Blog

11 Feb
0

Oklahoma Black History Heroes: Clara Luper

Clara Luper
Clara Luper

Her name does not resonate like that of Rosa Parks, and she did not garner the kind of national attention that a group of black students did when they took seats at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., in February 1960. But Clara Luper was a seminal figure in the sit-ins of the civil rights movement.

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 groups 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 Human Relations. Ms. Luper’s activism extended beyond the sit-ins. A week after that first protest, 17 white churches in Oklahoma City let members of her youth group attend services. At another church, a pastor asked two youngsters to leave, The Associated Press reported at the time. “God did not intend Negroes and whites to worship together,” he told them.

Ms. Luper was arrested 26 times at civil rights protests. Now a street is named after her in Oklahoma City, and flags flew at half-staff in her honor.

 

National Civil Rights Activism

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. Ms. Luper’s activism extended beyond the sit-ins. A week after that first protest, 17 white churches in Oklahoma City let members of her youth group attend services. At another church, a pastor asked two youngsters to leave, The Associated Press reported at the time. “God did not intend Negroes and whites to worship together,” he told them.

 

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.

Later years

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 people.”

Luper taught American history for 41 years, beginning at Dunjee High School and working at other Oklahoma City schools; she retired from John Marshall High School in Oklahoma City in 1989.

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 legacy.

Luper received hundreds of awards, and was inducted into 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.

As she watched a television broadcast of President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, Clara Luper had tears in her eyes. The Oklahoma civil rights icon knew that her and other activists’ struggle had reached a milestone with the election of the nation’s first black president.

“This is our day,” she said at the time, calling his inauguration the “fulfillment of dreams of people.”

“She took a community that had little except their voices and their feet, and she used those resources to the best of their ability for change,” said state Rep. Mike Shelton, a family friend and member of Oklahoma’s Legislative Black Caucus.

“In some way, she has touched every life in the state of Oklahoma, whether they know it or not, because of her contributions, her persistence, her dedication to her fellow man,” the Oklahoma City Democrat said. “There aren’t many people you can say that about.”

Mukes said that during those sit-ins, she’d never seen so much hatred, but Luper was their advocate and staunchest supporter and “taught us how to look white people in the eye.”

“You knew that you had to go through with it because you did not want your children to grow up in the same environment. No one should have been treated the way we were treated,” Mukes said.

Luper’s daughter, Marilyn Hildreth, said her mother instilled the same fight in her own family.

“We talked about it all the time, because our whole family took part in it,” said Hildreth. “I think mother saw a lot of advancements (in civil rights) and she told us to always stay on the battlefield. The fight continues.”

Portwood Williams Jr., another student who took part in the Katz sit-ins, said he couldn’t recall any of the protesting teenagers expressing fear.

“Believe it or not, the way we felt about it was quite the contrary.

“While her accomplishments are too many to list, her legacy is easily defined,” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said. “She opened eyes and, in turn, opened hearts and minds … and was a shining example of the distinctly American idea that while we might hail from many cultures, we are one people.”

Luper hosted her own radio show for 20 years and told her story in her autobiography, “Behold the Walls.” She said in a 2006 interview with The Associated Press that she dedicated her life to spreading the message of racial and gender equality.

“My biggest job now is making white people understand that black history is white history. We cannot separate the two,” she said.

Oklahoma City named a street in Luper’s honor and there is a scholarship in her name at Oklahoma City University. In 2007, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, and in 2009, she received the National Education Association’s Rosa Parks Memorial Award.

“She had the desire and determination to promote equality in the state of Oklahoma, and in promoting equality here, she promoted equality internationally,” said state Rep. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, another member of the Legislative Black Caucus.

NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous expressed similar praise, saying Luper’s civil rights efforts resonated nationally.

“Clara Luper was an inspiration to us all,” Jealous said. “Her courage, dedication and passion for civil rights was unmatched. She will be missed.”

Luper is survived by two daughters and a son.

07 Feb
0

Reason Not Rhetoric

For Immediate Release
February 7, 2013
Contact: Wallace Collins
405.427.3366 

 REASON NOT RHETORIC

Republican Leadership Continues Hypocrisy 

Oklahoma City– Is it hypocrisy to gladly take federal dollars for drought relief, wildfires, tornadoes, floods, or education, but not for healthcare?

Oklahoma is willing to improve our roads and bridges with federal money, why not do the same for people’s health? Those are Oklahoma tax dollars being sent to D.C., why not bring them back to help sick and ailing Oklahomans?

In 2012 Oklahoma received approximately $6.9 Billion in federal grant dollars. Governor Fallin had also accepted an additional $54 million from the federal government to implement a health insurance exchange, until she buckled under pressure from the most extreme members of her party and sent it back.

“She was for it before she was against it!” proclaimed Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins.

During the rally to expand Medicaid at the State Capitol on Tuesday, many personal stories were shared from the speakers. State Representative Seneca Scott (D) – Tulsa, spoke about one of his constituents who had suffered from a hernia for over six years which had caused his stomach swell, but he was simply too afraid to go see a doctor because of the cost.

“It’s immoral to let people be afraid to seek help. As citizens we are guaranteed the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Chairman Collins continued, “Since the constitution does not specify a healthy life, Governor Fallin must think she does not have to cover your health.” 

Several other Republican Governors have accepted the Medicaid expansion, such as Jan Brewer in Arizona who said, “My concerns about the Affordable Care Act are well-known, but it is the law of the land. With this expansion, Arizona can leverage nearly $8 Billion in federal funds over four years, save or protect thousands of quality jobs and protect our critical rural and safety-net hospitals.”

“As people of faith we know which path is correct. How about it Governor Fallin, will you help the people who need it most?” asked Chairman Collins.

###

 

05 Feb
0

Oklahoma Black History Heroes: Prentice Gautt

Prentice Gautt was born on Feb. 8, 1939 in Oklahoma City, OK.

In his early years, Gautt played high school football for Douglass High School in Oklahoma City. While playing high school football, he became the first African-American athlete in the state of Oklahoma to play in the All-State football game, where he was chosen as the MVP.

After he graduated high school, Prentice Gautt decided to attend the University of Oklahoma.

When he arrived in Norman, OK in 1956, he became the first African-American to start for the Sooners. However, he was not the first African-American to walk on.

As a freshman, local black doctors and pharmacists donated to the University of Oklahoma to allow Prentice Gautt to attend without having to fund the tuition himself. The reason Prentice was denied a scholarship by Bud Wilkinson was not entirely on Bud himself.

Coach Wilkinson was pressured by donors and boosters not to offer Prentice a scholarship. That only lasted until Prentice’s second season. Prentice graduated from OU in 1959.

In his career at Oklahoma, Prentice Gautt became a two time All-Big Eight selection, as well as being named to the Academic All-American team his senior season.

Prentice Gautt averaged 5.5 yards a carry in his career for the Sooners. He also rushed for 1,301 yards on 235 carries with 6 career touchdowns.

After playing for the Sooners, Prentice Gautt played seven seasons in the NFL. He played one season with the Cleveland Browns, where he was drafted in the second round, and six with the St. Louis Cardinals.

After his seven year NFL career, Prentice Gautt went on to coach at the University of Missouri, where he also earned his doctorate in Psychology.

After attaining his Ph.D, Gautt began a life in athletic administration. He first served as an assistant commissioner for the Big Eight Conference. Later he served as a special assistant to the commissioner of the Big 12 conference, where he served until his death.

On Mar. 17, 2005, Prentice Gautt passed away at the age of 66 in Lawrence, KS due to a bacterial infection.

After his death, Prentice Gautt was posthumously given the 2005 Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football Award by the College Football Hall of Fame and the National Football Foundation, in May of 2005.

In his playing career for the Oklahoma Sooners, Prentice Gautt, ushered in a new era of Sooner football. He was courageous enough to face the scrutiny and ridicule from other races, even teammates, to do what he believed in.

In doing so, Prentice Gautt changed Oklahoma football forever.

Prentice Guatt

04 Feb
0

Governor Fallin’s $10 Million Dollar Band-Aid

State of Oklahoma

HOUSE of REPRESENTATIVES

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 4, 2013

 

Rep. Richard Morrissette, District 92

2300 N. Lincoln Blvd.

State Capitol – Room 543

Oklahoma City, OK 73105

Contact: Jacklyn Brink-Rosen

(405) 557-7404

Let’s Correct the Stink!

Festering Structural Wounds Require More Than the Governor’s

$10 Million Dollar Band-Aid

 

(Oklahoma City, OK) Governor Fallin today proposed a $10 Million allocation to begin repairs on the crumbling state Capitol.

In response to Democratic state legislator Rep. Richard Morrissette’s long suffering appeal to simply “fix the building”, Governor Fallin, in her State of the State, proposed a mere $10 million dollars to address what is seen by building engineers as an urgent and dire safety emergency that will require more than one hundred million to fix.

“It’s like knowing the roof leaks, the siding are sliding and the toilet doesn’t work but addressing only one of these issues. The entire structure remains unfit. And, speaking of fit and unfit, the new fitness center is located in the Capitol’s sewage infiltrated basement!  The Governor stated in her remarks today that there is more than $600 Million in the Rainy Day Fund. It will take $150 Million to fix the Capitol correctly. Just correct the stink!” said Rep. Morrissette (D-OKC)

“What really stinks is the way the Governor plays politics over this important issue with the political right wing of her party. This gesture of $10 Million is a sham. You’re trying to fool the public by making them believe that you are addressing the problem.”

“Fix the building! Stop playing games! Take out a loan at zero interest or take $150 Million out of the Rainy Day Fund. Just do it! Fix the building, Governor! Let’s do it and do it right!” concluded Morrissette.

 

-30-

04 Feb
0

The Governor’s Plan for the Rich

For Immediate Release
February 4, 2013
Contact: Trav Robertson
405.427.3366

 THE GOVERNOR’S PLAN FOR THE RICH

Governor Mary Fallin Present State of the State 

Oklahoma City– Governor Mary Fallin told Oklahomans that she only cares about the wealthy in her State of the State address. Her plan for 2013 shows that she will ignore the problems that we face in areas like health, education, and government.

During the Governor’s speech she talked about her rejection of the Medicaid expansion which would have immediately helped 600,000 Oklahomans, but Governor Fallin told those people that they should start feeling better because she would not help them. She said that the cost of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was too much, but she ignored the fact that we have already paid for it with federal tax dollars. The $54 million for a Health Insurance Exchange that she sent back to Washington is Oklahoma’s money that will be used in a different state.

The moral issue of protecting life “in the womb and at birth” was brought up but as the Republican Party’s morals show, they do not care about the child afterwards because they are the party of “pro-birth”. The Governor’s actions spoke louder than words when she denied birth as a qualifying event to allow new parents to have their child covered under their insurance plan.

She reminded Oklahoma teachers and parents about the failed “A-F” grading system that was supposed to help schools. She also neglected to comment on her strategy to help keep schools safe for our children.

The Governor continues to cut services as she did with the Human Rights Commission, Indian Affairs Commission, and the Affirmative Action Committee. Now she wants to remove 40 more advisory boards that help keep her accountable. She talked about being transparent, but continues to hide emails from the public that guided her decision to not implement the ACA.

Governor Fallin wants to put money into projects like fixing the crumbling State Capitol Building, but she does not have a plan to pay for it. And her intention to further decrease state revenue by returning thousands of dollars to our wealthiest citizens can only result in Oklahoma’s continued decline.

As Oklahomans we need to choose between Mary’s path that leads to a poorly-educated and unhealthy population struggling to compete for jobs, and a path of common sense values that invests in getting Oklahomans healthy, providing them a well rounded education, and making sure they understand what their lawmakers are doing at the State Capitol.

###