Clara Luper, notebook in hand, would sit on the front row to listen to her children deliver a speech.
If at any point, the child filled the air with “uh,” her pencil whisked a checkmark.
Once home, daughter Marilyn Hildreth recalls, “You would go before the board of education, and become well-educated.”
And your tongue better be the only thing in your mouth when talking in public. Son Harold Green returned one time from speaking in Tulsa, to “What about that gum you had?”
“That was a board of education call,” he said.
The “Clara Luper board of education” was the reason son Calvin Luper didn't get in trouble at school. If he had, the teacher would call his mother and “I knew the board was there, and I didn't want it to be in the ready position when I got home.”
Chelle Luper Wilson, the youngest of Clara Luper's children, was good and didn't have to go before the board very often. Nonetheless she would hide it. “It seems like when I did, someone at the high school woodshop would make her one bigger than the one I'd hid.”
Wednesday, Hildreth, of Oklahoma City sat on L-shaped couch in her mother's home with her brothers Calvin Luper, of Oklahoma City, and Harold Green, of San Diego, as well as her sister Chelle Luper Wilson, of Crossroads, Texas, to her left.
They spoke of a mother who disciplined only to train. They spoke of a mother of compassion. They spoke of a mother of celebration.
While the nation remembers Clara Luper, the civil rights leader who died June 8, they lovingly remembered “mama.”
Luper instilled the importance of self-respect. Besides proper enunciation, the NAACP's Youth Council that met at Luper's home made sure that each participant of the sit-ins wore clean clothes that were ironed.
These were signs of confidence.
Hildreth said if proof is needed that her mother's way worked, consider those planning to attend the funeral Friday.
There will be 12 of the 13 original participants of the 1958 sit-in at the Katz Drug Store in downtown Oklahoma City.
There will be the woman who owns four fast-food franchises, a woman who works for a U.S. senator, and a man who practices international law in Saipan.
“As a result of being disciplined, she was able to train young people to do almost anything,” Marilyn said. “She would tell us, anything that you can dream, you can achieve.”
Always a teacher
Every circumstance was an opportunity to teach, as Marilyn, Calvin and Harold learned at the dinner table one evening.
The family didn't have a lot, but Clara would invite guests over “like we were the Rockefellers.”
Marilyn, put in charge of preparing the meal, knew they had only one chicken for a dinner for eight people that evening. So the three children created a “plan of action.” Immediately after the blessing, one of the children would pass the vegetables toward the guests and send the chicken the way of the siblings. That way, the children would be sure to get some meat.
When the moment came one of the children picked up the plate with the chicken “but we knew that wasn't right, so we passed it on to them.”
“You know what happened,” Marilyn asked. “They told us they were vegetarians. I have never been so dumbfounded in my life.”
“We had schemed for days about that chicken,” Calvin said, “but it turned out what was important to us, wasn't important to them.”
Clara knew about the “plan of action,” but wanted to let it play out, to teach her children a lesson.
A very loving mother
Harold was about to leave to serve in Vietnam when his mother took him aside.
Although she's known for a movement of many people, she always made time for her children as individuals.
Softly she told her son “I'm about to put you in the Lord's hands.”
Facing death 24 hours a day, Harold never forgot those words.
“I always felt like I was going to make it, because of my mother's little words,” he said. “Her little seeds inspired me.”
They never stopped being her children, no matter how many calendars were tossed aside.
Calvin said that in the past couple of years he and his mother were ill at the same time. At one point, both were on different floors in the same hospital.
He looked up, and Marilyn was pushing his mother in a wheelchair into his room. Clara wanted to check on her son.
Seeing that “I did my best to try to get out of there,” Calvin said crying.
A time to celebrate
Chelle Luper Wilson, pinched between her right index finger and thumb a faded color photo taken at a party on her seventh birthday. She pointed to a yellow corsage so big it seemed to extend from her chin to almost her waist.
She laughed and then explained that her mother loved celebrations, whether it was a birthday or an “A” on a test.
Anything that was good was a reason to celebrate.
“I think that's what she would want us to do now,” Chelle said. “She always said, ‘I don't want a bunch of people crying over me when I die. I've lived life and lived it to the fullest, and when I'm gone I'll have done all I could do.'”
Chelle said she can't guarantee that she won't shed tears, but added, “It's time to celebrate her life.”
Luper to lie in repose
The body of Oklahoma City civil rights leader and educator Clara Luper will lie in repose Thursday at the state Capitol, 2300 N Lincoln Blvd. The public may pay their respects from noon to 4 p.m.