The Katz Drug Store Sit-Ins (1958): A Key Moment In The Civil Rights Movement

The Katz Drug Store Sit-Ins happened on August 19 and 20, 1958, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This protest was about ending the racial segregation at the drug store’s lunch counter, a common practice at the time. The sit-ins were led by Clara Luper, a schoolteacher and civil rights activist. Her teenage daughter, Marilyn Luper, asked why she could not just go in and order a Coca-Cola and a hamburger. This question made Clara Luper think about doing a sit-in to challenge the store’s racial policies.

Before the sit-ins, Clara Luper wrote letters to the owners of Katz Drug Store, but they didn’t do anything about it — which led her to decide to take direct action. She planned a sit-in with her children (Marilyn and Calvin Luper) and thirteen black high school students. The group also included Portwood Williams Jr., Richard Brown, Alma Faye Washington, Areda Tolliver Spinks, Elmer Edwards, Lynzetta Jones Carter, Gwendolyn Fuller Mukes, Lana Pogue, Betty Germany, Barbara Ann Posey Jones, and Donda West, who would later become the mother of the famous rapper Kanye West.

On August 19, 1958, Clara Luper and the students went to Katz Drug Store, sat at the lunch counter, and ordered thirteen Cokes. They were not served, but they stayed at the counter for hours. During this time, White segregationists attacked them by kicking, punching, spitting at them, and pouring things on them. The group came back the next day and continued their peaceful protest until one of the employees finally served them food. This action ended segregation at the Katz Drug Store lunch counter.

The success of the sit-ins was partly due to an unspoken agreement with Bill Percer, a Lieutenant in the Oklahoma City Police Department. He and his officers agreed not to harm the students as long as they remained peaceful. This helped ensure the protest did not turn violent and showed the power of non-violent resistance.

The Katz Drug Store sit-ins had a big impact, starting a wave of similar protests and civil rights demonstrations across Oklahoma City. These actions continued for six years until the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, which made segregation in public places illegal throughout the United States. The sit-ins also attracted national attention. For example, actor Charlton Heston came from Hollywood to join the protests in May 1961. He marched with Clara Luper and other activists, wearing a sign that saidAll men are created equal,showing his support for the movement.

Clara Luper became a key leader in the fight against racial segregation in Oklahoma. She led many civil rights campaigns, working for equal rights in banking, jobs, housing, and voting. Her efforts helped integrate restaurants, cafes, theaters, hotels, and churches in Oklahoma City. Clara Luper’s dedication to justice and equality had a lasting impact on the civil rights movement, inspiring future generations to keep fighting for equal rights.

The sit-ins at Katz Drug Store are an important part of civil rights history. They show how effective peaceful protest can be and the importance of young people in the movement. Clara Luper and her students faced hostility with courage and determination, setting a powerful example for others. Their actions not only challenged segregation but also led to broader social changes, proving that collective action can make a big difference in the fight for civil rights.

References

  • Oklahoma Historical Society: Information about the Katz Drug Store Sit-Ins and Clara Luper’s role can be found in various collections and archives, including photographs and personal accounts. One such photo is credited to the John Melton Collection.
  • Local News Archives: Oklahoma City newspapers from August 1958 reported on the sit-ins, providing contemporary accounts of the events, the community’s reaction, and subsequent civil rights activities.
  • “Behold the Walls,a book by Clara Luper, gives a detailed account of her activism and the events surrounding the sit-ins.
  • Civil Rights Digital Library: Includes resources and documents related to the Katz Drug Store Sit-Ins and other civil rights protests led by Clara Luper.
  • Charlton Heston’s Participation: Documented in both national media and local records, Heston’s involvement in the Oklahoma City protests brought further attention to the civil rights movement in the area.

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