Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher and the Pentecostal Origins of Desegregation

In 1954, the Supreme Court decided the famous Civil Rights case, Brown Vs. Board of Education, which argued that segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. This led the way for the 1964 decision to permanently desegregate schools in America. What many people do not know is that a young, Black Pentecostal woman with ties to Tulsa was responsible for preparing America for Brown vs. Board of Education. This is the story of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher from her autobiography A Matter of Black and White.

As noted in an earlier blog, the first Black Pentecostal church in Tulsa was the Church of God in Christ on 700 N. Greenwood in 1917. Bishop Travis B. Sipuel brought his wife Martha from Arkansas to Tulsa to live out the American dream in the prosperity of Tulsa’s Greenwood community. But when the Tulsa Race Massacre happened on May 31, 1921, the Sipuel’s home and church were destroyed by white mobs in the assault on Greenwood. In the aftermath, the Sipuels moved to Chickasha, Oklahoma hoping for a better life.[1]

Bishop Travis B. Sipuel

Unfortunately, Chickasha did not prove to be a place of escape from racial violence. On May 31st, 1930, nine years to the day after Tulsa, another young black man named Henry Argo was arrested, having been accused by the white sheriff of killing a white woman. There was little evidence of his involvement, but white mobs came to the courthouse to lynch the young man. Unlike in Tulsa, the white mob succeeded in breaking into the jail and shooting the young man in the head, Oklahoma’s last recorded lynching. As a result of surviving two racial incidents, Ada Lois’s mother Martha started to work in politics and connected with the local NAACP chapter. Meanwhile, while her father continued to pastor the Church of God in Christ church and became a state leader for the COGIC churches.

The Sipuel’s daughter, Ada Lois Sipuel , was born in Chickasha in 1924. She was a brilliant young woman (just like her father). After excelling in High School, she received a scholarship to go to Arkansas A&M University, an all black school in Pine Bluff. When she returned home, she married Warren Fisher in 1944. Soon after, the NAACP contacted Ada Lois’s family about the possibility of one of their children applying to law school at the University of Oklahoma in order to challenge the school’s all white student policy. Ada Lois volunteered.

On April 6, 1946, Ada Lois applied to the University of Oklahoma Law School. She was deemed academically qualified but was denied because it was prohibited by Oklahoma law. By law, it was a misdemeanor to admit any black students.[2] But with help from NAACP lawyers, Thurgood Marshal (the future SCOTUS Justice) and Amos Hall, her case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which forced OU to create a “separate but equal” all black law school at Langston University. But this would not do for Fisher. She wanted the same access to education and professors that the white students had.

Ada Sipuel Fisher decided to go back to the Supreme Court to challenge the “separate but equal” laws entrenched in Jim Crow Oklahoma. Fisher’s case argued that her education was separate but was anything but equal. The Court agreed, and her case paved the way for the Brown vs. Board of Education decision that would once and for all desegregate schools.[3] Finally, in June 1949, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher became an OU Law School student. Yet even as a student she continued to endure the humiliation of segregated seating. She eventually graduated in 1952 and joined the faculty of Langston University.

Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher endured great difficulty and hatred for challenging the status quo in Oklahoma education, but her Pentecostal faith gave her the strength be a civil rights pioneer. All along, the COGIC community supported her financially and with prayers and support.[4] In 1992, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher was appointed to the OU Board of Regents, and a garden was named in her honor. Her father, Bishop Sipuel, passed away in 1946, the same year her case against OU began. Her Mother, Martha, continued on in the Church of God in Christ and passed away in 1971.[5]

As important as Brown Vs. Board of Education was the to the Civil Rights Movement, it may not have happened had it not been for the courage of a young Pentecostal woman whose family was impacted by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. So while the Massacre sought through violence to keep blacks marginalized in society, God used it ultimately change the racial laws of Oklahoma and the United States forever.


This story and others about Tulsa’s Pentecostal history will be published in my upcoming book Pentecost in Tulsa from Seymour Press.


[1] Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, Matter of Black and White (University of Oklahoma Press, 2006), 10.

[2] Melvin C. Hall, “Fisher, Ada Lois Sipuel,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, accessed December 8, 2020, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=FI009.

[3] Cheryl Elizabeth Brown Wattley, A Step toward Brown V. Board of Education: Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher and Her Fight to End Segregation (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018).

[4] Fisher, Matter of Black and White, 94.

[5] “Homegoing of Mother M. B. Sipuel,” The Whole Truth 5, no. 7 (August 1971): 8.

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