Clara Luper, 88, an Oklahoma civil rights icon who led sit-ins at drugstore lunch counters, died Wednesday after a lengthy illness.

On Aug. 19, 1958, as the 35-year-old sponsor of the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council, Ms. Luper led three adult chaperones and 14 members of the youth council in a sit-in at the Katz Drug Store lunch counter in downtown Oklahoma City.

The drugstore refused to serve the group, but the protesters refused to leave, and the sit-in lasted for several days. The store chain eventually agreed to integrate lunch counters at 38 Katz Drug Stores in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa.

During the next six years, the local NAACP held sit-ins that led to the desegregation of virtually all eating establishments in Oklahoma City.

Ms. Luper, who retired as a schoolteacher in 1991, said in a 2006 interview that she dedicated her life to spreading the message of racial and gender equality.

"My biggest job now is making white people understand that black history is white history," she said. "We cannot separate the two."

Oklahoma City named a street in Ms. Luper's honor, and there is a scholarship in her name at Oklahoma City University.

"Clara Luper was an Oklahoma hero, a tremendous civil rights activist and a devoted mother," Gov. Mary Fallin said. "Her leadership and commitment to equality and justice will never be forgotten."

- AP