McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education: Facts of the Case
George McLaurin, an African American man, applied for admission to the all-White University of Oklahoma to obtain a doctoral degree in education. McLaurin was denied admission to the university solely due to his race under a state law that made it a misdemeanor to teach African American and White students in the same facility. When McLaurin pursued legal action to be admitted to the university, a federal court in Oklahoma was of the opinion that the state, through university officials, had the constitutional duty to provide him with the education that was provided for members of other populations.
Further, the court declared that to the extent the Oklahoma statutes denied McLaurin admission, they were unconstitutional and void. Following the litigation, the state legislature amended its statutes to permit the admission of African Americans to institutions of higher learning attended by White students as long as these programs were administered “upon a segregation basis.” McLaurin was thus accepted to study at the university.
Once McLaurin began attending classes, he realized that university officials segregated him from the White students. The classes that McLaurin attended were purposely scheduled for classrooms that had adjoining anterooms, in which he was forced to sit. In the library, McLaurin was required to sit at a designated desk on the mezzanine floor, and in the cafeteria, he had to eat at different times than White students. McLaurin objected to this treatment and sought a remedy from the lower federal court. When a federal trial court denied McLaurin’s motion for relief on the basis that he was denied equal protection under the law, he appealed to the Supreme Court.
In the interim, university officials adjusted the institution’s segregation policies in a very limited way. University officials began allowing McLaurin to sit at a desk in the main classroom, but only in a row designated for African Americans. McLaurin also began to be able to study on the main floor of the library, but he was still only allowed to use specified desks. Similarly, officials allowed him the privilege of being able to eat at the same time as White students, but he was still not permitted to sit at the same tables as those students.
The university contended that these restrictions did not affect McLaurin’s ability to study, learn, or interact with other students in preparing for his profession. McLaurin disagreed with the university’s position, pressing his claim that officials infringed on his Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Rights. The core of his claim was that the restrictions negatively affected his educational achievement and his education was unequal to that of White students.