The Oklahoma History Center celebrated the contributions of well-known educator and civil rights leader Clara Luper and the original 13 Katz Drug Store protesters Tuesday morning with a standing-room-only crowd in its main lobby. Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the lunch counter protests, in which young people helped end the practice of segregation in the state by staging a four-year protest at numerous restaurants in Oklahoma City. "When this happened, I was a small child in Duncan, OK, and this brings up some memories I hadn't thought of in a long time,” said Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, one of several keynote speakers. She told the diverse crowd about only vaguely remembering a segregated Oklahoma. Then she spoke to the honorees, thanking them for that. "Your sacrifices made it possible that I would not have to grow up with these images,” she said. "I am grateful that with each generation that's in the state of Oklahoma, we come closer to eliminating those barriers.” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Sen. Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, also spoke at the event. Many of the speakers took the time to acknowledge the continued contributions of Luper and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Youth Council.
Civil rights leader honoredLuper and the youth council protesters received a resolution from the Oklahoma City Council, a commemorative poster designed in their honor from the national chapter of the NAACP, commemorative coins, and 50 roses from 50 area youths. In addition, they received a standing ovation from Oklahoma City University students representing the 130 attending the university under a scholarship bearing Luper's name. "Fifty years ago, you would think that moment would have stopped right there. But then you walk in here and see all these people,” said Richard Brown, one of the original segregation protesters. "I just couldn't believe it.” One member of the packed audience said she was there to show support for Luper and the protesters. And she brought her 10-year-old daughter along to give her another perspective on history. Linda Mitchell is a 42-year-old white homemaker who lives in Crown Heights. She is too young to remember segregation in Oklahoma. "I think it's important for her to see this, to understand that real people make history. And that history was made in Oklahoma,” Mitchell said, speaking of her daughter who was busy taking pictures of the people sitting on stage. "I never did at her age.”