Clara Luper answered the “call for justice” when she led the sit-in movement in Oklahoma City and forever changed the city and nation, a leader with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said Friday.
“She did it not for fame or fortune or ego — but because it was the right thing to do,” Roslyn M. Brock, chairman of the national NAACP board of directors, said.
Brock made her remarks during Luper's funeral service at the Cox Convention Center.
Between 2,500 and 3,000 people gathered to say farewell to Luper, a beloved Oklahoma City civil rights leader and longtime educator, in a service that stretched about 3½ hours.
That Luper had endeared herself to numerous people over the course of her 88 years of life was obvious.
Every speaker, from Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel to several prominent pastors and one of her original sit-inners, had a personal story of how Luper had touched their lives.
“Clara Luper will be remembered as a civil rights icon and a true American hero,” Fallin told the crowd. Fallin hinted at Luper's well-known no-nonsense approach and forthright manner.
“I know she's in heaven organizing everything. She's probably directing those angels, ‘This is how we do things,'” Fallin said, drawing laughter from the audience.
Fallin also read a message from former President Bill Clinton at the funeral.
Clinton described the civil rights leader as someone who made this world a better and more equitable place: “Clara was a devoted teacher, a vibrant role model and a trailblazer for social justice.”
Michelle Milben, an attorney and Miss Black Oklahoma 2005, brought the crowd to its feet after she read a brief message from President Barack Obama.
Obama's message conveyed his condolences to Luper's family.
“First lady Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of your mother, Clara,” the president's message said. “I know Clara will sorely be missed by all who knew and loved her.”
Milben said she learned important life lessons from Luper.
Milben said Luper, in her straightforward manner, quickly let contestants know that the Miss Black Oklahoma pageant program had depth and meaning beyond their looks.
“She said ‘this ain't about being cute, Honey.' You had to have a vision for change.”
One of the original sit-inners, Barbara Posey Jones, said Luper had exacting standards and could be stern, but the group of NAACP Youth Council members always knew that she loved them.
“She wanted to create a different world and she was getting us ready for that,” Jones said.
Whetsel said he befriended Luper when he worked at his father's hardware store and a nearby grocery store. He named Luper an honorary Oklahoma County sheriff, saying she made history again by being the first black woman to hold the position.