Message from the Director: Black History Month: A Call to Remember and Press Forward

February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time to recognize their central role in U.S. history. To commemorate this occasion, TEEM is encouraging participants to identify and articulate how a public or private black figure has impacted his or her life. Activities will focus on communicating how such individuals provide inspiration to keep pushing forward! As we seek to raise awareness of the major influence of these outstanding leaders, I would like to to identify some of the people who challenge, inspire and motivate me.

Clara Luper was a pioneering leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. She attended high school in the all-black town of Grayson, Oklahoma and received a B.A. in mathematics with a minor in history from Langston University and later a M.A. in History Education from the University of Oklahoma. From 1958 to 1964 Clara Luper led the members of the NAACP Youth Council in a campaign to end the segregation of public accommodations.

On August 19, 1958, Mrs. Luper and a group of Youth Council members entered the segregated Katz drugstore in downtown Oklahoma City. They took seats, and asked to be served. They peacefully protested and two days later, Katz corporate management in Kansas City desegregated its lunch counters in three states.

Along with the NAACP Youth Council, Mrs. Luper integrated hundreds of restaurants, cafes, theaters, hotels, and churches, including such notable Oklahoma City establishments as the Split-T drive-in and the Skirvin Hotel. She also took part in the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. In addition, she participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches where she received a deep cut in her leg on “Bloody Sunday.”

In 2005, The Clara Luper Corridor, a multi-million dollar two mile streetscape project connecting the Oklahoma State Capitol complex with the historically African-American area of Northeast Oklahoma City began construction. It was at the dedication of this Corridor when I first met the Oklahoma Legend and national icon. I had the privilege of shaking her hand as I expressed immense gratitude for her vision, courage, service and dedication to our state. She responded, “You are quite welcome, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

I think of her words often and am confident she is smiling from heaven on the work of a new generation of black leaders taking place at TEEM. I am especially grateful for the dedication, passion and hard work of Missy, Lance, Nichole, Felisa, and Dominique in breaking cycles of incarceration and poverty. They are tackling disparities and improving the quality of life for all Oklahomans. They are making a lasting difference, and I believe when they finish their course they, too, will be listed among the greats. They are among my modern-day heroes!