Oklahoma Civil Rights Activist Clara Luper Dies at 88

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Clara Luper, Oklahoma civil rights activist who organized and led lunch counter sit-ins to end segregation in Oklahoma, died June 8.

Family members confirmed that Luper died in Oklahoma after a long illness at the age of 88.

In August, 1958, as the sponsor of the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council, Luper, at the time a 35 year-old school teacher, led three adult chaperones and 35 teenagers in a lunch counter sit-in at Katz Drug Store in downtown Oklahoma City where store owners refused to serve African Americans.

The impact of the sit-in campaign extended beyond Oklahoma City. Under pressure for several days in Oklahoma City, Katz ended the segregation of not only its Oklahoma City lunch counters but also its facilities in the rest of the state, as well as the owner’s facilities in Iowa, Kansas and Missouri—a total of 38 stores.

Luper’s Katz Drug Store protest ultimately led to the desegregation of almost all restaurants in Oklahoma City.

Participating in numerous demonstrations and marches, including the March on Washington in 1963, Luper’s dedication and passion for civil rights and activism led her to become one of the foremost figures of the civil rights movement.

In an Associated Press interview, Marilyn Hildreth, Luper’s daughter, spoke of her mother’s active role in the fight for civil rights.

“I think my mother saw a lot of advancements (in civil rights), and she told us to always stay on the battlefield,” said Hildreth. “The fight continues.”

In recognition of her achievements as a parent, teacher, and community leader, Luper was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Afro-American Hall of Fame, and the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame.

In Oklahoma City, a street is named for her and each year a scholarship in her name is awarded at Oklahoma City University.

In a prepared statement, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett spoke on the life-long dedication of Luper and her fight for equal rights for African Americans.

“While her accomplishments are too many to list, her legacy is easily defined,” stated Cornett. “She opened eyes, and, in turn, opened hearts and minds.”

Cornett has requested that all Oklahoma City property bearing flags place them at half-mast through sunset Friday, June 10 to honor the memory of Luper.

“The thoughts and prayers of the entire NAACP family go out to Ms. Luper’s family,” stated NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock in a statement on Thursday. “Ms. Luper’s tireless advocacy for equality for all, her passion for engaging the younger generation and her fearless nature made her one of the foremost civil rights advocates of our time.”

NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous saluted Luper’s unwavering perseverance and dedication for justice and equality.

“Her courage, dedication and passion for civil rights and justice were unmatched,” Jealous stated. “She will be missed.”