The Bizzell Library is historically significant for its association with the racial desegregation court case of George McLaurin, a retired black professor who applied to the university to pursue a doctorate in education.
McLaurin was at first denied admission to the university solely on the basis of race, in accordance with Oklahoma law at the time. After a court ruling, he was admitted, but under the separate but equal doctrine he was given a desk in the mezzanine of this building, rather than being allowed use of the regular reading room.
He appealed the segregation up to the Supreme Court, in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. In this and three companion cases, the Supreme Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson. The decisions were precedents for the more famous Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954.
For its association with segregation and the court case overturning it, the building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2001.