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Historical Photos of NAACP Oklahoma City 1955 sit-ins

Center left: Photo by Haskell Pruett/Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images. Top right: Photo by John Melton/Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images. Bottom right: Photo by Johnny Melton/Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images

Center left: Clara Luper, Willie James, a bus driver and a reporter standing outside a chartered bus at Douglass High School, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, August 26, 1963. Top right: Segregation protest led by Luper at Bishop's Restaurant at 113 North Broadway, Oklahoma City. Bottom right: Civil Rights sit-in led by Clara Luper.

When Black Women and Girls Lead, History Gets Made

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In 1955—five years before the “Greensboro four” began their historic protest at a Woolworth’s in North Carolina—an eight-year-old girl named Marilyn Luper Hildreth raised an idea at a NAACP youth council meeting: What if they went down to the local drugstore’s segregated lunch counter and didn’t move until they were served?

Marilyn’s idea led to the historic 1958 sit-in of Oklahoma City’s Katz Drug Store, one of the first major sit-ins of the civil rights movement. The protest, led by Marilyn’s mother Clara Luper, ultimately prompted the company to desegregate its lunch counters in three states.

Despite the significance of the sit-in they led, there is a good chance you’ve never heard the names Marilyn Luper Hildreth or Clara Luper before. Girls like Marilyn and women like Clara are often left out of our history books, their role overlooked by historians whose work reflects their own biases. How different would our society be if it gave Black women and girls the full credit they deserve? What if more of the icons we read about in school were visionary eight-year-olds who looked like Marilyn Luper Hildreth? Would we learn to see girls like her differently?

Throughout Black History Month, we have been proud to stand behind our partners as they shine a spotlight on Black women and girls. In a wide range of creative ways, they are encouraging us all to recognize the leadership that Black women and girls are demonstrating every day and invest in their potential to continue to make history.

Black Girl Freedom Week: “An Interruption of Erasure”

In 2020, the Ms. Foundation for Women published a study with a troubling statistic: Of the nearly $67 billion in philanthropic funds that foundations donate every year, only 0.5 percent goes to women and girls of color.

In response, a group of Black women leaders came together to launch the Black Girl Freedom Fund (an initiative of our partner Grantmakers for Girls of Color) and the #1Billion4BlackGirls campaign, a call for the philanthropic community to invest $1 billion in Black girls, femmes, and gender expansive youth by 2030.

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Black Girl Freedom Fund logo

As part of their efforts to direct more funding and attention toward Black girls, the Black Girl Freedom Fund celebrated their third annual Black Girl Freedom Week this February to shine a light on the important political and cultural work that Black girls are already leading.

“The Black Girl Freedom Week is really an interruption of erasure and invisibility,” Joanne Smith, one of the campaign’s cofounders and founder of our partner Girls for Gender Equity, told MSNBC. By placing the focus on Black girls, she says, they are “shifting the narrative and lifting up what innovation, brilliance, joy, and cultural creation that Black girls bring to society.”

“When Black Feminists Win, Inequality Loses”

Since the Black Feminist Fund launched in 2021, it has raised almost $35 million toward its $100 million goal. Earlier this month, it published an open letter to philanthropy, calling for more donors to invest in Black feminist movements, writing: “When Black feminists win, democracy wins. When Black feminists win, climate justice wins. When Black feminists win, inequality loses, and justice comes closer to our reach.”

As part of our broader efforts to address systemic discrimination in our philanthropic system, Pivotal Ventures was proud to sign onto this letter and recommit to supporting Black feminist movements.

Helping Other Women “Find Their Power”

If anyone understands the importance of representation, it’s the innovative and inspiring minds behind Culture Creators, a platform focused on elevating and cultivating leaders of Black culture. Last year, Pivotal co-sponsored Culture Creators’ annual Innovators & Leaders Awards, which celebrates Black leaders in a variety of industries, including music, television, and film.

After the event, Mercedes Cooper, a vice president of programming at our partner ARRAY, explained why making this diverse group of leaders visible is so important: “More women being in power means the access for other women to also find their power.”

"More women being in power means the access for other women to also find their power."

Mercedes Cooper
SVP Public Programming, ARRAY

Stories about people like Marilyn Luper Hildreth and Clara Luper remind us that Black women and girls leading movements and driving change is nothing new. What is new is a deliberate effort to center their experiences. We continue to be inspired by the work our partners are doing to create a future where Black women and girls have the resources and platforms they need to meet their full potential—and secure their place in history on their own terms. 

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