A year has passed since Oklahoma City’s civil rights icon and pioneer Clara Luper passed away, but don’t think for a minute her legacy or memory have yet to fade.
A conversation on Twitter last night sparked some thinking on my own behalf – why is there no recognition of Luper’s historic imprint on downtown, where she successfully led the peaceful integration of hotels and restaurants?
Here’s a summary of her legacy from the Oklahoma Historical Society:
An Oklahoma City school teacher, one who came to be called the ‘mother’ of the state’s Civil Rights movement, Luper was the director of the Oklahoma City NAACP’s Youth Council. With some of her children in tow, on August 20, 1958, she entered the downtown Katz Drugstore and asked for sit-down service while her charges took their seats at the food counter. Denied service, Luper and the children came back the next day. Katz’s management yielded after white customers intervened, offering to buy meals for the polite young black students. Thus began Luper’s Oklahoma sit-in movement that soon had string of successes in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Enid, Lawton, and other towns around the state.
Now, consider this: the old Katz Drug Store is no longer standing. The building and the stretch of Main Street it stood on were bulldozed as part of the Urban Renewal era of the 1970s.
But a park, a rather forgettable but quiet park, now stands in it’s place. Luper herself was photographed in the park by The Oklahoman before her death:
There are streets and places and plaques all around town honoring Clara Luper. But somehow, they don’t do the trick of really grabbing one’ s attention to what this school teacher accomplished in our town. Now, imagine a sculpture of Luper at a lunch counter in this very spot where the lunch counter protests began … could there be a better way, a better location, to remind future generations of this great lady’s legacy and the story of the local civil rights movement?