Election re-invigorates Oklahoma City civil-rights leader Clara Luper

BY BRYAN DEAN Modified: January 21, 2009 at 9:10 am •  Published: January 21, 2009
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photo - Civil rights leader Clara Luper, her daughter Marilyn Hildreth and 9-year-old Alexia Grant react Tuesday to the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Luper was watching the ceremony on television at the Freedom Center at NE 26 and Martin Luther King Avenue. Photo by Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman
Civil rights leader Clara Luper, her daughter Marilyn Hildreth and 9-year-old Alexia Grant react Tuesday to the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Luper was watching the ceremony on television at the Freedom Center at NE 26 and Martin Luther King Avenue. Photo by Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman
Clara Luper clapped and let out a cheer as Barack Obama finished taking the oath of office and became president of the U.S.

The graying matron of Oklahoma City’s civil rights movement was surrounded by about two dozen people at the Freedom Center, 2500 Martin Luther King, for an inauguration watch party.

Though her health has dwindled in recent years, Luper said she never doubted she’d see a black president in her lifetime.

"I hadn’t planned on dying until I saw this day,” she said. "If I die now, I’m OK.”

On the walls of the center, large pictures hung showing Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. Other pictures showed black children staging a sit-in at a lunch counter and Luper being led away from a protest by police.

Luper said the struggles of those days never got her down because she knew today would eventually come.

"I came from a family of believers,” Luper said. "We believed in the sun when it didn’t shine. We believed in the rain when it didn’t fall.”

Benetta Williams, Luper’s caretaker, said Obama’s election has re-invigorated the 85-year-old, who organized sit-ins to protest segregation in Oklahoma City beginning in 1958. She was invited to the inauguration, but could not attend because of her health.

"Ms. Luper cannot stand by herself,” Williams said. "The night that Obama was elected, she stood. She got up for the first time in two years and stood by herself.”

Watching Luper as she sat in front of a 12-inch TV and listened to Obama’s speech Tuesday, Williams said she was struck by how much Luper gave for this moment.

"Tears just streamed down my face as I looked at her,” Williams said.


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