Oklahoma City Civil Rights Leader Dies

Oklahoma City Civil Rights Leader Dies

Clara Luper’s influence and actions helped to desegregate Oklahoma City.

Published June 11, 2011

Clara Luper, often called the Mother of Civil Rights, has died at the age of 88. She passed on Wednesday night after suffering from a lengthy illness, according to her daughter.  

Oklahoma City African-American leaders have credited Luper’s influence to have led to the desegregation of the city.

“I had the opportunity when I met her in 1988 to see the scars on her legs where the police beat her and drug her to jail,” Derrick Reed, president of the Muskogee, Oklahoma, chapter of the NAACP told the Muskogee Phoenix.  

Luper led 13  Black youth into Katz Drug store in Oklahoma City on August 19, 1958. There she asked to be served at the whites-only food counter, but was denied. That did not stop her determination, however. She returned a second time, and was denied again. She and the group returned a third time and they were finally served.  
The store chain eventually agreed to integrate lunch counters at thirty-eight Katz Drug Stores in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa.

“She was a female in those times who had the courage to stand up against racism by leading the sit-in at Katz Drug Store (in Oklahoma City). I applaud her for being a female and putting herself on the line. That's the greatest feeling that I have,” Reed says.

Luper became Oklahoma’s first NAACP youth adviser facilitating buses to run through Muskogee carrying kids traveling to the national NAACP convention. Reed says that Luper educated him about the importance of civil rights and had it not been for her, he would not have the job he has today.

After the first demonstration at the drug store, she then led numerous other sit-ins and was arrested twenty-six times because of her many efforts to fight inequality.

“Today we have Blacks on the school board, we have Blacks in the Legislature, we have Blacks in City Hall, Blacks in jobs they have never held before,” she told The Oklahoman in 2003.

Luper also ran the Freedom Center in Oklahoma City and created the Miss Black Oklahoma pageant.

Though the history teacher of forty-one years is now gone, her efforts and success in transforming a city will never be forgotten.

 

(Photo: AP photo/ Ty Russell)

Written by Danielle Wright

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