Sit-In Participants Urge Non-Violence

Responsible Protesting Commended

Marilyn Luper Hildreth stands before a photo of her mother, Clara Shepard Luper.

The daughter of the mother of the Oklahoma sit-in movement said last week she was proud of the record turnout of peaceful protesters she helped organize.

Protesters were expressing their anger over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May.

Marilyn Luper Hildreth said she was proud of the Sunday protest last week, but she said she had some concerns about some of the protest activities that were marred by some who sought to taunt police officers and engaged in violence.

Dozens were arrested in Oklahoma City and numerous of others were jailed in protests throughout the nation.

“I was just proud that I live in a community that respected the diversity of this city,” Mrs. Hildreth commented.

She applauded the diversity of races and cultures that turned out for the protests, but said she was saddened that some of them turned violent.

Mrs. Hildreth was one of the many young students of Clara Shepard Luper who participated in the movement that resulted in the beginnings of desegregation in Oklahoma.

Mrs. Luper started the Sit-In Movement here 60 years ago that was mimicked throughout the South.

She, a history teacher, led the local NAACP Youth Council.

Today, Mrs. Luper’s daughter said that movement taught her the importance and effectiveness of peaceful protests.

“There was never any real violence during the sit-in movement,” Mrs. Hildreth remembered. 

“Oh, there was violence, but not the type where anything was damaged or anything like that. … It was passive, non-violent resistance.”

Other sit-in participants are also speaking out against violent protests. 

Ayanna Najuma participated in the sit-ins from the age 7 to 14. 

Joyce Johnson Henderson participated as a member of the NAACP Youth Council throughout high school.

 Bill Clifford went to sit-ins every Saturday for six months before he moved to a different city for work. 

They all believe non-violent protests are the way to effectively bring about change.

“I would say because I did hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in 1963, he would not promote violence,” Mrs. Henderson, a retired executive with the Oklahoma City Public School District, remarked.

“One thing the First Amendment does, it gives you the right to assemble, but it does say peacefully.  So, that’s one thing that we’re going to have to discipline ourselves to do.”

Mrs. Hildreth, Mrs. Henderson, Najuma and Mr. Clifford all attributed the non-violence of the 1960’s sit-in to the training everyone received before they went out to protest.

Every Saturday morning, protest participants were required to undergo training, they said, and anyone who couldn’t remain peaceful wasn’t allowed to participate.

Mrs. Henderson said today’s protesters should receive training before they hit the streets.

Mrs. Hildreth said the police who are there to keep the peace should, too.

To avoid violence, Mrs. Henderson said protesters must keep the purpose of the protests in mind. 

She encouraged them to call out their fellow protesters who try to direct things toward violence.

Violence is not the purpose of protests she and others helped sponsor last week.

It’s just as important to vote as it is to march, Mrs. Henderson stated.

“If you are out there picketing and doing all those things, and especially if you are tearing up property, etcetera, my question to each one first is, ‘Are you a registered voter?’ ” Mrs. Henderson said. 

“If you are a registered voter, you can find other ways to express your dissatisfaction, your anger.”

Mr. Clifford’s advice to protesters: “Leave when things start to turn violent.”

“Just go home,” Mr. Clifford said.  “I don’t mean that to be snide, but it seems that when it turns dark, things get totally off the rails.  So, show up. Be peaceful.

“When it starts getting dark and things start to derail, everybody that’s there for a legitimate purpose in terms of the protest on police brutality needs to leave.  Go home and then let the police do their job.”

Mrs. Najuma wanted to remind protesters it takes more than just staying peaceful to initiate change.  She advised protest leaders to be strategic and work with different groups.

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