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 standardPurser, 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. He was assigned solely to monitor the protests. There was undoubtedly racial tension among some officers on the force, but Purser hand-selected his unit and reminded those he chose of one thing: that they were professional law enforcement officers. "Let's act like it,” Purser said he told the men. To make sure they protected both sides of the demonstration, Purser did his homework. He said he studied constitutional, county and city law. His goal, he said, was to ensure that no man or woman would be treated unjustly, regardless of color. Because of this effort, a relationship developed between Clara Luper and Purser, which continued until Purser's death, Maxine Purser said. Purser recounted one incident when Luper told him the demonstrators were about to go sit in the street in protest. She told him she and her group didn't want to be arrested and didn't want to cause too much of a scene, but they had a message to send. Purser had his officers on hand when the demonstrators walked out into the street. They sat down in protest and were soon arrested. Purser recounted thanking Luper for her cooperation. "He (Purser) wanted to minimize the violence and the stress and strain,” said Rodger Harris, an oral historian with the Oklahoma Historical Society. "That was good. That furthered the cause, but also minimized the police involvement.” Purser was "absolutely sympathetic” to the movement, Harris said. Both sides, the demonstrators and police, were good "role models” for a larger national movement, Harris said. Oklahoma was a bit more progressive about racial equality by the time the sit-ins occurred, which was one of the key components the success of the movement in Oklahoma City, Harris said. By the 1930s the police department had hired black officers and by 1958 it had a black officers club.
Remembering the sit-insToday: Cecil L. Williams Day •9:30 a.m. — News conference at Oklahoma History Center, 2401 N Laird, Oklahoma City. The NAACP national chapter will be present as well the original sit-in participants to answer questions and lead a discussion on the civil rights movement as part of the Oklahoma Historical Society's salute to the 50th anniversary of the Katz Drug Store sit-ins. •11 a.m. — Salad Festival at Freedom Center. •11 a.m. — Voter Registration Drive at Freedom Center. •7 p.m. — Freedom Rally at New Zion Baptist Church, 1005 NE 28, Oklahoma City. Wednesday: Presidents Day •Events to be announced. Thursday: Sit-Inners Day •11 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Sit-Inners Freedom Fighters Lunch at Freedom Center. •4 to 7 p.m. — "Let Freedom Ring,” voices of the sit-in participants at Freedom Center. Friday: Lettie Ruth Hunter, Nancy Davis and Lillian Oliver Day •7:30 a.m. — Sit-Inners Breakfast at Freedom Center. •7 p.m. — Freedom Fiesta Fashion Show at Freedom Center. Saturday Clara Luper Day •8 a.m. — Pitts Park, 1920 N Kate, Oklahoma City. •9 a.m. — Parade lineup. •10 a.m. — Clara Luper parade starts. •12:30 p.m. — Open House at Freedom Center. •7 p.m. — Clara Luper's Dinner at 5th Street Baptist Church, 801 NE 5, Oklahoma City. For more information, call Marilyn Hildreth at 843-0873.
Democrats to honor LuperThe Oklahoma Democratic Party will hold a reception tonight for civil rights activist Clara Luper and others to mark the 50th anniversary of the Katz Drug Store sit-in, which led to the desegregation of Oklahoma City eating establishments. The event, "The Legacy and History of the African-American Community,” is from 6 to 8 p.m. at state Democratic Party headquarters, 4100 Lincoln Blvd. Luper and others will be honored. Past and present black legislators, black mayors of Oklahoma and all black elected officials also will be recognized. Beulah Mae Caruthers Winrow of Shawnee will register to vote. Winrow, who spent much of her life in Earlsboro, is 103 years old.