WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.– Purdue University honors two sisters who stood up for what they believed in back in the 1940s.
The Parker sisters, Frieda and Winifred, fought to become the first African American students to live on campus back then. Now the university hopes that by honoring them, they can inspire current students.
Growing up, Frieda Parker Jefferson and Winifred Parker White always knew they would go to college.
“They were each other’s best friends as well as sisters. And they were born into a family where education was extremely important,” said Winifred Neisser, the oldest child of Winifred Parker White.
She and her cousin Ralph Jefferson, III, Frieda Parker Jefferson’s oldest, both say the news of the dorms being named after their mothers came as a surprise.
“For most college campuses, you get dorms named after you, you know, donate $25 million, and we’re doing OK but we don’t have $25 million,” said Jefferson.
After the sisters got accepted into Purdue, they wanted to live on campus but were denied because of the color of their skin. Even though the school’s handbook said first-year women had to live on campus.
“This was important. This was a way of saying to not only my mother and my aunt, ‘You’re not really as good as the rest of us. That’s what they said to the other Black students. That was not acceptable,” Neisser said.
So, they protested. The issue made its way up to the governor, who sided with them and they were allowed to move in.
“They never really made themselves out to be heroes. You know, it was just part of the family lore. But just taking A simple stand actually changed the culture of that university,” Neisser said.
Although they weren’t alive to see it, the university dedicated the halls to the sisters back in October.
.@LifeAtPurdue is honoring these two trail blazing sisters. They stood up for that they believed in and were the first African Americans to live on campus back in the 1940’s. Now two dorms are named after them. pic.twitter.com/sp3GaAJB9O
— Eric Pointer (@EricPointerTV) February 15, 2022
University officials say they hope the impact of the sisters moving into campus housing doesn’t move out of anyone’s mind.
“We know that we are often confronted with adversity and it’s important for us to challenge that adversity. It’s important for us to celebrate successes that we’ve had thus far. Its also important for today’s students to take a stand when they see injustice,” said Associate Vice Provost for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Renee Thomas.
A lasting impact that their children hope will inspire more change.
“The thing that I like about Purdue naming these dorms after our mothers was that it says to all of the students, not just Black students, to all of the students that you can make a difference by standing up for yourself and doing what you think is right,” Neisser said.
The university is still in the process of putting up different signage and informational installations. They hope to be done by the time the next batch of students move in next fall.
For more information, you can check out our Full Steam Ahead podcast episode about the sisters.