Clara Luper is a seminal figure in Oklahoma history. Born in 1923, Luper was a mathematics major and history minor in college. She graduated from Langston University and was the first Black person admitted to the history program at the University of Oklahoma, where she’d graduate with her master’s degree in history—the school’s first Black graduate as well.
I wanted to read the books. I wanted to explore new ideas, but the walls separated us and we were caught behind the walls.
While we know a lot about the preachers who played significant roles in the fight for the civil and human rights of Black people, we need to know more about the teachers like Luper, so let’s take a deeper look at her life and career.
Luper taught history and public relations at Dunjee High School in Spencer, Oklahoma, and at John Marshall and Classen High Schools in Oklahoma City. While teaching, Luper was the advisor for the Oklahoma City National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council. For the next six years, Luper advised the Youth Council on how to use boycotts, sit-ins, and protests to end segregation in Oklahoma.
While many have heard of the famous February 1, 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-ins, there was others that preceded SNCC’s sit-ins by a couple years. Under Luper’s guidance, members of the Youth Council conducted the nation’s earliest sit-ins at Katz Drugstore in Oklahoma City on August 19, 1958. Two days later, the Katz corporation desegregated its lunch counters in Oklahoma and in two other states. With the members of the Youth Council, she personally integrated hundreds of restaurants, cafés, theaters, hotels, and churches.
In one class a professor told me he had never taught an (n-word)and had never wanted to. I moved that wall by staying in his class and working so hard that at the end of the school term, he confessed his sins.
She participated in the March on Washington, she was injured during the Bloody Sunday march on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, and she was arrested 26 times due to civil rights protest. Clara Luper not only taught history; she was a part of history and even made history – on behalf of Black people. She did this while teaching American history to high school students for 41 years.
In 1979, Carla Luper published her autobiography, Behold the Walls. She is an example for all educators that you can teach history and be a part of history. She was a living example to her students of what activism looked like and what it meant to apply the very information one learns to make their community and society better for all people.
Clara Luper; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.
For more information on Clara Luper, visit the following site.