OKC Downtown Post Office Now Named for Black Civil Rights Leader

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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) – The Downtown Post Office is now officially the Clara Luper Post Office in honor of one of Oklahoma City’s best-known black civil rights leaders.

Luper is best known for organizing and leading lunch counter sit-ins at Katz Drug, in downtown OKC, which kicked off a successful six-year process of desegregating public restaurants and other public places. from the city.

The Katz Drug Lunch Counter’s first sit-in took place on August 19, 1958, four years before four black college students from Greensboro, North Carolina, staged a sit-in at a pharmacy lunch counter and has been widely reported nationwide.

On Saturday, a crowd gathered to dedicate the new Clara Luper Post Office between NW 5th and 6th on Harvey and directly across from the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. The event was part of a weekend of activities held annually to commemorate the first sit-in on August 19, 1958.

“I’m so glad we sat here in Oklahoma City because if we hadn’t sat here young people across the country would never have stood up,” Clara Luper’s daughter Marilyn Hildreth told a standing ovation and screams from the crowd. Saturday.

Hildreth, who joined the other young people led by Luper, challenged those who came to come forward and take action for others by asking them what they did and who they helped educate.

Challenging segregation

Luper handpicked the young people and adults who would accompany him to the busy Katz Drug Store in the heart of the Main Street shopping district in downtown Oklahoma City long before there were any malls. and before there was “fast food”. In fact, drugstore lunch counters provided what would later be known as “fast food,” including burgers, sandwiches, and soft drinks.

Katz Drug was Luper’s choice precisely because it was one of the busiest food outlets in Oklahoma City drugstores and the most likely to gain press attention.

They came and filled the seats for a busy time of the day and tried to order. They were not arrested initially, but were not served either.

And, more importantly, with the sit-in, no one else could sit down and buy food either. This had an economic impact on Katz Drug’s business.

In her challenge of segregation in Oklahoma City but also in the state and the nation, Luper has been arrested 26 times.

Women of Congress

Congresswoman Stéphanie Bice organized and led the event. Free Press spoke to him briefly before the ceremony.

“It’s an amazing time to be able to recognize Clara Luper and the contributions she has made to the Oklahoma City area. One of the first leaders of the civil rights movement, she has become an icon and it is a real honor to be able to celebrate her today, ”said Bice.

Le Bice invited former MP Kendra Horn to come and speak because it was Horn who passed a bill in the House to rename this post office so that there is a memory of what Luper did. .

Senator James Lankford then led the bill in the Senate, and then President Donald Trump signed it into law with the name change.

“It is so important that we name Clara Luper, that we recognize the sit-inners and all who have stood with them to stand up and challenge injustice wherever she is, wherever she has been. said, and that we still have work to do, ”Horn said in his speech.

“It’s so essential that we recognize what the power of hate can do to bring us down as we stand here,” Horn said. “It is even more important that we stand up for what is right and what is right, and that we remember the work that has been done to change the face of our city. “

OKC Mayor Holt

As the mayor of Oklahoma City since 2018, David Holt has officially acknowledged each year the evil perpetrated against the people of Oklahoma City by white supremacist Timothy McVeigh when he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.

He did so again on Saturday in his remarks at the post office name change ceremony that stood just west across from Harvey from the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

Holt named the various places in town that received Luper’s name, such as the new administration building for the OKC Public Schools.

“Clara Luper’s name reminds us of how far we’ve come and how far we need to go,” said Holt.

And, then, gesturing towards the post office behind him, Holt asked and answered his own question.

“Do you know why the Clara Luper post office building behind me looks relatively new? This is because an avowed white supremacist blew up the previous building. “

He was referring to the destruction of the previous building by the concussion of McVeigh’s truck bomb about half a block away.

“The bombing was a symbol of dehumanization and the depths of evil of which humans are capable,” said Holt. “Clara Luper is a symbol of the best that humanity has to offer. “

“And now the name of a black woman who has been arrested two dozen times by this city while fighting for racial equality is now engraved on a public building that was once blown up by white supremacists “Holt said with applause and shouting. .

“Icon”

Lee E. Cooper, Jr., pastor of Prospect Missionary Baptist Church on the east side and originally from the area, spoke with Free Press ahead of the ceremony.

He called Luper an “icon who not only changed our community, not only changed our state, but was instrumental in changing the entire scope and landscape of this United States.”

“And for that reason, it really has an impact on how our hearts have recognized the fact that Clara Luper made it here in Oklahoma City.”

“Work to do”

Jabee spoke with us after the ceremony about what the name change meant to him.

“It’s very important to have a black woman’s name associated with a building in downtown Oklahoma City – for my daughters to come and see and their kids to come to see, it just means a lot.”

We asked him if he thought the job was done.

“Oh, definitely not,” Jabee said. “The job is not done, I think we can stop and come to the post office and see his name and people can google it, but I think the important thing is to keep teaching this story to our children and educating people in schools about who she was and what she did too.

“Having her name here means a lot, but we still have so much work to do. “

Garland Pruitt, president of the Oklahoma City NAACP, had similar feelings.

“The challenge we still have today is to stand up, speak up and demand something different from what you see and experience every day.”

Clara Luper, center, with other protesters and an Oklahoma City police officer. (credit: Oklahoma Historical Society, John Melton Collection.)

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Updated on August 22, 2021 at 12:32 am by Brett Dickerson – Editor


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