August 2008 Column Winner

Editor recalls sit-ins in OKC 50 years ago


By Barb Walter, The Hennessey Clipper

My Daddy's birthday is today. He would've been 96 and upset that I used a calculator to figure that out. Daddy was a stickler for being able to do math in your head. He also believed that minding your own business was next to godliness. Momma was the flip-side of that coin. That's why I remember the civil rights sit-ins in Oklahoma City 50 years ago.

But I don't think that Momma meant to get involved. It just happened.

We'd taken the bus from our east side duplex to downtown Oklahoma City so we could get Daddy a birthday present. I was 13.

It was a treat to go downtown and Momma had also saved a little money so we could eat at one of the drug stores.

After buying Daddy's present — handkerchiefs — at John A. Brown's Department Store, we crossed the street. I marveled at the big clock in the window at the jewelry store on the comer and almost bumped into the blind woman with a tin cup. She was playing a guitar.

Next I remember we were sitting on the dinette stools at either Katz or Kress's lunch counter. I ate their special which was sorta like chili pie today except I don't think Fritos had been invented back then because the chili or sauce was on something called corn chips. I'd never had corn chips before and they sounded exotic. Besides it was on the special.

The store was crowded. There wasn't going to be any lollygagging around that day or twirling around on that stool like a kid.

Momma was enjoying the Coca Cola that was burning all the way down the back of her throat and telling me to hurry up. People were three deep waiting to eat.

I heard a little girl behind me say she was hungry. I twirled around and told her she could have my place. I was almost finished.

The woman sitting next to me was wearing a big hat like the one Old Lady Sales wore to church. She leaned over and told my mother, "You need to teach your daughter some manners."

"What did she do?"

"She's about to give her seat to one of those coloreds!"

That's when I smelled something awful.

Mother smelled it too.

Hate smells ugly.


It feels bad too. Like someone spit in your hair on purpose.

"What are you going to do?" the mean woman asked.

"We're both going to give up our seats so this mother and her young daughter can have lunch the way we just did!" said Mother.

And so we did.

Momma smiled.

1 smiled.

The mother and her daughter smiled.

Then when Daddy got home that night after working a double shift at the paper, I told him about our exciting trip downtown.

Daddy told Mother, "You two could have been hurt. Don't ever do that again!"

He said it in his tone that meant his words were the gospel... and final. Then he slid the street edition of the morning paper across the kitchen table.

The headline was about the civil rights sit-in at the John A. Brown luncheonette that afternoon.

"Don't go borrowing trouble," Daddy said.

Years later I found out that Daddy had borrowed trouble too. A guy from a nearby junk store had a little boy with bad eyes like mine. The daddy couldn't afford to get his son eyeglasses. My Daddy bought them for him.

Fifty years ago I guess Daddy wasn’t really a stickler about his minding your own business rule but he sure believed in neighbors helping neighbors.