The upcoming new year marks six decades since young Oklahomans organized sit-ins at a local drug store, demanding equality and civil rights. Their legacy lives on, but the birthplace of these protests, the Freedom Center, has been struggling just to remain standing. That is about to change.
Civil rights activist Clara Luper mentored thousands of young minorities from the building for decades, and now her successors are looking forward to restoring it to its former glory.
City Councilman John Pettis has fond memories of Monday nights at the Freedom Center.
“This is where I learned how to be a leader,” he said, “and I owe my success as an elected official to Ms. Clara Luper and the Freedom Center.”
Pettis is saddened now to see the bricks falling off the facade of the city's only civil rights memorial, with lessons from history slowly fading away.
Luper hosted the local NAACP Youth Council at the center, and helped them organize the nation's very first NAACP-sanctioned sit-in at Katz drug store in 1958.
Billy Payne was one of those students.
“I loved it so much,” he said, “and Ms. Luper rest in peace and we’ll do what we have to do from the Katz drug store all the way up until now.”
The building fell into disrepair after Luper's death in 2011, and as the other board members for Freedom Center, Inc. grow older, it is time for someone new to take charge.
State NAACP President Anthony Douglas has been named to the board, and he, Pettis and other local leaders are rallying the community around the repairs.
Stacks of bricks were the first donation, and organizers hope volunteers and their services will help get the center back up and running in time to remember the 60th anniversary of the sit-ins.
“We must pass on the history of what happened in Oklahoma City,” Pettis said. “They say if you don’t know your history, you will repeat it.”
The 60th anniversary celebration is scheduled for August 19, 2018.