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Former students remember lessons from Clara Luper

Family, former students fondly recall teachings of Oklahoma civil rights leader Clara Luper.
BY SONYA COLBERG Published: June 18, 2011

Former students of Clara Luper recall that learning at the civil rights leader's knee was never a spectator sport.

She urged, no, she demanded that young people participate in education, recalled former students and family members at Luper's graveside.

“You can't come in and sit there on your constitutional right,” she'd tell Dunjee High School youngsters, said former student Julie Hunter-Allen.

Others chimed in to complete the sentence, laughing at the memory.

The crowd of about a hundred hung around in the heat after Luper's casket, adorned with white roses and peonies, was slowly lowered into the grave at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens Cemetery. They shared tales about Luper, laughing and occasionally wiping a tear.

“Earth to earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust,” said the Rev. A. Byron Coleman, of Fifth Street Baptist Church.

He reminded the crowd to celebrate her life and legacy and then gently urged them to share memories of her legacy away from the heat. But they seemed reluctant to let go of one of the civil rights movement's most historic figures.

“We didn't read history. We learned history, thanks to Clara Luper,” Hunter-Allen said.

She and others wore a white T-shirt with the history teacher's image emblazoned on it, along with her notable sayings, such as, “Even a young child can lead.” And, “You make you changes in this world.”

Luper was remembered as a strong, bold teacher so much bigger than her diminutive stature might lead one to believe.

Mattie Kilpatrick said life was extraordinary for the roughly 700 students at the all-black school where Luper called children by their last names and demanded they know the capital of all the foreign countries.

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