University of Oklahoma Names an Academic Department to Honor Clara Luper

The University of Oklahoma has announced that it is recognizing educator and civil rights leader Clara Luper by naming the department of African and African American studies in her honor.

Known as the “Mother of the Oklahoma Civil Rights Movement,” Luper led a sit-in at the segregated lunch counter at the Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City in 1958. She later led campaigns for equal rights in employment opportunity, banking, open housing, and voting rights.

David L. Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma, said that “we honor Clara Luper as a trailblazer for human rights and as a symbol of the university’s commitment to equal opportunity for all people.”

Clara Luper was born 1923 in rural Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. She graduated from an all-Black high school and then enrolled at historically Black Langston University in Oklahoma. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1944. She later earned a master’s degree in history education at the University of Oklahoma.

Luper taught history in high schools in Spencer, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma City for 41 years. She was the first African American vice president of the Oklahoma City Social Science Teachers Association and the first African American vice president of the Oklahoma County Teachers Association. Luper also hosted her own radio show for 50 years.

A state highway bears her name and the Clara Luper Scholarship program has been established at Oklahoma City University. More on the life of this civil rights pioneer can be found in her autobiography Behold the Walls (1979).

Clara Luper died in 2011.

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