Governor, Lawmakers Honor Oklahoma Civil Rights Icon Clara Luper

Thursday, June 9th 2011, 8:41 am
By: News 9

Staff and Wire Reports

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Governor Mary Fallin and other lawmakers are paying tribute to Oklahoma civil rights pioneer Clara Luper, who died in Oklahoma City at age 88.

Luper's daughter, Marilyn Hildreth, says Luper died Wednesday night after a lengthy illness.

In August 1958, Luper led a group of three adult chaperones and 14 members of the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council in a sit-in at the Katz Drug Store lunch counter. The group was refused service but refused to leave.

The sit-in lasted several days before Katz agreed to integrate its lunch counters in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. Over the next six years, the local NAACP group held sit-ins that desegregated virtually all eating establishments in Oklahoma City.

Governor Mary Fallin called Luper "an Oklahoma hero, a tremendous civil rights activist and a devoted mother."

"Her leadership and commitment to equality and justice will never be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers are with her family as we remember her life and her many accomplishments."

Congressman James Lankford praised Luper's courage and bold leadership during the civil rights movement, saying she provided the turning point in Oklahoma's race relations by taking a stand against discrimination.

"Today's generation can thank Clara Luper for many of the freedoms they experience today. Seldom is a teacher of American history also the subject of American history, but Mrs. Luper filled that unique role in Oklahoma classrooms, allowing her students to benefit from her experience and passion."

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett has requested flags on city property be flown at half mast in honor of Luper. 

"Clara Luper was a great Oklahoman and a great American," said Mayor Cornett. "Her peaceful, resolute sit-in protest at the Katz Drug Store, where the owners at the time refused to serve African-Americans, paved the way for equal rights in Oklahoma City. If that was the extent of her contribution to Oklahoma and the nation, it would have been accomplishment enough. But that act came early on and Clara dedicated the rest of her long and wonderful life to such basic human needs as dignity, honor and respect. " 

"While her accomplishments are too many to list, her legacy is easily defined.  She opened eyes and, in turn, opened hearts and minds. She made Oklahoma and the United States of America a better place to live and was a shining example of the distinctly American idea that while we might hail from many cultures, we are one people."

Oklahoma State Conference NAACP President Anthony R. Douglas released this statement:

"The Oklahoma State Conference NAACP and the Civil Rights movement lost a giant today. Mrs. Clara Sheperd Luper was a woman who broke down racial barriers throughout her entire life, and dedicated her personal and professional life to the struggle for all people of color. We will miss her dearly."

Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele (R-Shawnee) issued a statement calling Luper a "true civil rights giant" who will be greatly missed, but never forgotten.

"Throughout her life, Ms. Luper adhered to the principle that actions speak louder than words," said Steele.  "Through her actions, she helped lead Oklahoma and the nation forward by showing courage and courtesy simultaneously, often in the face of unpleasant opposition."

Luper is survived by two daughters and a son. Funeral services are pending.

Related Story: 1/20/2009 Civil Rights Activists Watch As History Unfolds