On only a few occasions does Maxine Purser remember her husband coming home and talking about the Katz Drug Store and other civil rights demonstrations of 1958.
Policing the sit-ins was just another day at the office for the late I. G. Purser. Then a lieutenant with the Oklahoma City Police Department, Purser was upholding a constitutional law he interpreted as colorblind, Maxine Purser said.
"He was a compassionate man,” she said. "He was never a part of violence. He was just a gentle, fair person.”
Police were unable to provide any reports in which the struggle for equal rights led to violence. Only an isolated incident in which a demonstrator had a knife confiscated.
A black 14-year-old apparently pulled a knife when a couple of white boys began heckling him. On-site police monitoring the protest confiscated the pocketknife, and let the protester go shortly after, according to a story published in the Aug. 21, 1958, Oklahoma City Times
. Nobody was hurt.
On a separate occasion, Sgt. Bill Maulding was quoted saying, "We're going to try and keep from having trouble,” in reference to a white man who had purchased ice cream for about 10 of the protesters. The protesters refused to accept the ice cream on principal, and tension arose.
But never did the tensions break into violence like in other cities, Maxine Purser said.
"I.G. worked really hard to prevent violence,” she said. "He was really proud of that.”
Setting the standard
Purser, who later served as police chief, was assigned to the downtown patrol before the sit-ins. After the first sit-in on Aug. 19, 1958, Purser went to the chief of police about the situation.
"I said, ‘We have something unusual that is occurring that is going to continue to occur. I may need your help,'” Purser recalled during a 1997 interview with the Oklahoma Historical Society.