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Clara Luper – Mother of the Civil Rights Movement (1923-2011)

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On August 19, 1958, Dunjee High School teacher Clara Luper and 13 of her students, ages 7-15, sat in seats at the downtown Oklahoma City Katz Drug Store lunch counter. They ordered Cokes. So began the national sit-in movement of African Americans seeking equal rights as whites and other races to admittance in public establishments. And so began Luper’s pilgrimage as “The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Born in 1922 in rural Okfuskee County, she grew up in a segregated Oklahoma where, she said, “It was a matter of knowing your place.” As a girl, she saw a sign outside a nearby town that read, “Negro, read and run. If you can’t read, run anyway.” “My father always believed that segregation would be over soon,” Luper recalled in a memorable 2008 interview with Emmy-winning Oklahoma journalist Dick Pryor. “My mother did not believe. I took the side of my daddy.”

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Langston University in 1944, was one of the first blacks to attain a masters degree from the University of Oklahoma, and was the first admitted to the graduate history program at OU. According to Luper, she was told by one professor there, “I have never taught a n----r and never wanted to.”

By 1958, she was a veteran te