The lives of two great African-Americans as vividly depicted by speakers from the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce formed the center piece for a Feb. 28 Community Celebration of Black History Month. The event was sponsored by the Bryan County Democratic Party at Roma Italian Restaurant.
Cindy Van Kley and April Moaning of the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce explained the civil rights accomplishments of Roscoe Dunjee and Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher. Van Kley told the crowd packed into the east dining room of the restaurant that Dunjee founded the long-running African-American newspaper Black Dispatch and ran it from 1917 until his death in 1965. According to Van Kley, he funded many of Oklahoma’s important civil-rights cases and died penniless from giving his all to the cause.
Moaning recounted the struggle of Fisher to gain admission to the University of Oklahoma Law School. At the time, 1946, African-Americans were not allowed in the Law School. Fisher sued. When the University lost the lawsuit Fisher brought against them, it threw together a separate law school for her and other Blacks. She sued again on the basis that the quickly-assembled Black law school was separate but not equal, and the Supreme Court agreed. In response, the Law School admitted Fisher in 1949, but seated her separate from the White students in a roped-off area labeled “Colored.” Instructors and many of the students helped Fisher when she had to miss sessions because she was pregnant. Thus, Fisher moved ahead, became the University Law School’s first Black graduate, and went into practice as an attorney in her hometown, Chickasha. In 1992, Governor David Walters appointed Fisher to the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma.
Leslie Parker, a member of the Democratic Party’s Outreach task force planned the event. Table decorations, designed and made by fellow member Judy Grace, were three-faced placards displaying pictures and brief accounts of famous African-Americans such as Rosa Parks, Marian Anderson, Shirley Chisholm, Colin Powell, Jesse Owens, and George Washington Carver. Handouts were also available with information about such important Blacks as Clara Luper, who started the peaceful 1958 sit-ins at an Oklahoma City drug store lunch counter that led to the integration of the state’s restaurants. Others were the first Black winner of the Pulitzer Prize for literature, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Gordon Parks, the first Black Hollywood film director.
Additional information about eminent Oklahoma African-Americans is available in The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.
Submitted by the Bryan County Democratic Party.