The U.S. House approved legislation Monday to rename the downtown post office in Oklahoma City after civil rights pioneer Clara Luper.
The measure passed by a voice vote and would rename the post office at 305 NW 5 St. the Clara Luper Post Office Building. It is not clear whether the Senate will take up the bill this year.
All five of the U.S. House members from Oklahoma co-sponsored the bill, with Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Oklahoma City, leading the effort.
“We have come a long way because of the sacrifices of Clara Luper and those who stood with her in the civil rights movement,” Horn said Monday during consideration of the measure.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-New York, said, “Clara Luper made her mark at a time when people of color could not even walk through the front door of Oklahoma City businesses. She had a vision for equality, a heart for service and a commitment to justice. She knew that Oklahoma and this country could be a place where everyone is treated with respect, dignity and humanity.”
Luper, a school teacher for more than 40 years, organized a sit-in at the Katz Drug Store in 1958 to protest its refusal to serve Black people. Many of the participants were members of the NAACP Youth Council. Luper and the youth council, through sit-ins and boycotts, worked to desegregate many other establishments in Oklahoma City.
The Katz sit-in helped inspire similar protests, including one at a Woolworth counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960, which lent momentum to the movement. Luper attended the March on Washington in 1963 and participated in some of the nation’s most historic civil rights demonstrations.
Maloney said Monday that Luper integrated the history department at the University of Oklahoma by becoming its first African American graduate of the master’s program.
A member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Luper died in 2011 at the age of 88. The MAPS 4 projects approved by Oklahoma City voters last year include a civil rights museum to be named for Luper.
Speaking on Monday of the Katz sit-in, Horn said, “Though verbally and physically assaulted, they persisted, sitting in peaceful protest. Their fearlessness and determination resulted in Katz integrating lunch counters not just in Oklahoma City, but also in Missouri, Kansas and Iowa.”
Horn said Luper and the students who participated in the sit-ins were now “inspiring a new generation of Oklahomans to take action through peaceful protest, to challenge injustice and systemic racism.”