Purdue University Honors ‘Trailblazing’ Parker Sisters by Renaming Dormitories
By: ShaCamree Gowdy
Purdue University in Indiana has renamed two of its residence halls in honor of the “inseparable” Parker sisters who graduated in 1950, according to Sarah Jones of WTHR-13.
Frieda and Winifred Parker are the first African American women to have dormitories named after them on the Purdue campus, following the renaming of the adjoining Griffin Residence Hall buildings. While they weren’t the first to be denied access to the residence halls, the sisters were the first to challenge the unwritten policy that Black students couldn’t live on campus, eventually integrating the buildings.
“The university had an unwritten policy that African Americans couldn’t live in the residence halls,” said author and Purdue historian John Norberg, per Jones. “Part of the insidiousness of all of this, there were no laws for segregation for Lafayette. 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.”
The signs on the newly renamed dorms will be officially unveiled on October 3, in conjunction with Purdue’s homecoming weekend.
Purdue officials described the Parker Hall buildings’ location next to the Black Cultural Center as “noteworthy.” They say it will serve as a reminder of the sisters’ courage and tenacity both at Purdue and in their professional lives as educators who advocated for disadvantaged groups.
“It is fitting the building named in honor of these two trailblazing sisters is a place for students to live and learn,” said Black Cultural Center director Renee Thomas, per a story from the university. “Our tours will highlight Parker Hall and reference the sisters who were responsible for the integration of University Residences. Generations of Purdue students will be inspired to continue their legacy of educational excellence.”
The university acknowledges that attempts to persuade the Purdue administration to alter its housing policy could have been unsuccessful if not for the Parker family’s persistence, particularly a letter addressed by the girls’ father Frederick to then-governor Ralph Gates. Because of their actions in 1946, every African American who has applied to live in the residence halls since then has been accepted.