Oklahoma Higher Education Campus E-Clips sponsored by the Communicators Council

February 2016

Film Explores Langston’s Role in Civil Rights Reform

The award-winning documentary series “Back in Time” looked at Langston University in a recent episode. OETA aired the Langston episode in February. The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority described the episode as follows:

Created in response to Jim Crow laws and segregation, Langston University has struggled through severe legal, economic and political restrictions for more than 100 years. In the face of opposition, the once all-black college has given generations of students a step up to a better life.

“Back in Time” looks at Langston University’s role in the civil rights movement and its many famous alumni during the 30-minute episode.

Among Langston’s famous alums are Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, the first black admitted to the University of Oklahoma’s law school; Clara Luper, who led nonviolent protests at Oklahoma City drugstore lunch counters; Dr. Ernest Holloway, who as its president brought Langston University back from the edge of collapse; and Marques Haynes, one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

Program producer Robert Burch answered questions for The Oklahoman about the documentary.

Q: What are some of the interesting things people will discover about Langston from the “Back in Time” documentary?

A: While many people may know that Langston was Oklahoma’s only all-black college, they may not know that it was created as a part of segregation in the Territory. Jim Crow laws were adopted just after statehood, and all students of African descent were barred from other state universities until the 1960s.
Viewers’ will also hear what graduates and historians have to say about the need for Langston in the post-segregation era.

Langston also played a role in the desegregation of professional basketball. In the late ’40s, Marques Haynes played for Langston (and) when he graduated he joined the Harlem Globetrotters. In 1949, Haynes and the Globetrotters beat the National Champions, the Minneapolis Lakers, two times in a row. The league opened to black players in 1950.

Denzel Washington played the role of former Langston professor and poet laureate Melvin Tolson in “The Great Debaters.”

Actress Jennifer Hudson spent a semester at Langston, but she didn’t like the Oklahoma wind and went back to her home town — Chicago.

Q: How was Langston decided on as a subject?

A: Last year, during our research for our documentary program about the civil rights struggle in Oklahoma, we heard several interesting stories about Langston, so we decided to feature Langston this February during Black History Month.

Q: What are some of the key civil rights areas where Langston University played a role?

A: Several Langston graduates participated in the civil rights movement, but two in particular played key roles. First, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher graduated from Langston in 1946 and applied to the OU School of Law but was denied. After winning two Supreme Court cases, she was admitted. In 1953, she returned to teach social studies at Langston.

The second civil rights leader from Langston is Clara Luper, who, in 1958, staged a string of lunch counter sit-ins that opened Oklahoma City stores and restaurants to black customers years before the better known sit-ins at Greensville, S.C.

Q: What was your role in bringing this project to fruition?

A: As the producer, I research, write and host the program. I work with a very talented photographer and editor, Ryan Lorg. Together with our talented researcher Collin Fowler, we produce original documentaries about Oklahoma history every two months. Oklahoma has an interesting history, and we are always looking for interesting stories that people have never heard before.

Q: What were some of the major challenges?

A: Three people putting together a 30-minute documentary from scratch in two months is a challenge, but it’s an interesting job, and the show has won several awards, including three Emmys.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?

A: The show was called “Back in Time,” the episode, “Langston History,” and aired twice in February.

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