Fall Edition, Volume 2, Issue 3: OKC Sit-In Movement Changes the Nation

BY BRUCE FISHER

Tuesday, August 19, 1958 is one of the most important dates for African Americans throughout the entire United States of America. It was the day that the NAACP Youth Council in Oklahoma City and their NAACP Advisor, Mrs. Clara Luper, made the decision to walk into Katz Drug Store in downtown Oklahoma City and asked to be serve.Why was that such a big deal you may be asking? I go to restaurants and fast food places all the time.  

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 business owners could deny service to African Americans simply because of their race. It was the sole right of business owners to serve or deny service or set conditions for service. Conditions such as standing in a line labeled "Colored" where you had to wait until the white customers were served or purchasing food but not allowed to eat or drink in the store or restaurant. You could not sit at the tables and chairs or sit at the lunch counter on bar stools and eat a sandwich or drink a soft drink. Those conveniences were reserved for "whites only". 


These young people had no way of knowing that their effort would be joined by many more youth here in Oklahoma. Eighteen months later after learning about the success of the Oklahoma City Youth Council, college students in Greensboro, North Carolina launched a sit in demonstration that ignited a movement that spread all over America. The "Sit-In" movements contributed to the passage of the Civil Right Act of 1964 which ended discrimination in places of public accommodations. 


 It Wasn't That Long Ago 


 "I remember my father having to go to the rear of a Chinese restaurant in the alley to place an order for food. He made it look so normal. I just thought that was the way you bought Chinese food. I didn't know that there was a front entrance." 


In spite of the humiliation and obvious mistreatment of African Americans, there was a dangerous uncertainty of the consequences of violating these 

real or implied rules. Yet on August 19, 1958 a group of courageous young people, inspired by their audacious advisor, embarked on a "sit down" nonviolent act of civil protest that would change America forever. This form of nonviolent protest became known as the "Sit- In" movement. 


The following text is from the first chapter of Clara Luper's book, Behold The Walls, written by the late civil rights leader, and published in 1979. 


The same group of NAACP Youth Council members had congregated at my house located at 1819 N.E. Park in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It was August 19, 1958. The long hot summer's heat seemed endurable in the small five-room, white frame house, but the mosquitoes were in complete control outside and the youngsters remained inside where they, with sweat on their faces, held their weekly meetings. 


Gwendolyn Fuller, president of the Council, was presiding. Ruth Tolliver and I were in the kitchen preparing grape Kool-Aid and lunch meat sandwiches. Gwendolyn Fuller leaned back in her chair and looked at the group as the singing and clapping grew louder and louder. Barbara Posey the spokesman for the Public Accommodation Committee made her report. The owners of all accommodation in Oklahoma City say they will not serve blacks. Now, what are we going to do? Marilyn Luper spoke out, ''I'll tell you, Barbara. I move that we go down to Katz Drug Store and sit down and drink a Coke. "I second the motion," said Areda Tolliver. The motion was carried unanimously by the group.


Bruce Fisher is a retired administrative programs officer for the Oklahoma Historical Society and curator of the black American history exhibit.

"IT WASN'T THAT LONG AGO..."


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