note: Images for this story provided by the Oklahoma Historical Society.
August marks the 63rd anniversary of the Oklahoma City sit-ins that helped fuel a national civil rights movement against segregation.
Participants of the 1958 protests joined others to celebrate and to echo a message of inclusion Saturday.
“We are depending on these young people today to change and continue to make progress with integration,” Joyce Henderson, a participant of the protests in 1958 and a former student of civil rights icon Clara Luper, said. “You can only make progress if we share with them our history.”
Luper, who died in 2011, led a group of NAACP Youth Council members to Katz Drug Store on Aug. 19, 1958, to protest racial segregation.
A crowd commemorated the event with a service at Frontline Church and walked to Kaiser’s Café, which features diner-décor reminiscent of the 1950s.
“In 1958, we really started the sit-in movement in Oklahoma City,” OKC mayor David Holt said. “We haven’t told that story enough in Oklahoma City, so it’s no wonder that people nationally don’t tell it either. We’re working on that.”
According to Holt, the drug store was located near the intersection of Main St. and Robinson Ave. in downtown OKC. The city will announce plans for a permanent memorial for Luper near the building, which is now owned by the Internal Revenue Service.
Next week, the city will name its U.S. Postal Service building in homage of Luper, as well.
The inequality Luper and her students faced exists in different forms today, Holt said.
“An African-American child in this community is likely, statistically, to have a shorter lifespan, less economic achievement, less educational attainment,” Holt said. “We always have to be asking ourselves, ‘Why is that? And what can we do to fix it?’”
The key lies in the youth, Henderson said, to move society farther from segregation and closer to inclusion.
“We should not exclude anybody because of race, creed or color,” Henderson said. “That (was the) message that we put out during the sit-in movement. We continue with that message today. It’s all about inclusion.”