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About George and Sylvia

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About George and Sylvia

George McLaurin

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George McLaurin was the first African American student admitted to the University of Oklahoma. In 1948, McLaurin applied for admission to the doctoral program in the College of Education, directly challenging the state’s current segregation laws. McLaurin held a master’s degree in education from the University of Kansas and had taught for 33 years at Langston University before retiring in 1948. By the time of his application to the University of Oklahoma, McLaurin’s three children had each earned a master’s degree.

State segregation laws mandated that African Americans attend Langston Univeristy, while whites could go to either the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University). To comply with the provisions requiring equal access to educational programs, the state offered funding for African Americans to attend schools in nearby states for programs not offered at Langston. McLaurin challenged this law and, by court decision, was admitted to the University of Oklahoma.

In order to comply with state separation laws, President George Lynn Cross arranged for McLaurin’s classes to be held in classroom with an anteroom. By sitting in this side room, away from white students, McLaurin could attend the same classes but still be segregated. Special seating areas were created in the cafeteria and at sporting events, and separate restroom facilities were designated to ensure continued segregation.

McLaurin challenged this continued segregation, taking the case to the United States Supreme Court. In 1950, the Supreme Court, in George W. McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents for Higher Education, ruled that segregation "handicapped him in his pursuit of effective graduate instruction." The decision began the process of tearing down official barriers to racial integration in Oklahoma higher education.

George McLaurin ultimately left the university after only two semesters. His case, however, would prove a key precedent in the national fight against segregation, paving the way for the landmark 1954 case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which established that separate was inherently unequal in all levels of education.

*Information from the University of Oklahoma Graduate College website. 

Sylvia A. Lewis

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Sylvia A. Lewis was the first African American to serve on the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents. She was appointed in 1986 by then-Governor George Nigh. She established a long record of achievements as an educator, administrator, and civic leader.

A graduate of Langston University with a master's degree in education from OU, Lewis was a public school teacher in Ponca City from 1943 to 1953, when she joined the Oklahoma City school system. She twice was named Oklahoma City Public Schools Teacher of the Year by her colleagues, in 1963 and 1964.

From 1966 to 1974, Lewis worked with the Opportunities Industrialization Center, Oklahoma City, and OIC International, her service culminating in stints as an education research specialist in Philadelphia and a training adviser in Lagos, Nigeria.
Returning to Langston in 1974 as Associate Dean of Student Affairs, she became dean in 1977 and director of Langston's Urban Center in Oklahoma City in 1981. She retired from the post in 1984.

Her previous awards and honors include the Meritorious Award for Community Service from the Young Women's Christian Association and the Award of Honor from the Indian American Community of Oklahoma City, both in 1967; the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award, Oklahoma Alliance, in 1981; and Langston's Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1987.
Lewis, Vice Chairwoman for the Oklahoma State Conference of Women in 1977-78 and delegate-at-large for the 1979 International Women's Year conference in Houston, was listed in Who's Who Among Black Americans and Who's Who Among American Women.