Clara Luper was a lot of things — teacher, leader, even hero. But she also was a family member and friend, people said as they attended a funeral Friday in Oklahoma City for the civil rights leader.
“Clara Luper was beyond her time,” Narva Johnson, 63, said as she stood outside the Cox Convention Center, where the funeral was to be held. “She was a very good friend of mine.”
Johnson's parents, L.J. and Alberta Johnson, owned the Blackstone Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. So the Johnson family was well aware of Luper's struggle to end segregation in downtown businesses, she said.
The Johnson family donated generously to the civil rights movement, she said. The Blackstone had to be operated as a segregated business, too, with a side for whites only and a side for anyone else.
“She was the bravest, most courageous person I've ever known,” she said. “I saw Ms. Luper do some things that blacks were just horrified to do.”
Even some blacks opposed Luper's actions, she said. “They thought she was making trouble.” She said the thinking went like this: “Ms. Luper's down there messing with those white folks. She knows she can't do that. She knows what'll happen to us. Ain't none of us going to have jobs.”
Nasheema Gouldsby, 25, of Oklahoma City, said Luper was a cousin. She remembered attending fish fries at Luper's house and being fascinated with her gold fish pond. “I was, like, trying to get out there and get one, and she spanked me.”
She remembers Luper constantly pushing education as a way to a better life, saying, “there was nothing we couldn't do.” Gouldsby said her uncle participated in sit-ins organized by Luper, and Luper insisted that they remain peaceful.
“He had a bit of a temper,” Gouldsby said of her uncle. “She had to calm him down.”
Ambra Harris, 29, of Oklahoma City, who once sang for Luper as part of a church choir performance, said that on the way to the memorial, she realized the impact that the civil rights pioneer had: “I sat at the front of the trolley today.”
Bobbie Powell, of Okmulgee, and Iceola Dillingham, from nearby Grayson, traveled from Okmulgee with a busload of students attending a multicultural summer enrichment program, hoping to help them learn more about black history.