Katz Drug Store Sit-In (1958)
Clara Luper was the advisor for the Oklahoma City branch of the NAACP Youth Council who inspired vice president Barbara Ann Posey and those in her council to stage a sit-in at a popular lunch counter in Katz drug store at this location. One of the first sit-ins in the Southern Great Plains, the successful August 1958 protest mirrored similar protests in Wichita and throughout the region prior to the more well-known sit-ins that began in Louisville, Nashville, and Greensboro.
Backstory and Context
African Americans in Oklahoma City began discussing strategies for confronting the most obvious forms of racial discrimination they faced. Clara Luper, the advisor of the Oklahoma City branch of the NAACP Youth Council, Barbara Ann Posey, the vice president of the branch, and the rest of the council agreed to begin sit-ins at lunch counters. They targeted the Katz drug store due to its discriminatory policies after the manager refused their request to serve all people at the lunch counter. On August 19, 1958, the young activists sat down at the Katz lunch counter and ordered sodas. Service was refused, as was expected, and the students at quietly, filling the seats of the lunch counter for the next two days. After this time, the store manager revised the policy.
The idea for this kind of protest was sparked in the children when they saw a similar group to theirs stage a sit-in in Wichita, Kansas. Before this time period, the fight to gain equality for African-Americans had been almost entirely spearheaded by adult leaders, but the Wichita chapter of the NAACP Youth council had seen too much of the unspoken discrimination in their town to stay silent any longer. They chose Dockum Drugstore to be their target, and in the summer of 1958 staged a sit-in that lasted for weeks. On August 7th, the manager of the store finally declared that the store was integrated. The children of the Oklahoma City youth council saw this as a possibility for them and knew that they had an even larger stage than Wichita to spread their ideas of equality.
Imagine a massive assembly of people with the same basic belief that someone’s skin color shouldn’t determine their social status or ability to move up in the world, and who were willing to stand up to authority to make change and put that belief into practice. This is essentially what one would see on Sunday, March 7th, 1965. On “Bloody Sunday” one would also see Clara Luper among this crowd. Clara Luper was arguably one of the most important figures in this entire narrative. As the advisor for the Youth Council, she guided the children on the day of the sit-in and was instrumental in the planning of the event as well. She was very well educated and made history as the first African-American woman ever to be accepted into the history program for graduate students at the University of Oklahoma, where she received her master’s degree. As a schoolteacher, Luper had a platform to teach students about the importance of equality for citizens of every race. She taught at different establishments over the years, including Dunjee, John Marshall and Classen High Schools in Oklahoma. Following the sit ins, Luper continued to spread her ideas through hosting a radio show, and even writing a book. Overall, Clara Luper was of vital importance to the civil rights movement, even though she never quite received all the recognition she deserved.
However, some recognition was given to Luper and the young people in the Youth Council. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, publicly acknowledged the achievement of the youth council by awarding them citations for their activism at the NAACP convention in 1959. One can also trace the much more prominent and publicized Greensboro sit-ins to the influence of the earlier protesters in Wichita and Oklahoma City. Perhaps one of the most ironic effects of the sit-ins was a bill in Arkansas that was passed which was intended to punish any peaceful protesters such as the children form the Youth Councils, but instead motivated even more action because it made the government look as if they were afraid of the demonstrators.
Overall, the sit in at Katz drug store in Oklahoma City in 1958 had a much more profound effect on the civil rights movement than one would anticipate. It was lead and inspired by active and influential individuals who knew that the discrimination that was plaguing America had to come to an end and took steps to implement their values and make change. The civil rights movement as a whole is a widely discussed topic, as it should be due to the drastic shift in the American perspective. However, some of the most interesting and influential pieces of the movement are lost on many people because they simply weren’t talked about. The Katz drug store sit-in is an excellent example of an influential protest that has faded into the blur of civil rights history. The site of Katz drug store isn’t marked and has not even so much as a Wikipedia page to commemorate it. As a society, it’s important to make sure we are recognizing where true change occurred and remembering the significance of sites like this one.
Walters, Ronald. “THE GREAT PLAINS SIT-IN MOVEMENT, 1958-60.” Great Plains Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 2, 1996, pp. 85–94. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23531753.
Decker, Stefanie Lee. “Luper, Clara Shepard | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.” Cheyenne, Southern | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=LU005
Reese, Linda W. “Jones, Barbara Ann Posey (1943 - ) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed.” Boley, Oklahoma (1903- ) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed, blackpast.org/aah/jones-barbara-ann-posey-1943.
“Clara Luper Changed Oklahoma Policy's.” African American Registry, aaregistry.org/story/clara-luper-changed-oklahoma-policys/.
“Greensboro Sit-Ins (1960).” Boley, Oklahoma (1903- ) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed, blackpast.org/aah/greensboro-sit-ins-1960.