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Oklahoma Civil-Rights Leader Commemorated in Song (Feb 28, 2013)

The story of the struggle for racial integration and equity in this country is one with many leading characters, and even more playing supporting roles. Tucked within the dog-eared pages of this ongoing tale is the story of Clara Luper.

But the late Mrs. Luper’s pioneering efforts, from the noted Civil Rights-era Oklahoma City sit-ins to her death in June 2011, flourish in the memories, actions and indeed art of those whose lives her leadership and mentoring directly and indirectly influenced.

On this final day of Black History Month, we recognize Luper’s role by way of the music of a man compelled to literally sing her praises. Jahruba Lambeth is a modern-day griot whose reggae-laden “Freedom Fighter: Tribute to Clara Luper” is a personal recollection of the time he spent as a member of the NAACP Youth Council. Led by Luper, Lambeth and many countless others, joined in non-violent civil disobedience credited with helping to desegregate hundreds of restaurants and other business establishments and institutions beginning with the August 19, 1958 Katz Drug Store lunch counter sit-in.

“I was twelve years old and we had moved from the Deep Deuce area in Oklahoma City to 19th street,” says Lambeth. “That’s when I started going to a different school and met Calvin Luper. We became real good friends, and little did I know that his mother was Clara Luper. As a young kid I didn’t really know too much about discrimination, segregation and all that kind of thing, you know.”

“Clara was a teacher, first and above all,” says Lambeth. “She was a school teacher and she couldn’t get away from that. When we went to her home she was in a teaching mode.”

Among the lessons Luper taught Lambeth and other members of her NAACP Youth Council was a respect for African-American culture and history. As Lambeth puts it, “She really was about you knowing your history; about yourself, about where we come from, about Africa, about those plantations and how terrible they were, and that the work we do today will help those in the future, because of the work that the people had done before us… we were able to do this work.”

“One day she asked me to come downtown,” says Lambeth. “We were going to stage a sit-in at Katz Drug Store. ‘A sit-in?,’ I said. ‘What is that?’ She said, ‘well its… it’s a lot of fun.’” (laughs)

The date was August 19th, 1958. The location for the sit-in was Katz Drug Store, a drug store and eatery that at the time did not serve African-Americans at the luncheon counter. The sit-in proved successful, and the movement continued to grow and lasted roughly four years, until practically all of Oklahoma City’s eating establishments integrated.

Among Lambeth’s favorite recollections from the period is an event which took place at an unnamed restaurant. “It was out at the airport,” says Lambeth. “We made reservations, but when they found out we were African-American they said, ‘I’m sorry but we can’t serve you’. But we went in to sit down, anyway. The management and owner made a decision right then to serve us. So they sent out menus… and we all ordered. But we didn’t have a dime. So Clara had to call the attorneys (who were) working with her to bring us some money. It was my first time seeing… a real fancy place.”

Another event in which Clara Luper, Jahruba Lambeth and others participated, is one Lambeth recounts as his favorite in his song “Freedom Fighter: Tribute to Clara Luper”:


“Her list of accomplishments go on and on and on.
Too many to mention
In my song.
But I must admit that my favorite one
Is when she took a busload of us
To something called the ‘March on Washington’
And there we saw a king
Tell us of his dream
And his dream became our dream”


Lambeth hopes his song helps others to both remember and recognize the contributions Luper made during her lifetime. He also hopes that Black History Month provides a platform for greater learning and understanding of the history of his people. As he puts it, “It’s for them to grasp. It’s for their eyes to be opened up. It’s for them… to just soften their hearts a little bit.” A full album of material from his Broke Brothers Band, including his tribute to Clara Luper, is in the final stages of production.

Music and dialogue by: Jahruba Lambeth (and featuring the Broke Brothers Band)

Copyright © 2013 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.

KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of KGOU's programming is the audio.


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