Two residence halls at Purdue University have been renamed in honor of sisters Frieda and Winifred Parker, students who attended the university in the 1940s and were the first Black women to live on campus.
NBC affiliate WTHR reports that the decision to rename the Griffin North and South halls, originally named for the half-eagle, half-lion known in folklore, is part of the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Purdue historian John Norberg told WTHR that when the Parker sisters attended the university, it had an “unwritten policy” that prevented Black students from living in the residence halls.
According to WTHR, Norbert said:
“Part of the insidiousness of all of this, there were no laws for segregation for Lafayette [Indiana]. There were no rules at Purdue that said African Americans couldn’t live in the residence halls. What they admitted to the family at the time was by tradition.”
That tradition meant Blacks were forced to live off campus.
“African Americans had to be out by sundown,” Norberg said. “They didn’t have a private room. People could walk through their room where they were. There was no shower or bathtub. They only had one desk for them to share, and it was a long commute, so they missed a lot of opportunities on campus.”
Norbert said that the Parker sisters were the first to challenge the university’s unwritten rules about Black students living on campus.
More from WTHR:
Because that unwritten policy contradicted the written one, their father wrote a letter to the governor.
“The bylaws said the freshmen should all be on campus. He also made the additional point that Purdue is a land grant school, supported by people who pay taxes,” said Ralph Jefferson III, Frieda’s son. “Well, we pay taxes, so you shouldn’t treat us any different than anybody else.”
In an article explaining the decision to rename the halls after the Parker sisters, Purdue wrote that then-Gov. Ralph Gates agreed to take up the family’s cause and by January 1947, the sisters became the first Black students to live in one of the campus’ residence halls.
The university will unveil placards that bear the new names of the buildings during homecoming week in October, WTHR reports.