“There are great stories behind each of those people,” said Fisher, the newest member of the Capitol Preservation Commission. “There’s just not enough interpretation. You see the piece there, but you don’t know why it’s there. Every piece there has a historical significance. It’s not just art for art’s sake.”Chief Justice Tom Colbert of the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently appointed Fisher, administrative programs officer for the Oklahoma Historical Society, to the commission, which oversees modifications and decor of the Capitol and the governor’s mansion.
The first African-American member of the commission, Fisher said he wants to give more detail about the art already in the Capitol but also would like to see more pieces related to Oklahoma black culture.
Outside of the Oklahoma History Center, he said the Capitol is the best place to learn about the state’s black history.
Seven paintings of black Oklahomans are on display there, including Fisher’s moth- er, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, the first African-American to attend law school at the University of Oklahoma.
“My mom is the only African-American female in the Capitol. That absolutely needs to be addressed,” he said. “It’s empowering for our community to know that these heroes and ‘sheroes’ are recognized.”
Although he knew his mother had worked with civil rights leaders, Fisher said it took him a while to understand the full weight of her experience, partly because his father, Warren, was a community leader and charismatic figure who worked at Tinker Air Force Base.
“I knew people treated my mom special, but I thought everyone’s mom got treated special,” he said.
Fisher said he’d like to see more people like Hannah Atkins, the first black woman elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and civil rights leader Clara Luper recognized along with black towns and Buffalo Soldiers.
His mother’s job as a Langston University professor seemed normal to him. That began to change when he drove her to the funeral of Amos T. Hall, who represented her in the U.S. Supreme Court case Sipuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma, which resulted in the university’s desegregation.
At the event, civil rights leader Thurgood Marshall greeted her by name — or partial name, saying, “Sip!” “That’s when it got more clear to me what that case was all about and who these giants were that she was always talking about,” Fisher said. “She always would stress that everyone was committed to getting her in law school but it was her job to get out of law school.”
Later, Fisher helped his mother write her story, and she saw the book draft just before she died in 1995. Her portrait was installed in the Capitol in 2007.
He has experienced changing race relations throughout his life. Many of his early years were spent in Chickasha, where he lived with his grandmother, Martha Sipuel-Caver, as his mother established her law practice. Although he wasn’t old enough to attend classes, he spent so much time at nearby Lincoln Elementary that the principal admitted him early.
In Chickasha, Fisher was protected from overt forms of racism.
“We didn’t know we couldn’t try on clothes. We didn’t know why we had to drink from a different water fountain,” he said. “We just did it.”
He didn’t experience more strained race relations until moving to Oklahoma City after third grade. He and a white neighbor boy were chased by teenagers in cars, and he later experienced the desegregation of schools.
After graduating from Northeast High School, Fisher attended Langston University, studied in Africa and earned a master’s degree in history from Texas Southern University in Houston.
Trait Thompson, commission chairman, said he’s eager to hear more about Fisher’s ideas. Fisher’s personal history, his appreciation for the Capitol and his experience with the Oklahoma Historical Society will be an asset.
“I think he’ll have a unique view that will help us,” Thompson said. “I think he’s absolutely right; we have a great story to tell in Oklahoma. We have so much more to tell.”