Martella Boyd never knew Clara Luper, but she said Thursday she owed it to the civil rights activist and longtime educator to make the 100-mile trip from the Carter County town of Tatums to the state Capitol to honor her life.
“I wanted to pay my respects to her for the wonderful things she's done,” said Boyd, 84. “She did some of the things I wished I had had the nerve to try to do. But I admire her.”
Hundreds came by Thursday to pay their respects to Luper while her body laid in repose on the first-floor rotunda of the Capitol. An Oklahoma Highway Patrol honor guard stood by her brown wooden casket; a military honor guard from the Oklahoma Army National Guard was positioned nearby.
No official count was taken of the mourners, who included family members, friends and former students — as well as many who had not met her but heard about and were grateful for her sit-ins and nonviolent protests a half century ago, aimed at ending discrimination against blacks.
At least 400 signed a guest book, placed on the other side of a corridor where a documentary on Luper was shown on a large flat-screen television.
Luper's funeral service is to begin at 11 a.m. Friday at the Cox Convention Center. Immediately after the service, the procession will head north on Broadway to NE 23 (Clara Luper Corridor), then east to Martin Luther King Avenue. The procession will then go north on Martin Luther King past the Freedom Center before proceeding to Hillcrest Memorial Gardens Cemetery.
Luper died June 8 at the age of 88. She's best known for leading a group of three adult chaperones and a group of students during a sit in at the Katz Drug Store lunch counter in 1958 in downtown Oklahoma City. She's also remembered as an educator who had a positive effect on thousands of children through a 41-year Oklahoma City teaching career.
“She was a great teacher,” said the Rev. James Berry, of Spencer. The pastor and bishop at Pentecost Church of Jesus Christ was a student of hers at Dunjee High School.
He graduated from high school a year before the Katz sit-in; he said he wasn't surprised to hear his former teacher would force downtown eateries to serve blacks.
“That's the kind of person she was as a teacher,” Berry said.
The Rev. W.C. Bradley, pastor of the Church of God in Christ in Spencer, said he appreciated Luper's long career as a teacher.
“Our children and grandchildren went to school under her,” said Bradley, 76. “You learned under her.”