By Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer
KENWOOD - Stella Harper helped persuade Federated Department Stores to hire a black Santa Claus in the 1960s.
It took a boycott that she, as a member of the Cincinnati Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, helped organize.
As a founding officer of the Valley Christian Improvement Association, she picketed at Drake Hospital to get back the jobs of black employees in 1966 after they were fired for what they believed to be discrimination.
And as a member of the Cincinnati Chapter of Operation PUSH, she provided aid and counsel to black veterans, entrepreneurs and others.
Ms. Harper, 69, died Thursday of kidney failure at Kenwood Terrace Nursing Center. A longtime Wyoming resident, she had been disabled by diabetes for nine years.
She was born in Wyoming to John and Betty Francis. As a 9-year-old girl, she traveled to Nashville, where she experienced segregated trains and whites-only drinking fountains. She came back to Cincinnati with a heightened awareness of racism.
A student at Ohio State University during the 1950s, she was inspired by Rosa Parks to be active in the civil rights movement. She helped collect truckloads of relief goods for the needy in Mississippi and raised awareness of racism in the community.
Ms. Harper marched into Washington with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963.
She served on the board of the Lincoln Heights Health Center and helped found a free hot breakfast program known as Operation Breadbasket that predated the federal program, according to her daughter, Gail Harper of Wyoming.
Ms. Harper was an administrative secretary in the dean's office at the University of Cincinnati. She helped organize the clerical workers' union there.
"I'm very proud of her," her daughter said. "She worked very hard and enjoyed everything she did."
Other survivors include: two sons, Craig Harper of Springfield Township and Derrick Harper of Downtown; another daughter, Dawn Harper of English Woods; two sisters, Ethel Neal of Madisonville and Dorothy Kelly of Clifton; three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Visitation is 6 p.m. tonight followed by the funeral at 7 p.m. at Mount Zion Baptist Church, 10180 Woodlawn Boulevard in Woodlawn. Interment is at Oak Hill Cemetery.
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