in. If he did not file suit, the University may have done it to many other Negro students. This may have caused segregation to continue. McLaurin’s decision to fight this battle made life much easier for any other Negro students that wanted to go to school to better themselves as well.
A panel of three judges struck down the Oklahoma statute. McLaurin might have lost his case in federal court, but the University could no longer deny him a place in the school. McLaurin was permitted to attend the University of Oklahoma with other white students. Even though he was permitted to attend classes, he had to sit in a certain seat, eat lunch at a specified table, and sit at a separate desk in the library. These were all seats that were designated to him by the administration. The school did everything in its power to segregate McLaurin on the
Universities campus. Life could not have been easy at that campus for McLaurin, getting that masters was all that mattered though. He went to classes and lunch and sat where he was told.
The federal court in Oklahoma City upheld the discrimination. They came to their decision based on the fact that the Constitution "does not abolish distinctions based upon race . . ., nor was it intended to enforce social equality between classes and races." The University argued that a McLaurin would struggle with his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession. It is almost impossible for McLaurin to be a part of the class when he is secluded from the other students. If the school is so concerned about his interaction and discussion with other students, they should never have assigned him to a certain seat away from the rest of the class.
McLaurin filed an appeal in April of 1950 and with a unanimous vote the decision was reversed. Chief Justice Fred Vinson stated that the treatment that McLaurin received by the University was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause: "Such restrictions impair and inhibit his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession." This decision by the Supreme Court sent a message out to every school that was denying admission to students of different race. The Supreme Court was no longer going to tolerate any separate treatment of students based on their race.
McLaurin did not have some evil plot behind what he was doing. All he wanted to do was further his education at a good school. He wanted to be treated fairly like every other student that attended the University. When the appeal overturned the decision of the federal court of Oklahoma City, McLaurin was allowed to attend classes as an equal. This case made
history for so many other cases that followed. Students of a different race could stand up for themselves and better themselves. This case helped put an end to segregation in education. Thanks to the Fourteenth Amendment, no student will be denied admission to any school based on their race.
Although McLaurin was permitted to use the same classrooms, lunchroom, and library as the other white students, he was still being segregated against. It is not right that a school can assign a person of a different race to specific seats away from the other students. How is McLaurin supposed to have interaction with the other students if he is not allowed to sit with and socialize with them? This is still discrimination and a violation of the fourteenth amendment. McLaurin did not have any other choice but to stand up for himself and sue the University for violating his fourteenth amendment rights. He set the precedent for all future students of different races.
The ACLU defended McLaurin in his case against The University of Oklahoma. During the court hearing the ACLU claimed, “Segregation of black persons from white persons is in violation of the equal protection clause. Segregation in any fashion can only be seen as imposing a badge of inferiority” (McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents). The opposing council came back with the argument that “The purpose of the University authorities in adopting the policy here was to comply with Oklahoma's public policy of discrimination, while not violating the Fourteenth Amendment. Decisions, which allow for states to provide separate but equal educational facilities should be followed in this case, and the district court decision should be affirmed” (McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents). The Supreme Court saw through the unjust law that
Oklahoma had claimed to be following and voted in favor of McLaurin. This case made a huge impact on segregation in education.
In today’s society, we have an open enrollment. Race does not matter when a student is enrolling in an educational program. This case may have occurred over fifty years ago, but it made the way for the future. There have been so many other cases that were closely related to this case where the outcome was the same thanks to the McLaurin case. Discrimination is something that needed to be stopped. It is not gone by any means, but it is better than it was fifty years ago. No matter what race a person is, they are all allowed to attend the same school as white students and further their education.
Many students today would be shocked if there were separate schools for students of a different race, or if they had to ride on separate busses and drink from “their” own water fountains. Even private schools do not deny students admission into their schools because of their race. That is just unheard of these days. This is all possible because a few very strong Negro men and women stood up for what they believed in and challenged the courts. They have every right to the same opportunities as every white student out there. If McLaurin and others such as Rosa Parks just stood by and allowed the world to walk all over them because of their race, we could still have segregation today. It is very important for us to all be seen as equals. White children should not look at others of different races and think that they are better than them because they are white. This case made that happen. Everybody gets a fair opportunity at education no matter what race he or she is.
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637, 640 (1950). McLaurin v. Oklahoma State
Regents, 87 F. Supp. 526 (W. D. Okla. 1949). Mark Tushnet, Making Civil Rights Law:
Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1936-1961 (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1994). Retrieved July 28, 2009, from