OKLAHOMA CITY — Civil rights activist Clara Luper was remembered Friday as a champion of racial equality whose peaceful sit-in demonstrations opened doors for black Americans and left a lasting legacy of service to others and social justice.
Luper, who died on June 8 at the age of 88, helped end racial segregation while serving as “a role model for others for equality and justice,” Gov. Mary Fallin said during funeral services attended by about 2,000 people.
“Clara Luper will be remembered as a civil rights icon and a true American hero who stood for individual liberty and justice,” Fallin said. “She was a true pioneer woman in the Oklahoma fashion who blazed trails for fellow Oklahomans and fellow Americans.”
NAACP Board of Directors Chairwoman Roslyn M. Brock credited Luper with launching the sit-in movement that became a hallmark of civil rights demonstrations nationwide.
As the then 35-year-old sponsor of the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council, Luper led three adult chaperons and 14 members of the youth council on Aug. 19, 1958, in a sit-in at the all-white Katz Drug Store lunch counter in downtown Oklahoma City.
The group sat at the nearly empty lunch counter and ordered soft drinks but were told that the store did not serve “coloreds,” said Dr. Barbara Posey Jones, one of several members of the original sit-in group who attended Luper's funeral.
“We simply and courteously responded: ‘Thank you, we'll wait,’” Jones said.
The sit-in eventually desegregated lunch counters at 38 Katz Drug Stores in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa.
Luper, who taught history for 41 years, worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and was arrested 26 times in civil rights activities across the country. In Oklahoma, she is known as the “mother of the civil rights movement.”
A wooden casket containing Luper's body was surrounded by large and colorful wreasths and images of her were flashed on television screens during the service at the Cox Convention Center arena. Members of the Clara Luper Celebration Choir, who wore T-shirts bearing her name and image, sang the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome.