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The Girl Who Dared

An incredible true story from the civil rights movement

By Spencer Kayden
From the February 2019 Issue

Learning Objective: to identify key ideas and details in a play and a speech    

Lexiles: 1050L (captions), 1050L (speech)
Other Key Skills: author’s craft, inference, character, text structure, figurative language, interpreting text, key ideas and details

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AS YOU READ

As you read the play and study the images think about how the kids in this play work for justice.  

Scene 1

August 19, 1958

SD1: The lights rise on a bustling store in Oklahoma City. A sign in the window says “Katz Drug Store.”

SD2: Some customers are shopping. Others are sitting at a long lunch counter. Everyone at the counter is white.

SD3: Mrs. Clara Luper and a group of African American kids, ages 6 to 17, peek through the window.

Barbara: Is everyone ready?

Portwood: Yes. We’ve got a right to sit at that lunch counter, just like anyone else.

Calvin: I’m nervous.

Mrs. Luper: Remember, whatever happens, you do not talk back. You do not fight back.

Marilyn: We’re ready.

SD1: Barbara takes a deep breath and opens the door.

SD2: The lights go out.

Scene 2

May 1957

SD3: The same kids sit two by two on a rickety bus.

SD1: Wide-eyed, they stare out the windows.

Calvin: I’ve never been outside Oklahoma before.

Portwood: Me neither.

Marilyn (to Barbara): My stomach is in knots thinking about our performance tomorrow in New York City.

Barbara: Just focus on the Youth Council’s mission.

Marilyn (reciting  ): To educate people about injustice, to bring an end to discrimination through nonviolence . . .

Barbara (smiling  ): Right. Don’t worry. People are going to love your mama’s play about Martin Luther King Jr.

Mrs. Luper: All right, Youth Council! We’re stopping here in St. Louis for dinner.

SD2: The kids scramble off the bus.

SD3: On the other side of the stage, lights come up on a small restaurant. A sign reads “Missouri’s Finest Diner.”

SD1: Marilyn grabs her mother’s arm.

Marilyn: Mama, we can’t eat here. There are white people in this restaurant.

Mrs. Luper: Oh, yes, we can. This is a restaurant where everyone is served, no matter the color of their skin.

SD2: Inside the diner, the children sit down apprehensively.

SD3: A waitress comes over and smiles.

Waitress 1: What can I get you folks?

Barbara: Um . . . a hamburger and a lemonade, please.

Waitress 1: Sure thing, sweetie.

Marilyn: I’ll have the same.

Mrs. Luper: We’ll all have the same, please.

Waitress 1: Coming right up.

Barbara: Thank you, ma’am.

Portwood (whispering ): If this restaurant were back home, we’d probably be arrested for sitting here.

Calvin: Or beat up.

Scene 3

A few days later

SD1: Lights come up on the children looking out over a sea of headstones in a vast green field in Virginia.

Mrs. Luper: This is Arlington National Cemetery. I wanted to show you where more than a hundred thousand veterans and their families are buried.

Portwood: So many people died fighting for freedom.

Barbara: But whose freedom? In New York City, we were free to go wherever we wanted. But when we get back to Oklahoma, are we really free?

Calvin: What do you mean?

Barbara: As long as Jim Crow is around, we’ll be treated like half-citizens.

Portwood: It’s true. Back home, I can go into a shoe store, but I can’t try on any shoes.

Marilyn: All my schoolbooks are tattered hand-me-downs from the white school.

Calvin: We’re not allowed in most parks.

SD2: The bus driver walks over to Mrs. Luper.

Bus Driver: Ma’am, we’d best get these kids food now. There won’t be places farther south that will serve you.

Mrs. Luper: Not even one?

Bus Driver: You could go around back and order food to go. But you won’t be allowed through the front door.

Barbara: Maybe it’s time we fought for our freedom.

Scene 4

August 19, 1958 

SD3: Mrs. Luper’s living room is crowded with children.

SD1: Barbara stands up.

Barbara: The Oklahoma City Youth Council meeting will come to order. Since we got back from New York, we’ve been trying to desegregate restaurants in Oklahoma City. But every restaurant we talked to said the same thing: “If we serve black customers, our white customers will leave.”

Marilyn: What about the city council?

Portwood: They said it’s not the government’s place to tell people how to run their businesses.

Calvin: And the churches?

Portwood: No one wants to get involved.

Barbara: Mrs. Luper, you taught us that the first step in overcoming injustice is to negotiate. We’ve tried that for over a year, and it hasn’t worked. What now?

Mrs. Luper: You protest. (thinking) Some students in Kansas recently did a sit-down strike at a lunch counter.

Marilyn: What’s a sit-down strike?

Mrs. Luper: It’s a peaceful protest where you sit down and refuse to leave until you are served.

Marilyn: We should try it at Katz Drug Store.

Calvin: Now?

Barbara: Yes! This fight needs to be visible. No one in this city has ever seen black people sitting and asking to be served in a restaurant downtown. Who’s with me?

SD2: The kids all raise their hands.

Mrs. Luper: I must warn you, some people do not want things to change. If they see black folk sitting in a white restaurant, they might get angry and mean. They may yell at you, throw things at you, even push you around.

Calvin: I’ll whop ’em in the jaw.

Mrs. Luper: Calvin, do you think you’re going to change anyone’s mind by throwing a punch?

Calvin (quietly): I guess not.

Mrs. Luper: I know it’s hard, especially when folks provoke you. But remember, we will endure violence if we must, but we will never inflict it.

Barbara: That’s how we show them our dignity.

John Melton/Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images

Barbara Posey during a sit-down strike

Scene 5

Later that evening 

SD3: The scene returns to Katz Drug Store.

SD1: Barbara leads the group to the lunch counter. The kids sit down on stools. The room falls silent.

Barbara: We’d like 13 Cokes, please.

Waitress 2 (scowling): You can have them to go.

Barbara: We’ll drink them here, please.

Waitress 2: This lunch counter is for whites only.

SD2: The kids don’t move. The manager comes over.

Manager: Get up. You can’t sit here.

SD3: The kids smile politely.

Manager (to Mrs. Luper): Why are you making trouble?

Mrs. Luper: It’s hot out. They just want Cokes.

Manager: If you don’t leave, I’ll call the police.

SD1: The kids remain seated.

SD2: The manager storms off. The white people at the counter get up, leaving their food unfinished. They glare at the kids.

Customer: You’ve got a lot of nerve.

SD3: One customer spits on Calvin.

SD1: Calvin clenches his jaw but doesn’t react.

SD2: Mrs. Luper hands Calvin a napkin.

Mrs. Luper: I’m proud of you, son.

SD3: The police arrive.

Manager: Officer, get them out of here! Who do they think they are?

Police Officer: They’re just sitting.

SD1: More customers gather to stare at the children. Reporters show up with cameras.

Manager (to the reporters): You get out! No publicity!

SD2: The crowd grows more hostile, hurling insults and threats at the kids.

Marilyn: They hate us so much.

Barbara: All we’re doing is asking for justice.

SD3: The kids stay seated until the store closes.

Calvin: What happens now?

Barbara: We come back tomorrow.

Charles Moore/Getty Images    

Police use fire hoses on civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963.

Scene 6

That night

SD1: Mrs. Luper and her mother sit in the living room.

Mama: You’ve been getting threatening phone calls for hours. Do you have any idea what you’ve started?

Mrs. Luper: The kids want to go back in the morning.

Mama: Black folk have been killed for less. You’re putting these kids in danger.

Mrs. Luper: They are willing to fight for change. (quietly) But who knows. Maybe no one will show up tomorrow.

SD2: The lights fade, then slowly rise. Robins chirp.

SD3: Now Mrs. Luper’s living room is packed full of children dressed in their nicest outfits.

Barbara (grinning  ): We brought some friends with us. 

Scene 7

August 20, 1958

SD1: The scene returns to Katz Drug Store.

SD2: At the lunch counter, kids sit on every stool.

Waitress 2: I told you yesterday, we don’t serve your kind.

Barbara: That’s OK. We’ll wait.

SD3: Once again, white customers get up angrily.

SD1: One of them shoves Marilyn off her stool. Marilyn smiles and sits back down.

SD2: Onlookers start shouting. Reporters arrive.

Reporter: Excuse me. Can you tell me why are you doing this?

Barbara: We’re tired of waiting for things to change. These places won’t serve us because of our skin color. But the Constitution says we have equal rights.

Reporter: Is sitting here really going to make a difference?

Barbara: I feel a personal responsibility to take action. If we do nothing, it feels like we’re condoning prejudice.

Reporter: Are you aware that freedom fighters around the country have been violently attacked?

Barbara: Yes. We know it’s dangerous, but we think freedom is worth the risk.

Reporter: What do you think of these people yelling hateful things at you?

Barbara: Martin Luther King Jr. says that the chain of hate can only be broken by love.

Reporter: How long are you willing to sit here?

Barbara: As long as it takes. 

John Melton/Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images    

Ayanna Najuma, 7, was one of the youngest participants of the lunch counter sit-down strike. Here she sits with other Youth Council members in August 1958.

Scene 8

The next day

SD3: Lights come up on the Youth Council at the Katz lunch counter. With arms crossed, the waitress glares.

Barbara: We’d like Cokes, please.

SD1: The manager marches over.

Manager: Enough! We’ll serve you, but only because we don’t want any more trouble.

SD2: Unsmiling, the waitress brings over Cokes.

Barbara: Thank you, ma’am.

SD3: Barbara picks up her drink and takes a long, slow sip. Then she turns to Mrs. Luper and grins.

Barbara: We did it.

Mrs. Luper: You sure did.

Barbara: But we’re just getting started, aren’t we? (to the others) Finish up your drinks, and then we’re on to the next lunch counter! Our mission isn’t complete until every place in this city will serve us.

SD1: The lights fade.

Epilogue

SD2: The kids stand on an empty stage. They address the audience directly.

Barbara: For the next six years, the Youth Council held sit-down strikes across Oklahoma City. One by one, every restaurant was integrated.

Marilyn: Soon there were sit-down strikes in other cities too. Thousands of students, black and white, joined the movement.

Portwood: In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, making segregation in public places illegal.

Calvin: But the struggle is not over.

Barbara: Won’t you help us create a world in which every human being is treated with respect and dignity?    

North Carolina College at Durham/Campus Echo    

The Power of Protest

Children played a major role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The movement worked to end racial discrimination and bring about justice and equality. Across America, children participated in sit-down strikes (also known as sit-ins), marches, boycotts, and other demonstrations. 

“My America”   

Barbara Posey delivered this powerful speech at the 51st Annual NAACP Convention on June 24, 1960    

AP Images    

Tonight, I would like for you to take an imaginary trip across the beautiful country that we call America. I want you to see the skyscrapers of New York, the wheat fields of Kansas, the cotton fields of Texas, and the swamps of Florida. I want you to see men of different religions, economic, political, social, and racial backgrounds.

I want you to see America, my America.

You are familiar with the scenery, the history, the customs, the traditions, and the glory of this country. You, as I, love our country and its ideals.

As you travel in America, you notice a cancer, a very old cancer, the cancer of segregation and discrimination as it works to destroy the things that we love best. The cancer is working against every religious and democratic principle that we have been taught and that we cherish.

Many of you were taught either in the segregated schools of the South or in integrated schools elsewhere that “America was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” . . . These ideas have been embodied in the greatest document ever written, the Constitution of the United States, which is the law of the land.

Because of these ideals, the ideals of democracy, Americans, black and white, have fought and died on the battlefields of the world to make America a safe place for democracy. . . . Now the youth of America plan to keep that torch of liberty burning regardless of the price they will have to pay. In keeping that torch burning, we plan to make it crystal clear that we want to be free.

We don’t want pity, we want freedom. . . . If it takes sit-ins, negotiations, boycotts, and any other techniques, we are going to carry out our plans. We have got to save America. . . . We, the youth of America, will carry out our plans for a democratic America.    

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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Close Reading, Critical Thinking, Skill Building

1. PREPARING TO READ

2. READING AND DISCUSSING (30 minutes)

3. READING THE SPEECH (10 minutes)

4. SKILL BUILDING (15 minutes)

Differentiated Writing Prompts
For Struggling Readers

In a well-organized paragraph, explain what a sit-down strike is and how the Youth Council used those sit-down strikes to bring about change in the late 1950s.

For Advanced Readers

In the play, Barbara mentions Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous saying that the chain of hate can only be broken by love. How does this idea apply to Barbara’s story?

CUSTOMIZED PERFORMANCE TASKS
For Journalists

It is 1958 and you are a journalist. You are going to interview Barbara Posey about her work on the Youth Council and the sit-down strikes. Write the list of questions you will ask her.

For Directors

Imagine a movie is being made about Barbara Posey and the Youth Council and their efforts to integrate Oklahoma City restaurants. Make a video trailer for the movie.

Literature Connection: Curricular texts about segregation    

The Lions of Little Rock     
by Kristin Levine (historical fiction)    

Freedom Walkers 
by Russell Freedman (nonfiction)

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963  
by Christopher Paul Curtis (historical fiction)