McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents For Higher Education

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339 U.S. 637 (1950), argued 3–4 Apr. 1950, decided 5 June 1950 by vote of 9 to o. Vinson for the Court. McLaurin was a companion case to Sweatt v. Painter (1950), which defined the separate but equal standard in graduate education in such a way as to be unattainable. George W. McLaurin was an Oklahoma citizen and an African-American. Hoping to earn a doctorate in education, he applied for admission to graduate study at Oklahoma's all-white university at Norman. Initially denied admission on the basis of race, McLaurin was ordered admitted by a federal district court. But because Oklahoma law required that graduate instruction must be “upon a segregated basis,” McLaurin found himself enshrouded in the segregationist equivalent of a plastic bubble: in class, he sat in a separate row “reserved for Negroes”; in the library he studied at a separate desk; in the cafeteria he ate at a separate table. McLaurin sought relief from these measures by returning to the district court, and eventually appealing to the Supreme Court. The case was argued and decided simultaneously with the Sweatt case in which applicant Heman Sweatt was seeking admission to the University of Texas's all-white law school.

In a brief and blunt ruling, Chief Justice Fred Vinson ordered an end to McLaurin's separate treatment. Such practices, Vinson observed, denied McLaurin “his personal and present rights to the equal protection of the laws” (p. 642) as required by the Fourteenth Amendment. McLaurin, Vinson wrote, “must receive the same treatment … as students of other races” (p. 642).

Augustus M. Burns III

Subjects: Law.

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