In 1948, George McLaurin began classes at OU: drifting alone, one black face in a sea of 12,173 white ones.
Oct. 14 was a hopeful moment for McLaurin, the first black student at a previously all-white institution.
“This is a happy day in my life,” he told Sooner Magazine. “If things continue the way they have gone today, I think everything is going to be all right.”
McLaurin fought for admission to OU leading up to that day — when he first applied earlier in 1948, he was denied based on his race. McLaurin went to court with the issue, and in a Sept. 29, 1948, verdict, he was victorious when a federal court ruled that denying him admission was unconstitutional.
The Oklahoma State Regents ordered his admission Oct. 11, 1948, but with this victory, McLaurin was still far from an integrated education — his case was still to undergo another appeal that would not grant him that victory until 1950.
While McLaurin’s exclusion from OU was deemed unconstitutional, segregation at OU was still lawful. Thus, his education at OU was separate and unequal — he learned in a closet looking out over the room where his white classmates sat; he dined at separate tables at separate times; he used a different table in the library to study.
McLaurin, a doctoral student at OU’s College of Education, was not new to the struggles of segregation — at the time he began classes, he was about 61 years old, by the estimates of OU historian David Levy (though Levy said there is contention over McLaurin’s exact age at that point). He had already earned his master’s in education from the University of Kansas and taught at Langston University, Oklahoma’s historically all-black institution, for 33 years.