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Police peacefully upheld the law

By Augie Frost Published: August 19, 2008
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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.

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SCHEDULE
Remembering the sit-ins

Today:

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 Luper
The 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.

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