By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Hosted by the Oklahoma Bar Association, the 2018 Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Diversity Awards Dinner was held on Thursday, October 18, in the Great Room of the Oklahoma Judicial Center in Oklahoma City.
The OBA Diversity Committee encourages diverse representation and participation in the legal profession. It plans and promotes programs and acquires resources to enhance knowledge and encourage understanding of diversity.
“We are very excited for our very deserving award recipients,” said Telana McCullough, Diversity Committee Chair. “Our annual awards are named for Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, the first African American admitted to the OU College of Law. She, through her fierceness and grit, blazed a trail for minorities in the practice of law. Our award recipients honor her by inspiring change.”
A native of Chickasha Oklahoma, Sipuel Fisher challenged and forever changed segregation laws on her path to achieve her lifelong goal of becoming a lawyer.
Urged by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), twenty-one-year-old Fisher agreed to seek admission to the University of Oklahoma’s law school in 1946.
Even though her credentials were outstanding, at that time, Oklahoma statutes prohibited whites and blacks from attending classes. Her fight to attend OU’s School of Law was a long struggle of court proceedings, going all the way to the US Supreme Court.
On June 18, 1949, more than three years later, Sipuel Fisher was finally admitted and in August 1952 graduated from the OU College of Law.
After briefly practicing law in Chickasha, Fisher joined the faculty of Langston University in 1957 and served as chair of the Department of Social Sciences. She retired in December 1987 as assistant vice president for academic affairs. In 1991 the University of Oklahoma awarded Fisher an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
On April 22, 1992, Gov. David Walters appointed Dr. Sipuel Fisher to OU’s Board of Regents, the same school that had once refused to admit her to its College of Law. As the governor said during the ceremony, it was a “completed cycle.” The lady who was once rejected by the university was now a member of its governing board. Dr. Sipuel Fisher died on Oct. 18, 1995.
The Diversity Awards dinner keynote speaker was Susan Carns Curtiss, founder of Girl Attorney LLC, an organization for women to promote and encourage one another primarily in the practice of law.
Susan is committed to providing a forum for a community of support and encouragement to women attorneys across the globe. On the Girl Attorney blog, she stated, “we are growing geographically, in ethnic diversity, and most of all…we are meeting and hearing from more of each other, helping each other, and learning from each other.
“There are few things more awesome in this life than ‘spaces’ that feel safe enough to show our vulnerabilities and allow us to learn from others. Girl Attorney FB page is seeking to provide that type of space – to make us all wiser and stronger for it,” she added.
During the event, three individuals and three organizations were honored with the Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Diversity Award, recognizing their efforts to demonstrate that diversity and inclusion matter in Oklahoma.
Individuals honored were Judge Lydia Y. Green, special judge for the Oklahoma County District Court and member of The Metropolitan Fair Housing Council of Oklahoma Inc; Betsy G. Jackson, shareholder at Hall Estill and vice-chair for the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women; and Representative Emily Virgin, Minority Caucus chair of the Oklahoma House of Representatives representing District 44.
Organizations recognized that evening included Oklahoma People First, a self-advocacy organization serving people with intellectual disabilities and the first statewide nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization run for and by people with intellectual disabilities; Metropolitan Fair Housing Council of Oklahoma Inc., the only full-service, 501(c)(3) private nonprofit, qualified fair housing enforcement and advocacy organization in Oklahoma; and Girl Attorney LLC, an online community for women lawyers.
The evening was sponsored by Hall Estill Attorneys at Law and Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma.
The 17,600-member Oklahoma Bar Association, headquartered in Oklahoma City, was created by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to advance the administration of justice and to foster and maintain learning, integrity, competence, public service and high standards of conduct among Oklahoma’s legal community.