When an individual is born into this world, the first important decision to make on behalf of the newborn is giving him or her a name. The name is something that is carried from beginning to end. A name is a person’s connection to their identity and individuality. When a name is given, it is used for the sole purpose of being an identifier. As the individual endures the cycle of life, a name takes the form of representing the person’s place in this world.
Unfortunately, this world we live in isn’t perfect. In the United States, in the late 1600s many African Americans were born into slavery. Once slavery ended in 1865 segregation was the difficult situation inherited by African Americans.
Frieda Parker was born on September 9th, 1928. Her sister Winifred was born ten months later. The two were inseparable as they faced the reality of the world they lived in. Fortunately, the Parker Sisters had a strong family base. Their parents Frieda Alice Campbell Parker and Frederick Allen Parker were both distinguished college graduates. As parents, they stressed the importance of accountability, integrity, and the value of a good education.
Frieda and Winifred attended Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. The student body and faculty were all Black.
After graduating from high school, the Parker Sisters journeyed to West Lafayette, Indiana to continue their education at Purdue University in the fall of 1946. When they applied for University housing, their application was denied. The University had an unwritten policy stating African Americans couldn’t live in residence halls. It wasn’t by law, but by tradition that Blacks couldn’t live on campus. The town of West Lafayette was considered a sundown city. African Americans would have to leave by sundown. They were forced to live in a boarding house located miles away from campus in Lafayette, Indiana. The daily commute to and from campus forced the sisters to miss out on educational and social events.
With help from their father, Frieda and Winifred challenged the unwritten policy due to the fact that Purdue is a land grant school in Indiana that was supported by people who pay taxes. The Parkers were a tax-paying family in the state of Indiana and because of that, they felt they had the right to reside in the dormitory. The sisters turned to the local Black community for support. They also went on a letter-writing campaign. One of the letters reached the desk of Indiana Governor Ralph Gates. The Governor agreed to take up the family cause as he pressured the University.
The barriers were officially broken in January of 1947 when housing discrimination on campus came to an end. The Parker Sisters were among the first Black women to move in the Bunker Hill residence halls.
They would go on to graduate from Purdue in 1950. Frieda sustained a 50-year career as an educator, and Winifred worked as a microbiologist.
Seven years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Winifred died in 2003. Frieda passed away in 2020.
Fueled by a recommendation from Renee Thomas, Director of Purdue’s Black Culture Center, the Parker Sisters legacy lives on. Griffin North and South dorms will be renamed Frieda Parker Hall and Winifred Parker Hall. The two residence halls are adjacent to the Black Cultural Center. The official unveiling is scheduled for October 3rd, 2021.
The Parker Sisters’ names will always be linked to their fight for equality and the right to live in the residence halls at Purdue University. Frieda and Winifred fought for their right in 1946. Seventy-five years later the trailblazing alumnae are honored as their names will be placed on the buildings they fought to reside in. Seventy-five years ago the mission started. Seventy-five years later the Parker Sisters’ names and their mission comes full circle.