Quoted from http://faculty.washington.edu/qtaylor/Courses/313_AAW/313_manual_cp_09.htm, Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr., Scott and Dorothy Bullitt Professor of American History, University of Washington

SIT-INS: THE OKLAHOMA CITY CAMPAIGN, 1958               Next Item

In the following vignette historian Jimmie Lewis Franklin describes the sit-in movement in Oklahoma City and the crucial leadership provided by a local schoolteacher turned civil rights activist, Clara Luper. The first Oklahoma City sit-in occurred in September 1958, two months after the Wichita demonstrations but two years before the more well-known direct action demonstration in Greensboro, North Carolina.

     Three years after [Martin Luther] King led the movement again the city of Montgomery's segregated buses, young blacks in Oklahoma City employed nonviolent tactics against segregated public accommodations. Cities of the Sooner State, in common with may other places in America, had sanctioned by custom separate public and private facilities. Signs reading "For Whites Only" were found in Oklahoma as they were in other southern states. Determined to change old patters, blacks in Oklahoma City began a sit-in campaign to overthrow segregation. Oklahoma's capital city was a logical target for black activists: it had the state's largest black population and a respectable leadership: it was the political center of power; and it had a history of persistent agitation. Black leaders also realized that a victory in Oklahoma City would have a strategic importance and that it would take on both real and symbolic significance in other parts of the state...

     The dynamic engineer of the sit-in was a forceful black woman named Clara Luper, Director of the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council. A public school teacher with a special interest in social studies, Luper had been involved in civil rights for many years before the attack on public accommodations. Born in Okfuskee County, she attended Langston University after graduation from high school in Grayson. She later earned a Master's degree at the University of Oklahoma. A woman of intense zeal and self-assurance, Luper viewed segregation as a personal affront and an undemocratic practice that degraded black people. Inspired by the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., she argued the immorality of segregation, and she called upon the churches to take a stand against racism. A legal attack alone, the Oklahoma City teacher concluded, would not topple Jim Crow in public accommodations; thus she moved toward peaceful demonstrations...

     The initial "sit and wait" demonstration took place at Katz Drug Store on one of those hot days in August that Oklahomans have grown to tolerate. Whites were shocked when thirteen black children between the ages of six and sixteen...quietly moved into the establishment in defiance of past custom. Traditionally, the Katz store, like so many other businesses, had sold blacks food "to go," but the children inside the store demanded the same service on the premises that whites received, and they refused to remove themselves from the counter where they sat quietly. Whites grumbled, but after days of demonstrations, the Katz store capitulated. A few other stores soon followed. The S.H. Kress Company, [now K-Mart] however took out the stools at its food counter and offered blacks service on a "stand up" basis, but this half measure did not appeal to them and the demonstrations continued. In time, Kress, too, gave in.

     Following the youth-inspired demonstrations in Oklahoma City, the sit-in movement spread to other cities in the state but attention remained focused upon Oklahoma City... Success did not come easily even with appeals for desegregation from some white church groups. The General Board of the Oklahoma Council of Churches bluntly condemned segregation as undemocratic and inhumane, and it threw its support behind the removal of all racial barriers in eating establishments. Total victory for Luper and her children's crusade would not be achieved until the mid-sixties....

Source: Jimmie Lewis Franklin, Journey Toward Hope: A History of Blacks in Oklahoma (Norman, 1982), pp. 187-190.

THE KATZ DRUG STORE SIT-IN, 1958             Next Item

In the following account Clara Luper, the leader of many Oklahoma City civil rights demonstrations between 1958 and 1964, describes the first sit-in at the city's Katz Drug Store in 1958.

     Katz Drug Store was located in the Southwestern corner of Main and Robinson in downtown Oklahoma City. It was a center of activity with its first class pharmacy department, unique gifts, toys and lunch counter. Blacks were permitted to shop freely in all parts of the store. They could order sandwiches and drinks to go. Orders were placed in a paper sack and were to be eaten in the streets...

     As I was thinking about what should have been done, Lana Pogue, the six-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Louis J. Pogue, grabbed my hand; and, we moved toward the counter. All of my life, I had wanted to sit at those counters and drink a Coke or a Seven-Up. It really didn't matter which, but I had been taught that those seats were for "whites only." Blacks were to sweep around the seats, and keep them clean so whites could sit down. It didn't make any difference what kind of white person it was, thief, rapist, murderer, uneducated; the only requirement was that he or she be white. Unbathed, unshaven – it just didn't make any difference. Nor did it make any difference what kind of black you were, B.A. Degree black, Dr. Black, Attorney black, Rev. Black, old Black, pretty Black, ugly Black; you were not to sit down at any lunch counter to eat. We were all seated now in the "for whites only territory." The waitress suffered a quick psychological stroke and one said in a mean tone, "What do you all want?"

     Barbara Posey spoke, "We'd like thirteen Cokes please."

     "You may have them to go,' the waitress nervously said.

     "We'll drink them here," Barbara said as she placed a five dollar bill on the counter. The waitress nervously called for additional help.

     Mr. Masoner, the red, frightened-faced manager, rushed over to me as if he were going to slap me and said, "Mrs. Luper, you know better than this. You know we don't serve colored folks at the counter."

     I remained silent and looked him straight in the eyes as he nervously continued. "I don't see what's wrong with you colored folks--Mrs. Luper, you take these children out of here--this moment! This moment, I say." He yelled, "Did you hear me?"

     "Thirteen Cokes please," I said.

     "Mrs. Luper, if you don't move these colored children, what do you think my white customers will say? You know better, Clara. I don't blame the children! I blame you. You are just a trouble maker."

     He turned and rushed to the telephone and called the police. In a matter of minutes, we were surrounded by policemen of all sizes, with all kinds of facial expressions. The sergeant and the manager had a conference; additional conferences were called as different ranks of policemen entered. Their faces portrayed their feelings of resentment. The press arrived and I recognized Leonard Hanstein of Channel 9 with his camera and I sat silently as they threw him out and a whole crew of cameramen.

     The whites that were seated at the counter got up, leaving their food unfinished on the table and emptied their hate terms into the air. Things such as "Niggers go home, who do they think they are? The nerve!" One man walked straight up to me and said, "Move, you black S.O.B." Others bent to cough in my face and in the faces of the children. Linda Pogue was knocked off a seat, she smiled and sat back on the stool. Profanity flowed evenly and forcefully from the crowd. One elderly lady rushed over to me a fast as she could with her walking cane in her hand and yelled, "The nerve of the niggers trying to eat in our places. Who does Clara Luper think she is? She is nothing but a damned fool, the black thing."

     I started to walk over and tell her that I was one of God's children and He had made me in His own image and if she didn't like how I looked, she was filing her complaint in the wrong department. She'd have to file it with the Creator. I'm the end product of His Creation and not the maker. Then, I realized her intellectual limitations and continued to watch the puzzled policemen and the frightened manager.

     Tensions were building up as racial slurs continued to be thrown at us. Hamburgers, Cokes, malts, etc., remained in place as pushing, cursing, and "nigger," became the "order of the day."

     As the news media attempted to interview us, the hostile crowd increased in number. Never before had I seen so many hostile, hard, hate-filled white faces. Lana, the six-year-old, said, "Why do they look so mean?"

     I said, "Lana, their faces are as cold as Alaskan icicles."

     As I sat quietly there that night, I prayed and remembered our non-violent philosophy. I pulled out what we called Martin Luther King's Non-Violent Plans and read them over and over...

     As I folded the paper, I looked up and saw a big burly policeman walking toward me. When he got within two feet of me, another officer called him to the telephone. I wondered why the policeman had to stand over us. We had no weapons and the only thing that we wanted was 13 Cokes that we had the money to pay for.

     Amid the cursing, I remembered the words of Professor Watkins, my elementary principal and teacher in Hoffman, Oklahoma. He told us to "consider, always, consider the source..."

     My daughter, Marilyn, walked over and pointed out a big, fat, mean-looking, white man, who walked over to me and said, "I can't understand it. You all didn't use to act this way; you all use to be so nice."

     We remained silent and as he bumped into me, the police officers told him that he had to move on. An old white woman walked up to me and said, "If you don't get those little old poor ugly-looking children out of here, we are going to have a race riot. You just want to start some trouble." I remained silent. "Don't you know about the Tulsa race riots?" the woman asked.

     I moved down to the south end of the counter, then back to the other end. This was repeated over and over. As I passed by Alma Faye Posey she burst out laughing and when I continued to look at her, she put her hands on the counter and pointed to a picture of a banana split.

     It had been a long evening. Barbara, Gwen and I had a quick conference and we decided to leave without cracking a dent in the wall. Mr. Portwood Williams, Mrs. Lillian Oliver and Mrs. Mary Pogue were waiting. We loaded in our cars and left the hecklers, heckling.

     We passed our first test. They...called us niggers and did everything, the group said.

     "Look at me, I'm really a non-violent man," Richard Brown yelled. "Look at me. I can't believe it myself..."

Source: Clara Luper, Behold the Walls, (Oklahoma City, 1979), pp. 8-10, 11-12.


Today Charlton Heston is known primarily for the politically conservative causes and candidates he publicly supports. However in 1961 Heston was one of the first Hollywood celebrities to join the picket line established by Clara Luper to protest racial discrimination. Here is a brief description of his presence in Oklahoma City.

     It was the last Saturday in May 1961, and Charlton Heston, Hollywood's Oscar-winning Biblical actor, was on his way to Oklahoma City where he, Dr. Jolly West, nationally-known psychiatrist, and Dr. Chester M. Pierce, black scientist on the staff of the Veterans' Administration Hospital, were scheduled to lead a protest march against Segregation in public accommodations in Oklahoma City.

     The news had spread like wild fire and large crowds had assembled on Main Street to get a quick glimpse of the star.

     Charlton Heston was met by the NAACP Youth Officers led by the president and about one-hundred black and white demonstrators, six policemen, a number of newsmen and Trudy, the black dog that took part in all the marches.

     I was stationed with a large crowd of NAACP workers, friends, well-wishers and people of all ages, creeds and colors.

     I have never seen anything more dramatic, more historical as those three handsome, dignified, successful men walking down the streets carrying signs that they had prepared themselves. The blue and black sign that Charlton Heston carried said, "All men are created equal--Jefferson" on the front and "Racial discrimination is Un-American" on the back.

     The crowd was caught up in the unbelievable realities of the moment and when the trio reached our group, wild applause went up in the air. Oklahomans sounded like they do when the Big Red football scores against Texas or Nebraska. We waved flags, sang songs and in a military sounding voice, Dr. West issued a command. The trio marched with the crowd following. Charlton Heston stopped, shook hands, talked and marched.

     A few hecklers yelled, "Go back to Hollywood, you Jew!!" "West, you are no psychiatrist, you're a damn fool!"

     But the march continued. We marched slowly by the John A. Brown' Department Store, Anna Maude's Cafeteria and Bishop's Restaurant--the three strongholds of Segregation. There was no violence.

     Elliott Tyler, Jerry Nutt and John Fast carried anti-Heston signs which read, "Is Beverly Hills integrated?"

     Charlton Heston's face was lighted with love and understanding of an oppressed people. He told the group that he sincerely believed that most Americans agreed with Thomas Jefferson.

     This was his first demonstration. He said that a great many of us have only paid lip service to the equality of man and this is a very bitter thing for me to do.

     Every step that Heston, West and Pierce took was adding tons of Freedom vitamins to our tired bodies that had been protesting for three years.

     Heston took pictures with NAACPers, car hops, and the three got into a waiting automobile after the hour's march and went to Calvary Baptist Church where a large crowd was waiting. There he told the crowd, "I was very pleased with the march and I was prepared for some hostility at the start of the march. I'm used to taking part in marches and chariot races only when they're fixed, but today I didn't have a script!" he said, smiling.

     He explained that as far as he knew Beverly Hills was integrated, however, he had been in Spain making a movie... The audience went wild and Charlton Heston looked as if he was enjoying every moment...

Source: Clara Luper, Behold the Walls, (Oklahoma City, 1979), pp. 134-136.

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