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Integrating one store meant integrating all

By Devona Walker Published: August 19, 2008
Ike and Mike Katz, the owners of the Katz Drug Store chain, were more than entrepreneurs in their hometown of Kansas City; they were icons.

To civil rights activist Clara Luper, Katz Drug Store was a symbol. It was chosen deliberately because it was a chain and because of its location. Outside its front doors was one of the busiest bus stops in the city, where hundreds of blacks waited to transfer across town.

And because it was a chain, integrating one likely meant integrating them all. But it is unclear whether segregation was a Katz policy or the result of its Oklahoma City manager following local customs.

The issue came to a head 50 years ago when young black activists in Oklahoma City went to Katz asking to be served.

Manager J.B. Masoner denied the youths service for two days, finally serving them on the third. He was quoted at the time as instructing his staff to treat the children respectfully but deny them service. In private talks with Luper, he apparently admitted that he would like to serve the children but was unable to unless other restaurants did so. He feared being the only integrated restaurant in town might put Katz at a competitive disadvantage.

By the third day of the protest, Aug. 22, 1958, Masoner reportedly called company headquarters about the protests. Later that day, the children were served.

The following day, a company executive said Masoner's decision not to serve them was in violation of company policy.

"We did not know about the Oklahoma situation until yesterday,” Tim Blond, Katz senior vice president and general manager, said at the time. He added that the Oklahoma City manager was then instructed to follow the company's policy of "serving everyone who comes into our store.”

No memory of protests
By this time, the Katz brothers no longer ran the business.

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