Clara Luper’s courage at a young age helped change the course of race relations in Oklahoma City. The Katz Drug Store lunch counter protest she led in downtown Oklahoma City more than 50 years ago forced policy changes in 38 of the chain’s drug stores in four states.

Ms. Luper died Wednesday night at age 88 after a lengthy illness. A teacher for many years, she was the 35-year-old sponsor of the NAACP Youth Council when she and three other chaperones took 14 youths to the lunch counter Aug. 19, 1958.

Katz refused to serve them and the youths and their sponsors came back each day, usually with larger crowds that included white supporters each day. The stores changed its policies on separate facilities for whites and blacks. Six more years of sit-ins caused other establishments to rethink their segregation policies.

She dedicated her life to spreading the message of racial and gender equality.

“My biggest job now is making white people understand that black history is white history. We cannot separate the two,” she told the Associated Press in a 2001 interview.

Ms. Luper has an Oklahoma City street and an Oklahoma City University Scholarship program named for her. Her legacy is one of courage and perserverance for a noble cause much bigger than herself. History will not forget her.

This Week's Circulars