Clara Luper’s legacy commemorated in Oklahoma City schools building

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A procession of Clara Luper’s family, students and loved ones filled the administration building of Oklahoma City Public Schools, where the walls are covered with the legacy of the civil rights icon.

The building itself, the Clara Luper Center for Educational Services, bears his name.

A large lobby, known as Clara Luper History Nook, adjacent to the Board of Education meeting room is decorated with floor-to-ceiling images of Luper and a timeline of her teaching career and advocacy civil rights.

A group of people who knew and loved Luper, as well as those now working to preserve his legacy in various projects across Oklahoma City, took photos and admired the permanent exhibit Monday night.

Luper, who died in 2011, taught history and public relations for approximately four decades at Dunjee High School in Spencer and John Marshall and Classen High Schools in Oklahoma City.

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Her daughter, Marilyn Luper Hildreth, said the historic corner was “indeed an honor” to her family and the district community.

Hildreth said her mother called her students her diamonds.

“There was nothing more important than his diamonds,” Hildreth said.

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Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel listens to Marilyn Luper Hildreth during Monday's unveiling of the historic Clara Luper corner inside the Clara Luper Center for Educational Services.  The corner displays large images of Luper and the local battles she fought for civil rights.

Luper led an effort to separate businesses across Oklahoma City, beginning August 19, 1958, during a sit-in at the Katz Drug Store where she and 12 students were repeatedly denied service.

The original sit-inner Betty Germany took a striking photograph that covers a wall both in the historic corner and at the entrance to the building. A young girl, Linda Pogue, looks directly at the camera capturing the sit-in.

Germany, now 80, said she stood up to ask for money when the photo was taken. She said Pogue had taken her seat.

Superintendent Sean McDaniel speaks to Marilyn Luper Hildreth about an exhibit in the lobby during the unveiling of the Clara Luper History Nook inside the Clara Luper Center for Educational Services on Monday, November 8, 2021.

What Germany remembers most of that day, she said, is how much she wanted to be served.

“I wanted to eat and be done,” she said.

Instead, she, Luper, and 12 other students waited for hours.

Luper and his family possessed an inherent strength that endured no matter what tribulations they faced in life, Hildreth said.

“We’re strong people, and I think that’s where she gets her motivation,” Hildreth said. “She did not take him to her grave. She left him with her family to do the same and with young and old with whom she would come in contact.”

Marilyn Luper Hildtreth talks about her mother during the Clara Luper History Nook unveiling inside the Clara Luper Center for Educational Services on Monday, November 8, 2021.

School districts across the United States are grappling with issues of teaching race. Hildreth said her mother would have supported an inclusive approach to educating and teaching students about the experiences of all racial groups – black, white, Native American and others.

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“We can’t teach history without talking about everyone in this country because everyone is important,” Hildreth said. “We have a responsibility to teach history as it was, not as we want it to be, but as it was so that we can understand where we have come from and where we are going.”

Journalist Nuria Martinez-Keel covers Kindergarten to Grade 12 and higher education throughout the state of Oklahoma. Do you have a story idea for Nuria? She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NuriaMKeel. Support the work of Nuria and that of fellow Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at Subscribe.oklahoman.com.


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