Advocacy Has Deep Roots in Oklahoma
NAACP Youth Council and the start of the 1958 Oklahoma City Movement
In 1957, as Clara Luper worked as a history teacher at Dunjee High School east of Oklahoma City, she became the advisor for the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council. At this time she was deeply influenced by the success of Martin Luther King, Jr and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. With the Youth Council, she wrote and staged a play entitled Brother President about King’s philosophy of nonviolence. In 1958, she was invited to bring the Oklahoma City Youth Council to perform Brother President for the NAACP in New York City.
The trip to and from New York was a formative experience for Youth Council members. On their return to Oklahoma the Youth Council voted to initiate a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience to end segregation in Oklahoma City. This marked the group's decision to go into Katz Drug Store to perform their first sit-in.
From 1958 to 1964 Luper mentored the members of the NAACP Youth Council during its campaign to end the segregation of public accommodations through sit-ins, protests, boycotts,
Oklahoma City Sit-ins, and related activism. On Tuesday afternoon, August 19, 1958, Luper, her son and daughter, and a group of Youth Council members entered the segregated Katz Drug Store in downtown Oklahoma City and asked to be served. They were refused service, and the police were called. However, the group was not arrested, though they were met with increasing hostility and even threatened. Two days later, Katz corporate management in Kansas City desegregated its lunch counters in three states.
The 1958 Katz Drug Store sit-in had been suggested by Luper's eight-year-old daughter and occurred a year and a half before the February 1, 1960, Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-ins. It was the first and longest sit-in of the Civil Rights Movement.
From 1958 to 1964 Clara Luper was a major leader of the fight to end segregation in Oklahoma. She led the campaigns to gain equal banking rights, employment opportunities, open housing, and voting rights. Along with the NAACP Youth Council, she personally integrated hundreds of restaurants, cafes, theaters, hotels, and churches, including such notable Oklahoma City establishments as the Split-T drive-in and the Skirvin Hotel. She served on Governor J. Howard Edmondson’s Committee on Human Relations.