Territorial Justice: Oklahoma and the Battle for Educational Rights
Sara Doolittle

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Oklahoma

Primary Discipline

History of Education
This legal history explores previously unstudied and undiscovered court challenges for educational access brought by Black settlers during Oklahoma?s territorial period (1889-1907). Through examining these local cases, my work addresses broader questions we have about educational rights and access. In Oklahoma Territory, Black pioneers had equal rights to land under the Homestead Act and the territory?s Organic Act. They had historic access to integrated education in other states, in neighboring Indian Territory, and on military posts. Yet racist forces were determined to deny access to Black children. Their families fought against a narrowing of their rights. These families found sympathetic judges in the territory?s courts. As a result, Oklahoma courts heard more challenges than in any other state. This history has a broader significance. This was a pivotal time for the law and for public education, and a defining period for Black citizenship. As such my research sheds new light on the question: is there a federal right to education? It further considers: What is the role of the federal government in protecting the rights of all its citizens to educational access? How is racial hierarchy upheld by negating this history of rights claims as it pertains to education?
About Sara Doolittle
Sara Doolittle received her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Oklahoma. At that institution, she currently serves as a post-doctoral research associate on a donor-funded randomized controlled trial investigating high dosage mathematics tutoring in high school freshmen. Her own research focuses on the intersection of the law, race, and schools with a particular focus on nineteenth century school segregation law. Her work on legal challenges to Oklahoma territorial segregation law has appeared in History of Education Quarterly. Informed by her twenty-year career as a public educator, her research also focuses on twentieth and twenty-first century educational finance litigation. Employing both qualitative historical methodology as well as quantitative legal analysis, her work attends to the broader inequities in educational access. A 2019-2020 recipient of the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Research Development Award, she has also been selected for both the AERA Division F mentorship program and the History of Education Doctoral Summer School sponsored by the leading organizations in history of education. A proud product of an entirely public education, Sara earned her bachelor?s degree from the University of Kansas, majoring in English and graduating Phi Beta Kappa with honors. Her master?s degree is in English Curriculum Studies from the University of Colorado.

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