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50 years after Okla. sit-in, participants honored

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by Tim Talley, Associated Press

Portwood Williams didn’t know what kind of reception the children in his car would receive when they sat down at a segregated lunch counter in downtown Oklahoma City to order some soft drinks.

“I didn’t care,” Williams said Tuesday on the 50th anniversary of the peaceful sit-in, which lasted for days and inspired similar actions elsewhere, helping to propel the nation’s civil rights movement.

Williams, now 93, was one of several chaperones who drove a group of black children to the all-white drug store lunch counter — including his own son.

“I wanted them to have a better opportunity than me,” he said.

Williams, Clara Luper and eight others who participated in one of the first protests in the modern civil rights movement gathered at the Oklahoma History Center, where they were honored for their efforts to end racial segregation.

Special recognition was paid to Luper, a history teacher who was arrested 26 times in civil rights activities across the country.

“She’s a trailblazer,” said the Rev. Charles White Jr., the NAACP’s deputy chief for field operations. “She stood behind young people who dared to make a difference.”

As the 35-year-old sponsor of the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council, Luper led three adult chaperones and 14 members of the youth council in what became a three-day sit-in at the Katz Drug Store lunch counter in downtown Oklahoma City.

The group sat down at the nearly empty lunch counter on Aug. 19, 1958, and ordered soft drinks. The store’s refusal to serve them launched years of peaceful sit-ins at eating establishments across the city that became models for other acts of civil disobedience across the nation.

After the ceremony, Luper, who uses a wheelchair, said she did not realize at the time how important the sit-ins would become in changing the course of the nation’s history.

As for those who want to continue the battle against social injustice, “keep trying,” she said.

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Written by Symphony

September 6, 2008 at 7:25 am

Posted in history, Honors

Tagged with , , ,

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