Parker Halls Dedicated as Monument to Courageous Sisters

Photo for Parker Halls Dedicated as Monument to Courageous Sisters

The renaming of the Griffin Residence Halls in honor of Frieda Parker (Jefferson) and Winifred Parker (White), sisters who led the campaign that compelled Purdue to integrate its student housing, was officially dedicated Sunday, October 3. The buildings, originally named after the mythical creature featured on the Purdue seal, are the first buildings on Purdue’s campus to be named after Black alumnae.  

In June 2021, the Purdue Board of Trustees formally celebrated the legacy of the Parker sisters by voting unanimously to rename the residence halls in their honor. Provost Jay Akridge, along with Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion John Gates, brought forth the recommendation from Renee Thomas, former director of the Black Cultural Center. The buildings will serve as a monument to the courage, persistence and tenacity displayed by the Parker sisters during their time at Purdue and beyond. 

Upon enrollment at Purdue in 1946, the Parker sisters were initially denied the opportunity to live in University housing. At the time, all housing at Purdue and in the city of West Lafayette was segregated, forcing the sisters to live in a boarding house in Lafayette. The sisters lived in a single room used as a passageway by others who lived in the house, with no shower or bath and just a single desk to share. Their commute to and from campus each day required two buses – hardly ideal conditions under which to pursue a degree. Due to these challenges, Winifred and Frieda missed out on many of the social and educational opportunities that resident students were able to enjoy. 

Frederick Parker, a prominent math teacher at segregated Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis and father of the Parker sisters, mobilized support from connections in the Black community and started a letter-writing campaign to push the Purdue administration to reconsider its housing policies.  

Among the recipients of Fred Parker’s letters was Indiana Gov. Ralph Gates.  

“He made it well known that Purdue was a land-grant school supported by state taxes, and his taxes supported the school just like everyone else’s, so why couldn’t his children live on campus?” Frieda said of her father to University historian John Norberg. “The fact that Blacks were not allowed in the dorms was a policy that had been set up in the housing office at Purdue. It was not law.”  

The governor took up the family’s cause, leading to Purdue admitting the Parker sisters into Bunker Hill in January 1947. They were among the first Black residents of Purdue. The location of the Parker halls is noteworthy in that they are just down the block from the former site of Bunker Hill. 

The transition to living in University housing wasn’t always easy, and the sisters leaned heavily on the local Black community for support – particularly the friends they met through the Greek system as sisters in Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Over time, the sisters made friends in the residence hall and broke down some of the existing barriers. Their fellow residents eventually elected Winifred as secretary of the governing board for the Women’s Residence Halls. 

After graduating from Purdue in 1950, each Parker sister went on to enjoy successful careers. A microbiologist by Purdue training, Winifred returned to college in the 1970s and completed a degree in guidance and counseling at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She spent the remainder of her professional life as a career counselor and advocate for the physically challenged and other underrepresented groups. Frieda worked for more than 50 years in education, including in Milwaukee Public Schools, where she was one of the founding organizers of the teacher’s union and president of the PTA. Winifred died in 2003, seven years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and Frieda passed away in 2020.  

Purdue University has produced the following video documentary to highlight the story of the Parker sisters. 

Adrienne White-Faines, the daughter of Winifred and niece to Frieda, was one of many family members present for the dedication of the Parker halls. She said that each of the sisters' families continued to instill the importance of education in their children. Frieda and her husband, Ralph, sent both of their sons to Purdue, while Winifred and her husband Walter’s four children – Winifred, Walter, Charles and Adrienne – also graduated college. All six of the sisters’ children went on to complete graduate programs.   

“It’s understood that likely the strongest, most efficient and effective pathway to a more just and peaceful world is through education,” White-Faines said. “Therefore, because education comes in many forms, both in and out of the classroom, my mother and aunt were under no delusion that this would be easy – but they were prepared as Black women for the challenge. They believed and had a fundamental constitution to remain full of possibility, with a sense of hope for the future and an incredible sense of humor, which they kept lifelong, and a belief in their hearts that everyone can make a difference.” 

Adrienne White-Faines, daughter of Winifred Parker White, speaks at the dedication of the Parker halls.

Adrienne White-Faines, daughter of Winifred Parker White, speaks at the dedication of the Parker halls.

In addition to remarks by White-Faines, the dedication also included comments from Ralph Jefferson, Frieda’s son; Provost Akridge, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Gates and Purdue President Mitch Daniels, as well as performances by the Purdue Black Cultural Center’s Black Voices of Inspiration Choir.  

“Purdue University and its land grant sisters around the country were put here more than a century ago to start lowering and removing barriers, and promote the upward mobility of free peoples and that has been our history ever since,” Daniels said. “We’ve been too slow about it in many ways and many times, but the progress has always been forward. Sometimes, it takes courageous and resolved people, like the Parker sisters, to push things further – and thank God they did.” 

In addition to bearing the names of the sisters, Frieda Parker Hall will display the achievements of pioneering women who made significant contributions to Purdue and society. The 2021 class of Purdue Pioneering Women award honorees were recognized during the dedication of the halls.  

Members of the Parker family hope the visibility of the sisters’ story will continue to inspire future generations of Boilermakers.   

“We believe the energies, hope and values of my aunt Frieda and mother Winifred will continue to live on and not just in our family, but in every student who passes through those doors,” White-Faines said. “I hope that they will hear the words of my mother as they walk through the doors to go to class. Hold your head up. Be courageous. You are worthy and have a right to be here. Open your heart to others. Do your part to make the world a better place.”  

Writer: Matt Vader | Editors: Tammy Loew, Renee Kashawlic, Danielle Fawbush

Editorial Board: Barb Frazee, Tammy Loew, Renee Kashawlic | Inquiries Contact:

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