The iconic monument that has stood prominently outside of the Freedom Center for the past 30 years has been temporarily relocated, signaling progress as the restoration of the historic building moves forward.
The restoration, originally part of the MAPS 4 Projects, is moving forward with raised private funds.
Originally installed in 1992, the four-tiered granite memorial honors local civil rights heroes alongside nationally recognized figures.
On July 6, it was carefully disassembled and transported by Wilbert Memorials to their production plant, where the names and images on monument will also be restored, and the whole monument will be stored safely away from the construction site until time for its reinstallation.
Though not acquired until after Oklahoma City’s Sit-In Movement ended, the Freedom Center building was linked to many important local civil rights battles, such as the Sanitation Workers Strike in 1969 and the fight for fair housing.
Located at 2609 Martin Luther King Ave., the former Mobil gas station was purchased by the Freedom Center Corp. in 1967 to serve as the home of the local chapter of the NAACP Youth Council under the leadership of Clara Luper.
Mrs. Luper died in 2011.
At the time, the building was purchased, Mrs. Luper noted that the center’s goals were to “provide opportunities for deprived children to grow up properly, to learn the value of self-help and to see the adult world supported by a sense of belonging.”
For the next 40 years, the center worked diligently toward that goal, providing classes, activities, and summer programs for countless Oklahoma City youth.
After sitting empty for more than a decade, the 60th anniversary of the first sit-in at Katz Drug Store renewed public interest in local civil rights history.
In 2018, the center was named an historic landmark by the Oklahoma City Historic Preservation Commission.
The same year, the building was placed under court receivership with former Urban League president Leonard Benton named as receiver.
He soon reconstituted a board of directors.
The year 2018 was also the year that the mayor and City Council put out a call for MAPS 4 project ideas.
“We were beginning to think, why not dream big?” said Leonard Benton.
The land immediately south of the historic building stood largely vacant, owned by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority.
That agency soon authored a plan to create a full, 5-acre Clara Luper Civil Rights Center.
The Freedom Center restoration was initially included as part of the MAPS 4 package passed by voters in 2019.
Since the passage of MAPS 4, however, the Freedom Center board of directors has successfully raised private funds to restore the historic building.
Donors to the restoration project and center operations include: Arnall Family Foundation, Chickasaw Community Bank, Concerned Clergy for Spiritual Renewal, Devon Energy, E.L. and Thelma Gaylord Foundation, Horace Stevenson Family Fund, Inasmuch Foundation, the Meinders Foundation, Paycom, Oklahoma City Community Foundation, Presbyterian Health Foundation, Richison Family Foundation, Southwestern Urban Foundation, Temple & Sons Funeral Home, United Methodist Foundation, and numerous individual contributors.
All funds approved through the MAPS process will go towards the new construction of the Clara Luper Civil Rights Center.
Removing the Freedom Center restoration from the MAPS 4 scope of work and paying for it with private funds has allowed the work to get started sooner.
It also allows the organization that Mrs. Luper created to retain ownership of the building and the acre of land it sits on.
The Freedom Center board has worked with Bockus Payne Architecture since the MAPS 4 campaign.
It is serving as the local architect of record on the restoration project.
The architectural team has grown to include Atelier Cory Henry as lead designer for the restoration.
Thunder Team Construction has been selected as the project’s construction manager.
The redevelopment of this property is the first phase of the development of the center.