OKLAHOMA CITY – One of the first ever sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement was in Oklahoma City.
In 1958, segregation was all over the place, but one woman wouldn’t have it.
Clara Luper took a seat at the Katz Drug Store in downtown Oklahoma City.
A protest that would spark a movement in our state.
“Now that’s when I felt fear,” Joyce Jackson said as she looked at the sit-in movement on video at the Oklahoma History Center.
Marilyn Luper Hildreth – Luper’s daughter – and Jackson are revisiting a part of their past from the late 50s.
They were just children at the time, but were already aware of the racism surrounding them.
“You had to eat out of a brown paper sack. You could not use the same water fountains as other people, restrooms. You had to ride on the back of a bus,” Luper Hildreth said.
But a trip to New York City with Luper Hildreth’s mother opened their eyes.
“We could sit down in a restaurant and drink a Coke and eat a hamburger like anyone else. We could drink out of a water fountain that didn’t say ‘colored,’” Luper Hildreth said.
And from that experience, everything changed for Luper Hildreth and her mother’s students.
“It was said that a little bit of freedom is a dangerous thing, and when we experienced a taste of freedom we really could appreciate what it was,” Luper Hildreth said.
Luper Hildreth was only nine years old at the time, but had an idea that would change the future of the nation.
“I made the suggestion that we would go down to Katz Drug Store and just sit down until they served us. Now where I got that from, I don’t know. I didn’t know anyone else that had done it,” Luper Hildreth said.
So, on August 19, 1958, 13 children and their advisors, including Luper, sat down at the Katz Drug Store counter and waited to be served.
More sit-ins followed.
“They didn’t think we had a right to sit down and eat a hamburger and drink a Coke like anyone else only because the color of our skin, so we continued to sit, and the longer we were sitting down, the doors of opportunity started opening up,” Luper Hildreth said.
Two days later, Katz ended their segregation policy.
The group went to other stores demanding change. They were stepped on, spit at and taken to jail many times, but it eventually worked.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act ended segregation in public places.
“This helped Oklahoma City change the course of American history with young people,” Luper Hildreth said.
Sunday will mark the 60th anniversary of the Katz Drug Store Sit-In. There are events all weekend to commemorate the special day and to teach a new generation the importance of the movement.
“I want them to understand they are standing on the backs of people that gave up the blood for them to be in the situations and to go to the schools and go to the restaurants. to the recreation centers they go to now,” said Luper Hildreth.
Luper passed away in 2011, but her legacy continues this week.
There are several events, including Thursday night at the Oklahoma History Center where several people will be speaking.
On Saturday, there will be a reenactment of the Katz Drug Store Sit-In at Kaisers Grateful Bean Cafe in midtown. The group will march from Frontline Church on 10th and Robinson at 9 a.m.