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MLK Day – Visible History

Stories from history often feel like just that – stories. However, sometimes witnessing something from those time periods or events can help “lift them off the page.” In honor of MLK day, here are a few locations in and around the Oklahoma City area along with  their connection to the civil rights movement.

200 W. Main St. – Aug. 19, 1958

A sit-in protest, according to the Oklahoma History Society, was a non-violent protest of segregation at public places where African Americans were refused service because of the color of their skin.

When Googling “first sit-in protest civil rights movement,” search results point towards North Carolina Feb. 1, 1960. However, at least one series of sit-in protests occurred in Aug. 1958 in Oklahoma City when Clara Luper, the advisor for Oklahoma City National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council, sat in at the Katz Drug Store.

“Luper and her students went to Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City, sat at the front counter, and ordered cokes. They were denied service, but stayed until closing and returned the next day,” OHS said. “They did this until the drug store agreed to serve them.”

Afterwards, they continued to do so at other establishments throughout the 1960s, according to Luper’s biographical page on OHS.

The drug store is no longer there. But according to an Oklahoman article, there may be a statue erected depicting Luper, the 13 children and the waitress who denied them service. The statue would be placed at Robinson and Main, where the store once stood.

“My mother would be joyous,” Luper’s daughter Marilyn Hildreth said in the article. “All the times we had to get spit on, kicked, talked about, ridiculed and abused was not in vain.”

The project is estimated to be finished in 2024.

2300 N. Lincoln Blvd, the Capitol.

Oklahoma’s Capitol building and state’s politics in the 60’s also played a role in the civil rights movement.

Up until 1964, voting districts were divided in order to put African Americans at a disadvantage. The same year they were fixed, E. Melvin Porter became the first African American elected to Oklahoma’s State Senate. In 1968, Hannah Atkins became the first Black female in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives and went on to also serve as both secretary of state and secretary of human services.

800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive

Visiting the Oklahoma History Museum is one way of observing Martin Luther King Jr Day. While their current exhibit list does not include civil rights subjects, many of their online exhibits do, varying from the African American Civil Rights Movement in Oklahoma to the Tulsa Race Massacre. See their full list here.

Some other opportunities to observe the holiday in the metro include: a silent march, bell ringing and job fair; a celebration at the Myriad Gardens and a celebration at the McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church in Norman. A full list of events can be found here.

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