Four Black protesters and former civil rights activists sat before a mostly White crowd as a living, breathing piece of Oklahoma history after the viewing of the documentary Children of the Civil Rights. The panel discussed a handful of issues ranging from the current Black Lives Matter movement to inspiring a new generation of activists.
They reflected on their experiences from over fifty years ago, as young children who sat for hours at lunch counters in downtown Oklahoma City during the early 1950s and non-violently demanded service. Their encounters as young activists were the focus of the newly released documentary film Children of the Civil Rights.
The film was directed and produced by Ardmore, Oklahoma native Julia Clifford. Clifford’s documentary is a fascinating look at Oklahoma’s place in the Civil Rights Movement. Though documentaries on the peaceful civil disobedience of this era are abundant, the director is able to offer new insight into this often glossed-over period of Oklahoma history. Clifford’s personal roots in Oklahoma make the film unique and fresh.
The experiences of this group of young Oklahoma City children is one seldom mentioned when discussing the Civil Rights Movement. Their protests began in the late 1950s and were guided by their NAACP youth counselor and school teacher Clara Luper, who was an essential part of their sit-ins.
With Luper’s help, the children, some only seven years old at the time, organized and executed their protests at restaurants in downtown Oklahoma City that refused to serve Black patrons. Their incredible bravery and determination as young activists contributed to some of the first protests during the Civil Rights era in the United States.
Clifford’s team talked to many of the activists who participated in the sit-ins, giving the film a real depth and relativeness. Archived personal interviews with the now-deceased Luper were included and added a much-needed tenderness to the film, especially given the bleak and disheartening stories of this era. Testimonials and interviews from parents, historians, journalists, White protestors, faith leaders and even an interview from current US Representative and activist John Lewis are all included in the film. The ranges in voices and perspectives are a noteworthy, impressive feat for the filmmaker.
The unrefined sound and picture of Children of the Civil Rights is obvious and detrimental to the film’s production value. Yet despite its unpolished finish, the film still packs a profoundly big punch while spotlighting a forgotten piece of Oklahoma history.