Civil Rights activist honored after 50 years


Tuesday, August 19th 2008, 8:09 pm
By: News 9


By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The lunch counter protest became a popular and successful tactic in the civil rights movement, making its debut in Oklahoma City 50 years ago.

The first sit-in sanctioned by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took place at Katz Drug Store in downtown OKC, Aug. 19, 1958.

Some of the 14 people who took part in the historic event came together Aug. 19, 2008 for a special celebration.

The 13 members of Oklahoma's NAACP along with their advisor, Clara Luper, walked into the store, took seats at the lunch counter, and attempted to order soft drinks. For blacks in 1958, the action was unheard of.

Betty Germany, one of the original participants in the sit-in, said the celebration was exactly as she remembered it. At the Oklahoma History Museum's sit-in exhibit, Germany said she remembered, as a 17-year-old, feeling scared but also purpose-driven.

"At the time, we just wanted to be treated equally," Germany said.

Luper, at the time, was a young school teacher and the center of the sit-in movement. Fifty years later, Luper still occupies a central position in the city's black community. Luper was the focus of the Oklahoma Historical Society's sit-in salute Aug. 19, 2008.

Luper was thanked by the NAACP. The sit-in, orchestrated by Luper, served as a model for civil rights activists across the South.

"They gave the courage to other young people in places where the risk was far greater to stand up and to make a difference," Rev. Charles White Jr. said.

Marilyn Hildreth, Luper's daughter, also participated in the sit-in. She said she's proud of her mother's role in desegregating America's lunch counters, but claimed her mother's true legacy lies in her role as a teacher.

"We had a lot of nothing, but we had a lot of love," Hildreth said. "I think that if she could stand here right now, she would tell you the thing that she's most proud of are the young people whose lives she's touched."

Many of the people who attended the celebration Tuesday echoed the praise for Luper.