George W. McLaurin was a trailblazing African-American academic who made history when he became the first black student to attend the University of Oklahoma in 1948. Despite facing significant discrimination and prejudice, McLaurin persevered and went on to become a respected educator and advocate for civil rights. Born in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in 1894, McLaurin grew up in a segregated society where opportunities for African-Americans were limited. Despite these obstacles, he was a gifted student and earned a bachelor’s degree from Sumner High School in Kansas City, Missouri. He then went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Kansas in 1920.
McLaurin’s academic achievements were impressive, but he faced significant challenges in his career due to the color of his skin. He was repeatedly denied teaching positions at colleges and universities because of racial discrimination. Despite this, he continued to pursue his passion for education and eventually landed a job as a teacher at Langston University in Oklahoma. In 1948, McLaurin made history when he was admitted to the University of Oklahoma’s doctoral program in education. However, his acceptance came with a catch: he would be required to sit apart from his white classmates and would not be allowed to participate in classroom discussions or eat in the same cafeteria as his peers.
McLaurin challenged this segregation in court, arguing that it violated his constitutional rights. His case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in 1950. The court found that Oklahoma’s segregation laws were unconstitutional and ordered the university to integrate McLaurin fully into its doctoral program. Despite this victory, McLaurin faced ongoing discrimination and harassment during his time at the university. He was often excluded from social events and had difficulty finding housing due to his race. However, he persevered and earned his doctorate in education in 1951.
After completing his degree, McLaurin continued to work as an educator and advocate for civil rights. He served as a professor at historically black colleges and universities, including Langston University and Southern University in Louisiana. He also worked with organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to fight for equal rights for African-Americans. McLaurin’s legacy as a trailblazer in higher education and civil rights is significant. He paved the way for future generations of African-American students to attend integrated universities and helped to dismantle discriminatory laws and policies. His courage and determination continue to inspire people today.
In recognition of his contributions to education and civil rights, McLaurin was awarded numerous honors throughout his life, including the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1954. He passed away in 1966 at the age of 72, but his legacy lives on as a reminder of the power of perseverance and determination in the face of adversity.