Clara Luper Room is the First of Its Kind
The University of Central Oklahoma recently dedicated its first room named after an African American.
Joyce Henderson speaks during the opening ceremony of the Clara Luper Room in the Nigh University Center on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. Henderson was a high school student of Clara Luper at Dundee High School. (Cara Johnson/ The Vista).
The Nigh University Center held a grand opening for the Clara Luper Room (312) at 2 p.m. last Friday, the first conference room in the building to be named after an African-American.
The ceremony began with Keyanna Irby, the Black Student Association’s president welcoming the crowd and introducing UCO President Don Betz who delivered a welcome speech.
“We are honored as an institution… we are honored to represent and reinforce the message that Clara Luper lived, that she personified. We must be involved,” Dr. Betz said.
Following President Betz’s speech, Irby introduced Dr. Myron Pope, the vice president in Student Affairs who she credits with being instrumental in guiding the Black Student Association with the Clara Luper project.
“She (Clara Luper) has left quite a legacy and upon her shoulders we stand… this institution is by far the most diverse institution in the state of Oklahoma,” Dr. Pope said. “It’s no surprise that we are committed to doing this and having this event.”
Clara Luper, was born in Okfuskee County in Oklahoma and was a leader during the American Civil Rights Movement, known primarily for her role in the 1958 Oklahoma City sit-in movement.
Luper was also a well-known teacher who taught at multiple schools across the state, such as Northwest Classen High School, Dunjee High School and John Marshall High School.
Following Dr. Pope was Joyce Henderson, a student of Clara Luper. Henderson spoke about some of her fondest memories of the Oklahoma native.
“To many of us, we consider her our saint,” Henderson said. “To know her was to love her… she demanded the best of all of us.”
Henderson spoke of Luper’s tireless work ethic and the constant encouragement she gave to her students.
“We all can ask ourselves, ‘if it had not been for Clara Luper in our lives, where would we be today? If it had not been for Clara Luper, where would this city, this state, this nation, the world be today?’” Henderson said.
Members of the crowd were then asked to clap their hands if they were involved in the 1958 sit-in movement, if they were one of her students, if they met her and if they loved her.
Following Henderson’s speech, Irby introduced Clara Luper’s eldest daughter, Marilyn Luper Hildreth who spoke of her stories about her mother and her impact on the community.
She also detailed her memories of Oklahoma when it was deeply segregated between blacks and whites. Hildreth said that her grandmother, grandfather and her uncle would all say thank you for having the event.
One of the stories Hildreth shared was about traveling with her mother and others from the town of Spencer, when Luper was asked to present the play, “Brother President,” a story about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the NAACP in New York City. The town of Spencer raised money for children to accompany Luper to New York, Hildreth said.
“Momma was a history teacher, so she wanted to use this opportunity to teach us a history lesson,” Hildreth said. “She plotted it out… She said “I’m going to take them through the northern route and bring them back through the South.””
Hildreth said that for the first time in their lives, they didn’t have to use a colored restroom. She added that when they came back through the south they were reminded about the bigotry and hatred that was deeply ingrained in the South.
“We were taught that a little bit of freedom was a dangerous thing,” Hildreth said.
After Hildreth, Irby introduced Jordan Broiles, the Clara Luper Room’s student project coordinator and former BSA President who worked along with Elsa Ruiz, a senator from the UCO Student Association towards completing the project.
UCOSA parliamentarian, Caleb Power, said it was the first time he saw a financial resolution that pulled money out of the Permanent Reserve Fund pass unanimously on the floor of UCOSA Congress.
Broiles began his speech by repeating, “We made it” to a crowd of cheers and clapping. He thanked President Betz, Ruiz, UCOSA, MeShawn Conley, the director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Nigh University Center for donating $5,000 to the project and many others.
“Students, this is for us,” Broiles said. “They believe in us. You can do it. You have to believe in yourself. The change that you want to see will start within you.”
Broiles said that he hopes that other projects like the Clara Luper Room will start to become a regular occurrence across the state, whether it’s in higher education institutions or elementary schools.