OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Marilyn Luper Hildreth says it is fitting that Oklahoma City recognize the role played by the former Mobil filling station at NE 25 and MLK in the fight for civil rights.
An advisory commission has recommended the Freedom Center be designated a historic landmark.
The building was home base for the NAACP Youth Council and headquarters for activists who fought housing discrimination and organized the 1969 Oklahoma City sanitation workers’ strike.
Its history is inextricably tied to the sit-ins and desegregation campaigns of the late 1950s and early ‘60s.
Vacant for the better part of a decade, the center is an overlooked but important character in the story of the Civil Rights Movement.
In its time, it fulfilled the vision of longtime civil rights activist and teacher Clara Luper to provide a place for children to find their footing in an often hostile world.
“We were able to maintain Freedom Center, not by the wealthy, but by the common, everyday people who worked,” Hildreth, Luper’s daughter, said recently.
The commission voted to recommend the Planning Commission and Oklahoma City Council confer historic status on the building at 2609 N Martin Luther King Ave, the Oklahoman reported.
Hildreth took part, as a 10-year-old member of the Youth Council, in the 1958 sit-ins that led to desegregation of the Katz Drug Store lunch counter in downtown Oklahoma City....“My mother was a dreamer,” Hildreth told the Historic Preservation Commission.“She felt that all people were created in God’s glory. She believed that every child could learn.“She taught school for over 40 years,” Hildreth said, “and all the programs she had were basically geared to young people.”Luper taught history at Dunjee High School in 1957 when, according to a staff report for the commission, she and her students produced a play about civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.The play caught the attention of NAACP leaders, and the children were invited to perform it in New York City.Having seen northern cities where segregation was less virulent, they returned to Oklahoma City “ready to push for civil rights in their own community.”Hildreth said the Oklahoma City sit-ins began in 1958 “with 13 young people - 13.”“And that changed the course of American history because when we sat down here in Oklahoma City, it was like a wildfire that was spinning across this country,” she said.The staff report says the Youth Council went on to break down racial barriers at more than 175 Oklahoma City restaurants over the next six years.The Freedom Center was founded in 1965, led by activists including Dr. Charles Atkins, who was the first African-American member of the Oklahoma City Council.The Freedom Center acquired the former filling station in 1967 with the goal, as Luper put it, of providing “opportunities for deprived children