NORMAN — University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren today announced the naming of the Department of African and African American Studies in honor of longtime educator and civil rights leader Clara Luper, who made many contributions to diversity and inclusion efforts in Oklahoma. The announcement was made at the March meeting of the OU Board of Regents.
“We honor Clara Luper as a trailblazer for human rights and as a symbol of the university’s commitment to equal opportunity for all people,” said OU President David L. Boren.
Known as the “Mother of the Oklahoma Civil Rights Movement,” Luper was a tireless advocate of education and civil rights, having led the first sit-in of the modern Civil Rights Movement on August 19, 1958, at the then-segregated Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City. Luper was one of OU’s very first black graduates, attaining her master’s degree from the College of Education in 1951. She was instrumental in leading the fight to end segregation in Oklahoma and led campaigns to gain equal banking rights, employment opportunities, open housing and voting rights. She also personally integrated hundreds of restaurants, cafes, theaters, hotels and churches.
For 41 years, Luper taught history and public relations at Dunjee High School in Spencer, Oklahoma, and at John Marshall and Classen High Schools in Oklahoma City.
Luper became the advisor for the Oklahoma City chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth Council in 1957. The following year the Youth Council decided to stage a sit-in at Katz Drug Store. In August 1958, walking into the store and ordering soft drinks, the youth under Luper’s guidance demonstrated their discontent with segregation and launched the nation’s sit-in movement. The NAACP Youth Council continued to conduct sit-ins throughout the early 1960s, helping to end segregation in public accommodations in Oklahoma.
She was the first African American vice president of the Oklahoma City Social Science Teachers Association and the first African American vice president of the Oklahoma County Teachers Association.
From 1960 to 2010, Luper hosted her own radio show through which she chronicled her fight for civil rights in her autobiography Behold the Walls. Throughout her extraordinary career, Luper received numerous honors, including the National Young Women’s Christian Association Individual Racial Justice Award, the Oklahoma Federated Women’s Club Service Award, the NAACP National Youth Advisor of the Year Award, and Presidential Citation awarded by the National Association for Higher Education. In 2007, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. A state highway also has been named in her honor by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Luper received an honorary doctorate from Oklahoma City University, where nearly 120 students from underrepresented groups are granted full scholarships in her name.
Luper, who passed away in 2011, grew up in Hoffman, Oklahoma. She is survived by three children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Within the College of Arts and Sciences, the Clara Luper Department of African and African American Studies exemplifies excellence in research, teaching and service by providing students with a broad, interdisciplinary education inclusive of a focus on Africa and the traditional areas of study of the African American Studies/Black Studies discipline. The department aims to facilitate dialogue between those on campus and in the community through education and civic engagement. For more information, visit ou.edu/cas/afam.