By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY — On Wednesday, August 19, the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Clara Luper Legacy Committee will host a virtual program celebrating the 62nd anniversary of the beginning of the Oklahoma City sit-in movement. The presentation will take place at 6:30 p.m., online, at claraluperlegacy.com.
The Clara Luper Legacy Committee works to support the sit-in and civil rights movement in Oklahoma, and the nation. The organization’s mission is to educate and
to keep the story of educator and activist, Clara Luper, alive.
For the last two years the committee has held a celebration at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year’s event will be shared online.
On August 19, 1958, two years prior to the famous sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, members of the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council requested to be served at the Katz Drug Store counter in downtown Oklahoma City. Staging a protest, led by school teacher and activist Clara Luper and 13 children, the world was forever changed.
Through their activism these children began the integration of restaurants in Oklahoma City. Luper and the 13 students continued to hold sit-ins throughout Oklahoma into the 1960s.
An advisor for the NAACP Youth Council, Luper was a teacher at the black-only Dunjee High School in east Oklahoma City. She also wrote several plays, including Brother President, which reflected Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent protest philosophy. Luper and her students were invited to perform Brother President at NAACP’s 1958 national convention in New York City.
The event keynote speaker will be former NAACP National Youth Council Director Reverend Amos Brown. He is the pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco, California.
Tutored by Medgar Evers, Benjamin Mays, Samuel Williams, J. Pious Barbour, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Brown was one of the eight students in the only class Dr. King taught in his lifetime at Morehouse College. Brown is known among world leaders, presidents, celebrities, and academicians alike for his trademark activism, intellectual discipline, and masterful oratory
Commemoration speakers will include Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt; Marilyn Luper Hildreth, daughter of Clara Luper; Dr. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma History Center; Jabee Williams, activist and recording artist; Rev. John A. Reed, Senior Pastor Fairview Missionary Baptist Church; Larry Jeffries, a member of NAACP Youth Council and Minute Men Commandos; Rev. Dr. Lee E. Cooper, Senior Pastor Prospect Church; and Gwenda Roberts, who became an adult supervisor for the Youth Council.
A former student of Clara Luper, Joyce Jackson, editor and publisher of SHADES of Oklahoma magazine, will serve as the moderator.
According to KGOU reporter Emily Wendler, Jackson was not a participant herself at the Katz Drug Store protest, but she was involved in later sit-ins held at major businesses in the downtown Oklahoma City area, including well-known establishments such as John A. Brown’s, S.H. Kress & Co. and Anna Maude Cafeteria.
Jackson feels as strongly today about the civil rights movement as she did two years ago when she told Wendler, “I really think we’re, I don’t want to say consciously moving backward, but we are moving back to an era of extreme racism, prejudice, and discrimination. It’s blatant.”
Today, Jackson is more hopeful.
“Basically we’re celebrating the anniversary of the Sit-In Movement and of course we want to keep the memory alive of the contribution that Ms. Luper made to the State of Oklahoma and to the nation because the Sit-In movement is really the beginning of children fighting for their civil rights,” Jackson said.
“I think this is the perfect time to be celebrating our Sit-In Movement here in Oklahoma,” Jackson continued. “As the millennials and the new children of the future are now at the forefront of today’s change.”
As part of the event, viewers will be given a virtual tour of the Clara Luper exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center by Bruce Fisher, exhibit historian and curator.
The Clara Luper Legacy Committee and the Oklahoma Historical Society will recognize those who participated in Clara Luper’s sit-ins in Oklahoma and document their experiences.
Participants in these early protests are asked to complete the online registration form at claraluperlegacy/registration.
Those with questions about the virtual event or how to document their experiences during the sit-ins are asked to visit the contact page at claraluperlegacy.com/contact.
The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve, and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains museums, historic sites, and affiliates across the state.
For more information, visit okhistory.org.