A long-envisioned effort to honor civil rights pioneer Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher with a portrait in the state Capitol rotunda finally came to fruition Tuesday.
Oklahoma Arts Council Executive Director Betty Price; Bruce Fisher, son of the late Sipuel Fisher; and artist Mitsuno Reedy unveiled the oil piece during an 11 a.m. program in the House chamber, as members of Sipuel Fisher’s family, politicians, children and community members packed in to watch.
“Every person in this room and literally every person in this state has been touched “¦ by Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher,” said University of Oklahoma President David Boren. “She made Oklahoma a better state; she made the United States a better nation.”
The first portrait of a black woman in the rotunda, the painting will share space on the fourth-floor with depictions of Angie Debo, Woodie Guthrie and Sequoyah, among others. It depicts a beaming Sipuel Fisher, on her triumphant 1948 return from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Earlier in the Forties, Sipuel Fisher had agreed to help the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People challenge segregation in higher education. A LangstonUniversity graduate, she sought admission to the OU law school and was denied entrance solely because of her race. She sued, and her case went before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that Oklahoma must provide her equal opportunity to gain a law degree.
Litigation continued until OU changed its policy in June 1949. Sipuel Fisher’s courage became even more apparent after she was admitted, 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Robert H. Henry said. She was roped off from fellow students in classrooms and the cafeteria, but, ultimately, he said, students broke through those barriers.
It was crucial to Sipuel Fisher, Boren said, that we “make sure that ropes are never put up to divide us in America for any purpose again.”
Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and Mike Shelton, chair of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus, also spoke at the event, and singer and Enid native Leona Mitchell performed “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
Funds are still being raised to cover the $25,000 portrait project, which is being paid for by private contributions. For information on donating, contact the Oklahoma Arts Council at 521-2931. “Emily Jerman