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Rep. John Conyers, Jr. Pays Tribute to Clara Luper

by Chris Casteel Published: June 16, 2011

Rep. John Conyers, the venerable Detroit Democrat who co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969, paid tribute to Clara Luper in a statement for the Congressional Record on Wednesday. Luper, the Oklahoma City civil rights activist, died last week.

Statement of Congressman John Conyers, Jr.

In honor of the life of Clara Mae Shepard Luper

June 15, 2011

Today, we honor Clara Mae Shepard Luper and her lifelong work towards achieving equality for all in the state of Oklahoma. She has been the face of the Oklahoma Civil Rights movement since 1958 and to many she is a treasure to the United States and an icon for the struggle for equality.

In the face of segregation and wide-spread discrimination, Clara Luper decided that enough was enough. Mrs. Luper’s courage, determination, and integrity cultivated her strong leadership to organize a sit-in protest at the Katz Drug Store in downtown Oklahoma City, a business that refused to serve black customers. Mrs. Luper was fearless when she organized civil disobedience demonstrations and she unapologetically used these demonstrations to challenge the state of Oklahoma’s allowance for discrimination against blacks.

I recall Mrs. Luper spoke about her mother witnessing a Black man who had been hung by a White mob in Texas. Regardless of her experience, however, her mother instilled in her a belief of “loving people, no matter what their color.”

Mrs. Luper’s mother believed that freedom and equality were guarantees of the Constitution and Mrs. Luper was bound to make sure the state of Oklahoma made good on that promise. Thus, she continued to influence others with the beliefs her parents taught her by including young people in the struggle for civil rights and immersing herself in demonstrations for equality across the country.

Mrs. Luper participated in the march in Selma against segregation in 1965. She was arrested then and many other times for protesting against social injustice. She was even beaten by demonstrators protesting against the movement in Selma. However, she courageously continued.

For over 40 years Mrs. Luper traveled with groups of young people from Oklahoma to conventions across the United States that rallied to end segregation in America. During these conventions, some students witnessed desegregated public bathrooms and restaurants for the first time in their lives. However, I most admire her journey with these young people to the March on Washington in 1963 and her leadership to hundreds of youth in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council in Oklahoma.

As an educator for over 40 years, Mrs. Luper taught American history to Oklahoma youth. Although she retired in 1991, many of her students still credit her for instilling in them a sense of worth and confidence that they could go out and change society for the better. Some of them considered her more than an educator, with many to this day still referring to her as “Mom.”

She also had an interest in public service. In 1972, Mrs. Luper threw her hat into the political ring and ran for the U.S. Senate. She stated “as a teacher, I was interested in getting some practical experience in the political realm. And I sure did that.” Although she did not win the nomination from the Democratic Party, many current politicians in Oklahoma and abroad have benefited from her courage and significant involvement in Oklahoma politics.

In the years following, Mrs. Luper founded the Miss Black Oklahoma Scholarship Pageant. Attending and affording college and a deep knowledge of American and civil rights history are the foundations of the scholarship pageant program. Young black Oklahoma women have benefited Mrs. Luper’s vision to provide educational opportunities and scholarships to rising young leaders in the state and I am grateful for her efforts and investment in America’s youth.

53 years ago, civil rights leader and icon Clara Luper displayed the inspiring courage to better this country for all of its citizens. I know that this Congress and the people of this nation can work to further the ideals of Mrs. Luper and the Civil Rights Movement.

by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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