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Historic sit-ins by Luper, students commemorated at history center


Jenny Coon Peterson August 20th, 2008

On Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1958, Meyer Korenblit was reading the paper and watching television when he learned about the peaceful protest by 13 black youths at Katz Drug Store. The following Saturday, Kore...

On Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1958, Meyer Korenblit was reading the paper and watching television when he learned about the peaceful protest by 13 black youths at Katz Drug Store.

The following Saturday, Korenblit took his son, 7-year-old Michael, to a park. He asked Michael to take a sip from a drinking fountain and tell him what it tasted like. Michael said it tasted fine, just like water. Michael read the sign posted at the fountain, "Whites Only." Then Korenblit took his son to another drinking fountain not far off. Michael drank again, pronouncing the water just as good as the first. The only difference, a sign at the fountain proclaimed "Coloreds Only."

Michael Korenblit learned that day that segregation was the result of nothing but fear between two groups of people, but the realization of that fear could have devastating consequences. Fear of differences was the reason Meyer Korenblit, a Holocaust survivor, no longer had parents and Michael no longer had grandparents.

Meyer Korenblit was inspired by the actions of Clara Luper " the NAACP Youth Council leader that led the young people in protest " 50 years ago. Today, Michael Korenblit, president of the Respect Diversity Foundation and author of "Until We Meet Again," a book about his parents' lives during the Holocaust, is still inspired by her.

RESPECT DIVERSITY FOUNDATION
The nonprofit Respect Diversity Foundation, founded by Michael and Joan Korenblit eight years ago, strives to teach respect for all people through a speakers' bureau that visits area classrooms. Luper was one of the first people the foundation approached to become a part of that bureau.

The Korenblits were just one of the many people gathered to mark the half-century anniversary of the historic sit-in protests in Oklahoma City. Amid a packed house in the Devon Energy Great Hall at the Oklahoma History Center, Luper was led to the front of the stage today along with original sit-in participants as the Langston Chorale from Langston University sang "We Shall Overcome."

The celebration drew diversity organizations, family and friends of the sit-in participants, and city and state leaders, including Mayor Mick Cornett; Lt. Gov. Jari Askins; state Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City; and Bruce Fisher, son of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, the first black woman admitted to the University of Oklahoma Law School.

Askins, who recalled visiting Oklahoma City as a young girl and seeing signs telling who was " and wasn't "  allowed in stores, applauded Luper and the NAACP for "the courage, foresight, vision and dream to overcome the obstacles to make Oklahoma a great state."

EFFECTING CHANGE
Donnie Nero, president of Connors State College in Warner, spoke about Luper's role not only as a leader in the protests, but as a teacher at Dunjee High School in Spencer, which he attended. Nero said Luper taught from books, but also taught manners, self-respect and the ability to believe in oneself. Above all, he said Luper did all this, "and then some," attributing his accomplishments to what others suffered to effect change.

The celebration ended with a procession of today's youth presenting Luper with 50 red roses.

Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, said the achievements of blacks are chronicled throughout the museum, including an entire exhibit devoted to the 1958 sit-ins, and even includes a replica of the Katz counter where the youths sat awaiting service. Blackburn recalled Luper sitting at one of the four round, black vinyl stools all night at the 2005 opening reception for the exhibit.

Behind the counter, set against white cupboards and soda glasses, a looped video shows the struggle for equal service in the documentary "Through the Looking Glass Darkly." Blackburn said the exhibit is important to "honor the determination and bravery" of the youth and adults who protested peacefully.

The commemoration of the metro sit-ins continues through Saturday, Clara Luper Day. Saturday events start at Pitts Park, 1920 N. Kate, and include a 10 a.m. parade; 12:30 p.m. open house at the Freedom Center, 2609 N. Martin Luther King; and a 7 p.m. dinner at Fifth Street Baptist Church, 801 N.E. Fifth. "Jenny Coon Peterson

 
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