Behold the Walls by Clara Luper
Clara Mae Luper was born in rural Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, to Ezell and Isabell Shepard on May 3, 1923. Raised in the town of Hoffman, she attended all-black schools and was bussed several miles to Grayson High School where she graduated in a class of five. After attaining a B.A. in mathematics with a minor in history from segregated Langston University, Luper became the first African American student to enroll in the graduate history department at the University of Oklahoma, earning a master’s degree in 1951. Deeply influenced by visionary figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mrs. Luper would serve as the advisor for the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council, eventually establishing her place as one of the earliest and most influential leaders in the civil rights movement in 1950’s Oklahoma. On Tuesday afternoon, August 19, 1958, Luper, along with her son, daughter and a group of Youth Council members, entered the segregated Katz Drug Store in downtown Oklahoma City asking to be served. As expected, the group was initially refused service and the police were called. Although met with increasing hostility and even threatened, no one in the group was arrested. Two days later, Katz corporate management in Kansas City desegregated its lunch counters in three states. From 1958 to 1964 Mrs. Luper assumed a major role in the fight to end segregation in Oklahoma, leading campaigns to gain open housing and employment opportunities as well as equal banking and voting rights for African-Americans within the state. Along with the NAACP Youth Council, she helped integrate hundreds of restaurants, cafes, theaters, hotels, and churches, including such notable Oklahoma City establishments as the Split-T drive-in and the Skirvin Hotel. Behold the Walls is Clara Luper’s riveting first-hand account of the campaign and struggle for civil rights in Oklahoma City during the 1960s.