Troullier Parker honored for civil rights legacy, ‘courage’
University officials honored Clydia Richie Troullier Parker at a luncheon held on Feb. 19 at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma for her role in ending the segregational policies that prohibited African-American women admission to the Oklahoma College for Women (OCW) in 1955.
After opening remarks from Dr. Dex Marble, vice president of academic affairs, and Dr. Michael Nealeigh, vice president of university advancement, Troullier was given a proclamation from the university commending her for opening “the door of opportunities for countless numbers of students to be admitted to the Oklahoma College for Women, Oklahoma College for Liberal Arts and the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.”
Troullier applied for admission to OCW in the fall of 1954 and, when denied on the basis of her ethnicity, she filed suit on Oct. 8, 1954, against the college with support from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Ironically, OCW, for some number of years, had been allowing African-American men to attend classes during the day as long as they were not seeking a degree from the institution.
Troullier’s legal team included Thurgood Marshall, trailblazing civil rights attorney and future Supreme Court justice; Robert Carter, future US District Court judge and architect of the legal strategy that ended segregation in public schools; U. Simpson Tate, principal attorney for the NAACP’s southwest region; and Ada Sipuel Fisher, Chickasha native and the first woman of African-American descent admitted to the University of Oklahoma Law School.
Marble reminded attendees that Troullier’s courage should not be minimized due to the impressive roster of lawyers who were backing her.
“Lawyers work on a case and, when that case is done, they work on the next one,” Marble said. “Ms. Troullier Parker is the one who had to live with the process and its outcome. She took a risk in applying for admission and, once she was denied, in moving ahead with the lawsuit.”
“It is the plaintiff who loses sleep at night. It is the plaintiff who has to go to the grocery store and face either praise or criticism from her community. It was an act that demonstrated great courage on her part.”
In 1954, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education declared separate public educational accommodations for black and white students unconstitutional but many states, including Oklahoma, were slow to unravel segregation policies that had been in place for over a century.
OCW was the only college or university in the Oklahoma State Higher Education system against which a federal suit was filed.
After Troullier’s suit was filed, the OCW Board of Regents consulted the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education who, in turn, consulted with the state’s Attorney General Mac Q. Williamson.
On June 6, 1955, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education officially authorized all governing boards for state-supported schools to accept “qualified negro students” beginning with the fall term of 1955.
With this mandate, the OCW Board of Regents met on June 18, 1955 and voted to allow the admission of “qualified negro women” to the college.
As a result, federal judges dismissed Troullier’s suit.
Troullier became the first woman of African-American descent to enroll at OCW in the fall of 1955.
Her childhood home in Chickasha was declared an historical landmark by the city in September of 2013.
Troullier Parker’s family released a statement after the event, thanking the university for the luncheon and proclamation.
“[The proclamation] made it possible for us and several members of the community to celebrate her contribution to the history of the college and our community as well.”
Logan Webb, a freshman art major from Altus, was one of four current students invited to attend the luncheon. He expressed gratitude at the opportunity to learn about history from a first person perspective.
“I was so honored to be invited,” Webb said. “Ms. Parker’s courage paved the way for countless individuals both within and outside of Oklahoma in their fight for equality within the higher education system.”
The Oklahoma College for Women went co-educational in 1965 and the name was changed to the Oklahoma College for Liberal Arts to reflect a newly-focused mission of providing an accessible and rigorous top-quality liberal arts education.
In 1975, the legislature reclassified all four-year colleges in Oklahoma as universities and OCLA became the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, which remains Oklahoma’s only public liberal arts university.