OKLAHOMA STATE REGENTS FOR
HIGHER EDUCATION ET AL.
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES
DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA. No. 34.
Argued April 3-4, 1950.
Decided June 5, 1950.Appellant, a Negro citizen of
Oklahoma possessing a master's degree, was admitted to the
Graduate School of the state-supported University of Oklahoma as
a candidate for a doctorate in education and was permitted to
use the same classroom, library and cafeteria as white students.
Pursuant to a requirement of state law that the instruction of
Negroes in institutions of higher education be "upon a
However, he was assigned to a seat in
the classroom in a row specified for Negro students, was
assigned to a special table in the library, and, although
permitted to eat in the cafeteria at the same time as other
students, was assigned to a special table there. Held: The
conditions under which appellant is required to receive his
education deprive him of his personal and present right to the
equal protection of the laws; and the Fourteenth Amendment
precludes such differences in treatment by the State based upon
race. Pp. 638-642.
(a) The restrictions imposed
upon appellant impair and inhibit his ability to study, to
engage in discussions and exchange views with other students,
and, in general, to learn his profession. Pp. 640-641.
(b) That appellant may still
be set apart by his fellow students and may be in no better
position when these restrictions are removed is irrelevant, for
there is a constitutional difference between restrictions
imposed by the State which prohibit the intellectual commingling
of students and the refusal of students to commingle where the
State presents no such bar. P. 641.
(c) Having been admitted to a
state-supported graduate school, appellant must receive the same
treatment at the hands of the State as students of other races.
87 F. Supp. 528, reversed.
The proceedings below are
stated in the opinion. The judgment below is reversed, p. 642.
Robert L. Carter and Amos T.
Hall argued the cause for appellant. With them on the brief were
Thurgood [339 U.S. 637, 638] Marshall and Frank D. Reeves.
Marian W. Perry and Franklin H. Williams were also of counsel.
Fred Hansen, First Assistant Attorney General of
Oklahoma, argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief
was Mac Q. Williamson, Attorney General.
[Thurgood Marshall, born July 2, 1908 in Baltimore,
Maryland, became associate justice October 1, 1967; left
office October 1, 1991and died January 24, 1993.]
Briefs of amici curiae,
supporting appellant, were filed by Solicitor General Perlman
and Philip Elman for the United States; Paul G. Annes for the
American Federation of Teachers; Phineas Indritz for the
American Veterans Committee, Inc.; Arthur J. Goldberg for the
Congress of Industrial Organizations; Edward J. Ennis and Saburo
Kido for the Japanese American Citizens League; and Arthur
Garfield Hays and Eugene Nickerson for the American Civil
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE VINSON
delivered the opinion of the Court.
In this case, we are faced
with the question whether a state may, after admitting a student
to graduate instruction in its state university, afford him
different treatment from other students solely because of his
race. We decide only this issue; see Sweatt v. Painter, ante, p.
Appellant is a Negro citizen
of Oklahoma. Possessing a Master's Degree, he applied for
admission to the University of Oklahoma in order to pursue
studies and courses leading to a Doctorate in Education. At that
time, his application was denied, solely because of his race.
The school authorities were required to exclude him by the
Oklahoma statutes, 70 Okla. Stat. (1941) 455, 456, 457, which
made it a misdemeanor to maintain or operate, teach or attend a
school at which both whites and Negroes are enrolled or taught.
Appellant filed a complaint requesting injunctive relief,
alleging that the action of the school authorities and the
statutes upon which their action was based were unconstitutional
and deprived him [339 U.S. 637, 639] of the equal protection of
Citing our decisions in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v.
Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938), and Sipuel v. Board of Regents, 332
U.S. 631 (1948), a statutory three-judge District Court held
that the State had a Constitutional duty to provide him with the
education he sought as soon as it provided that education for
applicants of any other group. It further held that to the
extent the Oklahoma statutes denied him admission they were
unconstitutional and void. On the assumption, however, that the
State would follow the constitutional mandate, the court refused
to grant the injunction, retaining jurisdiction of the cause
with full power to issue any necessary and proper orders to
secure McLaurin the equal protection of the laws. 87 F. Supp.
Following this decision, the Oklahoma legislature amended
these statutes to permit the admission of Negroes to
institutions of higher learning attended by white students, in
cases where such institutions offered courses not available in
the Negro schools. The amendment provided, however, that in such
cases the program of instruction "shall be given at such
colleges or institutions of higher education upon a segregated
basis." 1 Appellant [339 U.S. 637, 640] was thereupon
admitted to the University of Oklahoma Graduate School. In
apparent conformity with the amendment, his admission was made
subject to "such rules and regulations as to segregation as
the President of the University shall consider to afford to Mr.
G. W. McLaurin substantially equal educational opportunities as
are afforded to other persons seeking the same education in the
Graduate College," a condition which does not appear to
have been withdrawn.
||White students in class at the University of
Oklahoma, and G.W. McLaurin, an African American, Seated
1948 Library of Congress
Thus he was required to sit apart at a
designated desk in an anteroom adjoining the classroom; to sit
at a designated desk on the mezzanine floor of the library, but
not to use the desks in the regular reading room; and to sit at
a designated table and to eat at a different time from the other
students in the school cafeteria.To remove these conditions,
appellant filed a motion to modify the order and judgment of the
District Court. That court held that such treatment did not
violate the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment and denied
the motion. 87 F. Supp. 528. This appeal followed.
In the interval between the
decision of the court below and the hearing in this Court, the
treatment afforded appellant was altered. For some time, the
section of the classroom in which appellant sat was surrounded
by a rail on which there was a sign stating, "Reserved For
Colored," but these have been removed. He is now assigned
to a seat in the classroom in a row specified for colored
students; he is assigned to a table in the library on the main
floor; and he is permitted to eat at the same time in the
cafeteria as other students, although here again he is assigned
to a special table.
It is said that the
separations imposed by the State in this case are in form merely
nominal. McLaurin uses the same classroom, library and cafeteria
as students of other races; there is no indication that the
seats to which he is assigned in these rooms have any
disadvantage [339 U.S. 637, 641] of location. He may wait in
line in the cafeteria and there stand and talk with his fellow
students, but while he eats he must remain apart.These
restrictions were obviously imposed in order to comply, as
nearly as could be, with the statutory requirements of Oklahoma.
But they signify that the State, in administering the facilities
it affords for professional and graduate study, sets McLaurin
apart from the other students. The result is that appellant is
handicapped in his pursuit of effective graduate instruction.
Such restrictions impair and inhibit his ability to study, to
engage in discussions and exchange views with other students,
and, in general, to learn his profession.
Our society grows increasingly
complex, and our need for trained leaders increases
correspondingly. Appellant's case represents, perhaps, the
epitome of that need, for he is attempting to obtain an advanced
degree in education, to become, by definition, a leader and
trainer of others. Those who will come under his guidance and
influence must be directly affected by the education he
receives. Their own education and development will necessarily
suffer to the extent that his training is unequal to that of his
classmates. State-imposed restrictions which produce such
inequalities cannot be sustained.
It may be argued that
appellant will be in no better position when these restrictions
are removed, for he may still be set apart by his fellow
students. This we think irrelevant. There is a vast difference -
a Constitutional difference - between restrictions imposed by
the state which prohibit the intellectual commingling of
students, and the refusal of individuals to commingle where the
state presents no such bar. Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 13
-14 (1948). The removal of the state restrictions will not
necessarily abate individual and group predilections, prejudices
But at the very least, the state will not be
depriving appellant of the opportunity [339 U.S. 637, 642] to
secure acceptance by his fellow students on his own merits. We
conclude that the conditions under which this appellant is
required to receive his education deprive him of his personal
and present right to the equal protection of the laws. See
Sweatt v. Painter, ante, p. 629. We hold that under these
circumstances the Fourteenth Amendment precludes differences in
treatment by the state based upon race. Appellant, having been
admitted to a state-supported graduate school, must receive the
same treatment at the hands of the state as students of other
races. The judgment is Reversed.
[ Footnote 1 ] The amendment
adds the following proviso to each of the sections relating to
mixed schools: "Provided, that the provisions of this
Section shall not apply to programs of instruction leading to a
particular degree given at State owned or operated colleges or
institutions of higher education of this State established for
and/or used by the white race, where such programs of
instruction leading to a particular degree are not given at
colleges or institutions of higher education of this State
established for and/or used by the colored race; provided
further, that said programs of instruction leading to a
particular degree shall be given at such colleges or
institutions of higher education upon a segregated basis."
70 Okla. Stat. Ann. (1950) 455, 456, 457. Segregated basis is
defined as "classroom instruction given in separate
classrooms, or at separate times." Id. 455. [339 U.S. 637,
|Frederick Moore Vinson, thirteenth Chief
Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was born in
Louisa, Kentucky on January 22, 1890. He died September
8,1953 in Washington D.C.--buried in Kentucky.
On June 6, 1946, President Truman nominated Vinson as
Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court to
succeed Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone.
In Sweatt v. Painter, a Texas case, Chief
Justice Vinson wrote an opinion that gave hope to civil
rights advocates that the days of legal segregation of the
races were on the way out.
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education
(339 US 637-1950) After having been admitted to the state university, G.W. McLaurin, a black, was required to occupy a special seat in the
classroom and a designated table in both the library and the
cafeteria--all because of his race.
The U.S. Supreme Court declared unanimously that the black student
must receive the same treatment at the hands of the state as other
students, and could not be segregated
Chapter VI. "The Instruction of Negroes." In Edgar W.
A Documentary History of Education in the South before 1860. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 1953
Chapter 10 "Up From Slavery: Educational and
other Rights of Negroes." In Edgar W. Knight and Clifton L. Hall. Readings
in American Educational History. New York Appleton-Century-Crofts,
Many states had laws prohibiting
the education of blacks; here black youngsters are turned away at the
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