Sixty years ago this month, a group of black students walked into the segregated Katz drug store in Oklahoma City and sat at the lunch counter, waiting to be served. For the milestone anniversary, some original members of the national movement plan to celebrate and educate.
In the fellowship hall at Fairview Baptist Church, history is a familiar subject.
“Even though we’ve gone our different ways, we have that one experience that will bond us for life, and that was the sit-in movement,” says Joyce Henderson.
Henderson and her friends were just kids in 1958, but they made an impact that changed the course of history.
“We all worked together for a common cause for America,” says Marilyn Luper-Hildreth, daughter of the late Clara Luper, a teacher turned activist who helped lead thousands of young Oklahomans to fight for equality.
“Being a history student, Ms. Luper was the type to bring history to life,” recalls Henderson, who became a teacher herself.
The lessons Luper taught have stuck with these students for decades; Marilyn says the most important of which is to have tough skin.
“We were able to take the spits and the cussing and the kicks and the coffee, and even the chimpanzee that was thrown on me,” Marilyn explains.
The Oklahoma History Center has dedicated two exhibits to Luper's legacy, but historians and sit-iners admit it is a fading one.
“Still, around the country, there’s a misconception that the sit-in movement started somewhere else. It started right here,” says Bruce Fisher from the Oklahoma Historical Society.
That is why, 60 years later, the sit-iners want to make an impression on younger generations.
Henderson says, “They need to know you have not had these opportunities all the time, and you need to understand why you have them now.”
A four-day celebration starts Thursday, Aug. 16 at the Oklahoma History Center, followed by an event at Fairview Baptist Church on Friday, Aug. 17.
A re-enactment of a sit-in is planned for Saturday, Aug. 18 at Kaiser's in Midtown.
The actual anniversary of the first sit-in is Sunday, Aug. 19, and organizers plan to host a celebration at 5th Street Baptist Church with a keynote speaker.
The organizers hope as many original participants show up to the events as possible.
Joyce Jackson says, “It spread all over the state, so hopefully we’ll have that many to show up for this event.”
Marilyn adds, “Unless we tell the story, who else is going to tell our story?”
Editor’s Note: News 9 is part of a local initiative that brings all of our local media outlets together to give Oklahoma a United Voice in promoting a healthy dialogue on race. To see more stories, visit UnitedVoiceOK.org.