Death of legendary civil rights leader provokes chorus of praise

Editor’s Note: Clara Luper of Oklahoma City died late on June 8, 2011. On June 9, CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations were inundated with praise for the legendary civil rights leader. Samples of words eulogizing her long life and career from prominent Oklahomans follow.

State Rep. Jabar Shumate, a Tulsa Democrat 

“Clara Luper was a true icon in the civil rights community. She had the courage to lead the first sit-in in the nation, setting Oklahoma and the United States on a new course in the fight for equality. She was a pioneer in the civil rights struggle, an inspiration to her fellow citizens, and a role model for those who want to enact positive change in society. We all mourn her loss, but her legacy will live forever.”

State Rep. Anastasia A. Pittman, an Oklahoma City Democrat 

“Dr. Clara Luper has been and will continue to be a national and international civil rights champion for her visions, dedication and courage, She helped Oklahoma shape its tolerance for equality and diversity through her ability to organize and mobilize young people to challenge the norm of intolerance and racism through the sit-in movements in Oklahoma.

“Dr. Luper was also an educator, a community leader and an author. She was an inspiration to all Oklahomans, but especially to young African-Americans who followed in her steps, including me. I will never forget some of my most personal journeys with her during community marches, or her home conversations regarding her life choices and challenges. She traveled internationally and yet took the time to mentor the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council. As a result of her direct influence, I have followed her lead and accepted the honor of being the current Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Advisor.

“As we reflect on her struggles and accomplishments and the legacy she leaves behind, we cannot become complacent and rest on our laurels in the realm of civil rights. With her help, we have made significant strides towards equality for all, but we continue to face covert efforts to undermine this progress. Just this past session, we saw three ethnic gubernatorial advisory councils disbanded: the Ethnic-American Council, Hispanic Council and the Asian-American Council. We witnessed the dissolution of the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. We removed the autonomy of the Human Rights Commission and consolidated it under the Attorney General’s office. A legislative referendum was passed and will be on next year’s ballot to eliminate all affirmative action programs in Oklahoma.

“With the loss of Dr. Clara Luper, there are big shoes to fill, as Oklahoma has lost one of its most consequential leaders and defenders of the rights of all Americans.

“I plan to introduce legislation next session to allow citizens of Oklahoma to make a contribution with an income tax check-off to support Dr. Luper’s vision of an expanded display of African-American history.

“I wish to send my heartfelt condolences to her children,  Marilyn Hildreth, Calvin Luper and Chelle Luper Wilson. They too were activists and community leaders.

“Dr. Luper will truly be missed but always remembered as an icon of the Civil Rights movement. I believe that her legacy will not only continue nationally but also through her partnership with Oklahoma City University and the Clara Luper scholarship program.”

State Rep. Mike Shelton, an Oklahoma City Democrat

“Clara Luper was an inspirational role model to her community and all citizens of Oklahoma. She showed great courage throughout her life, from leading the nation’s first sit-in in the 1950s  to serving as a community leader in numerous other endeavors, even as she remained a role model to the children she taught in school.

“It really is because of the work of Clara Luper and others like her that I and other members of the Black Caucus are able to sit in our seats in the Legislature today. Frankly, to call her a ‘pioneer’ is an understatement when it comes to describing her contributions to sculpting the attitudes of Oklahomans and all citizens of our nation.

“Clara Luper was truly committed to community and understood how important it was for us all to work together for a better life. What she did then laid a path for us today. The causes she fought remain as important today as they were in 1958, and we must honor her legacy by continuing the fight for equality.

“Oklahoma is a better place because of Clara Luper’s contributions, and her loss will be greatly mourned.”

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican

“Clara Luper was an Oklahoma hero, a tremendous civil rights activist and a devoted mother. Her leadership and commitment to equality and justice will never be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers are with her family as we remember her life and her many accomplishments.”

Lt. Gov Todd Lamb, a Republican

“Our state has lost a wonderful person of conviction, passion, vision and love. Clara Luper personified the greatness of Oklahoma and made our state a better place to live.”

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Mayor Cornett 

“Clara Luper was a great Oklahoman and a great American.

“Her peaceful, resolute sit-in protest at the Katz Drug Store, where the owners at the time, refused to serve African-Americans, paved the way for equal rights in Oklahoma City. If that was the extent of her contribution to Oklahoma and the nation, it would have been accomplishment enough. But that act came early on and Clara dedicated the rest of her long and wonderful life to such basic human needs as dignity, honor and respect. She marched with her friend Martin Luther King, Jr., and was arrested 26 times during sit-ins and other peaceful protests as she championed the rights of African-Americans.

“While her accomplishments are too many to list, her legacy is easily defined. She opened eyes and, in turn, opened hearts and minds. She made Oklahoma and the United States of America a better place to live and was a shining example of the distinctly American idea that while we might hail from many cultures, we are one people.

“I’ve requested that flags on City property be flown at half mast in honor of the memory of Clara Luper now through sunset on Friday, June 10.”

Nathaniel Batchelder, The Peace House, Oklahoma City 

“Beloved Clara Luper stood for universal human and civil rights, no exceptions. That is her legacy of love to this world. She could not, and did not, remain silent when anyone was judged, bullied, or discriminated against, simply because of who they were. The heart of Clara Luper continues to beat in all who work for universal human and civil rights. Rest in peace, dear Clara Luper.”

Oklahoma City University President Robert Henry, a Democrat 

“Clara Luper ‘beheld the walls’ and tore them down.

“Her work for civil rights in Oklahoma, made the crooked straight and opened doors for minorities that will never be closed again. The great scholarship named in her honor at Oklahoma City University is a legacy she loved and personally participated in creating. Clara Luper Scholars will carry her work and memory forward.”

U.S. Rep. James Lankford, Oklahoma Fifth Congressional District, a Republican

“Last night, our state and our nation lost a bold and honored leader in the civil rights movement. 

“The courage of Clara Luper and her children provided the turning point in Oklahoma’s race relations, through their dignified and principled stand against discrimination in 1958. A lifetime later, our culture has made great strides, but we still have much work to do to remove barriers that keep Americans from achieving their fullest potential. Today’s generation can thank Clara Luper for many of the freedoms they experience today. Seldom is a teacher of American history also the subject of American history, but Mrs. Luper filled that unique role in Oklahoma classrooms, allowing her students to benefit from her experience and passion.

“Having laid to rest my beloved 86-year-old grandmother just yesterday, the day of Mrs. Luper’s home-going, Cindy and I extend our heartfelt sympathy and support to the Luper family in this time of loss. Her memory and legacy will live well beyond our lives and will be an example for generations to come.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, a Republican 

“Clara Luper stands tall as a courageous inspiration to every American, as a servant leader ready to take action on behalf of the cause of justice, and as a dedicated educator. We will miss her physical presence in the life of Oklahoma, but her legacy will live on.”
Compiled by the Editor. “–30–“