Local activist to receive NEA Human and Civil Rights Award
WASHINGTON - June 26, 2009 -
Clara Luper, an Oklahoma City civil rights activist, author, and former high school history teacher, will be presented with the National Education Association’s Rosa Parks Memorial Award at the Association’s annual Human and Civil Rights Awards Dinner in San Diego, Calif., on July 2, 2009.
Luper began her fight for civil rights with a lunch counter sit-in at Oklahoma City’s Katz Drug Store on August 19, 1958. She helped organize the sit-in as an advisory to the Oklahoma City’s NAACP Youth Council.
Denied service that first day, Luper and her team were not discouraged. They returned the very next day. This second attempt to integrate the Katz lunch counter just happened to coincide with the Kansas City based company’s decision to integrate all its lunch counters in three states.
After the Katz victory, Luper and her team moved on to other eateries across the city. By the end of 1960, 100 Oklahoma City lunch counters and restaurants were integrated. In 1964, the Oklahoma City City Council passed a public accommodations ordinance forbidding operators of stores, theaters, and swimming pools to refuse to serve anyone on the basis of race, religion, or color.
The long fought for victory had not been easy. Luper was arrested 26 times in her fight to overturn segregation. Her leadership and willingness to transform her convictions into action, however, prompted a wave of other similar groups taking local action that eventually led to the integration of public facilities throughout the state of Oklahoma.
Luper was one of a handful of Black teachers hired to integrate the staff of Oklahoma City’s John Marshall High School. When she stepped out of her role as a teacher to serve as a spokesperson for striking sanitation workers, attempts were made to fire her from her teaching job, but Luper outlasted all her critics and continued to teach until her retirement in 1991.
Luper wrote Behold the Walls in 1979, a compelling account of the campaign for civil rights in Oklahoma City. She continues her activism by working to secure college scholarships for hundreds of Black students every year.
“Clara Luper epitomizes leadership and bravery. She believes in the adage ‘proceed until apprehended,’” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “To use her own words, ‘We shall overcome,’ must be more than a slogan.”
The NEA Rosa Parks Memorial Award honors Rosa Park’s decision to sit down so that others could stand up. This award is given annually by the National Education Association to inspire others to champion the cause of human and civil rights.
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