Information on Dear Departed Beloved
Clara Shepard Luper was a civic leader, retired schoolteacher, and a pioneering leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. She is best known for her leadership role in the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-in Movement, as she, her young son and daughter, and numerous young members of the NAACP Youth Council successfully conducted nonviolent sit-in protests of downtown drugstore lunch-counters which overturned their policies of segregation. The Clara Luper Corridor is a streetscape and civic beautification project from the Oklahoma Capitol area east to northeast Oklahoma City and was announced by Governor Brad Henry.
Luper continued desegregating hundreds of establishments in Oklahoma,
and was active on the national level during the 1960s movements.
Clara Shepard Luper was born in 1923 in rural Okfuskee County, Oklahoma.
Her father, Ezell Shepard, was a World War I veteran and laborer. Her
mother, Isabell Shepard, worked as a laundress. Young Clara was raised
in Hoffman, Oklahoma. She went to high school in the all-black town of
Grayson, Oklahoma, and attended college at Langston University where, in
1944, she received a B.A. in mathematics with a minor in history. In
1950, Luper was one of the group of black students who integrated the
University of Oklahoma. She received an M.A. in History Education from
the university in 1951.
In 1957, as Luper worked as a history teacher at Dunjee High School east
of Oklahoma City, she became the advisor for the Oklahoma City NAACP
Youth Council. At this time she was deeply influenced by the success of
Martin Luther King, Jr and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. With the Youth
Council, she wrote and staged a play entitled Brother President about
King’s philosophy of nonviolence. In 1958, she was invited to bring the
Oklahoma City Youth Council to perform Brother President for the NAACP
in New York City.
The trip to and from New York was a formative experience for Youth
Council members. On their return to Oklahoma the Youth Council voted to
initiate a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience to end segregation
in Oklahoma City.
From 1958 to 1964 Luper mentored the members of the NAACP Youth Council
during its campaign to end the segregation of public accommodations
through sit-ins, protests, and boycotts.
On Tuesday afternoon, August 19, 1958, Luper and a group of Youth
Council members entered the segregated Katz drugstore in downtown
Oklahoma City. They took seats, and asked to be served. Two days later,
Katz corporate management in Kansas City desegregated its lunch counters
in three states.
This successful August, 1958 sit-in led by Luper, her eight-year old
daughter who suggested the action, and the rest of the children in the
NAACP Youth Council, at the Katz Drug Store occurred a year and a half
before the February 1, 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins.
From 1958 to 1964 Clara Luper was a major leader of the fight to end
segregation in Oklahoma. She led the campaigns to gain equal banking
rights, employment opportunities, open housing, and voting rights. Along
with the NAACP Youth Council, she personally integrated hundreds of
restaurants, cafes, theaters, hotels, and churches, including such
notable Oklahoma City establishments as the Split-T drive-in and the
Skirvin Hotel. She served on Governor J. Howard Edmondson’s Committee on
Luper was a prominent figure in the national civil rights movement. She
was active in the NAACP, and attended the association’s annual
conference every year with the Oklahoma City Youth Council. She took
part in the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. King gave his “I Have a
Dream” speech. She also took part in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery
marches where she received a deep cut in her leg on "Bloody Sunday" when
600 civil rights marchers were attacked by state and local police with
tear gas and billy clubs.
After 1964 Luper remained an important community figure as an activist,
educator, and stalwart NAACP supporter. In these years, she expanded the
range of her concerns to include advocacy for educational, economic,
and political equality. In 1968, she was one of a handful of African
American teachers hired to teach at Oklahoma City's Northwest Classen
High School as part of the highly controversial court ordered school
desegregation plan implemented that year. She was later reassigned to
John Marshall High School (Oklahoma) where she continued to teach
history and media studies.
In August 1969, Luper was the spokesperson for striking sanitation
workers in Oklahoma City. The sanitation workers sought a shorter work
week, pay raises, and new grievance procedures. The Oklahoma City
sanitation strike began on August 19 and ended on November 7, 1969.
In 1972 Clara Luper ran unsuccessfully for election to the United States
Senate. When asked by the press if she, a black woman, could represent
white people, she responded: “Of course, I can represent white people,
black people, red people, yellow people, brown people, and polka dot
people. You see, I have lived long enough to know that people are
The Clara Luper Corridor, a multi-million dollar two mile streetscape
project connecting the Oklahoma State Capitol complex with the
historically African-American area of Northeast Oklahoma City, began
construction in 2005. It was named to commemorate her civil rights
Luper has received hundreds of awards, and is an inductee in the
Oklahoma Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame, and the
Oklahoma Afro-American Hall of Fame, among others.
The Clara Luper Scholarship, a full scholarship given by Oklahoma City
University, has been awarded to 30-45 students every year. The
scholarship was geared towards students who were minorities, came from
underserved high schools, or came from households with lower income.
Clara Luper’s book Behold The Walls (1979) is an acclaimed first-hand
account of the campaign for civil rights in Oklahoma City during the