Inequities in New Orleans Public Education
The history of public education for African Americans in New Orleans was similar to that in other American cities, particularly in the segregated South. As early as 1830, Louisiana state law made it illegal to teach people of color to read and write. Following the Civil War, efforts by individuals, missionary organizations, aid societies, and the federal government led to the establishment of schools for African Americans, both private and public. However, Jim Crow attitudes such as those of State Superintendent of Education Robert Mills Lusher held that segregated schools should be "properly preserved as a bastion of white supremacy." It would take nearly 100 years before efforts to integrate public schools in New Orleans came to fruition.
Table of Total Expense and Average Cost per Pupil for New Orleans Public Schools (1921) by New Orleans Public SchoolsAmistad Research Center
The Orleans Parish School Board maintained annual reports on its public schools, which highlighted various schools and school programs, while also calculating the total annual expense for individual schools and average cost per pupil.
These annual reports illustrated clearly the stark economic disparities in funding for Black and White schools in Orleans Parish during the early 20th century, including salaries for principals and teachers, building maintenance, supplies, and transportation.
As shown in the next to last column on the right (top and bottom totals shown), during the 1920-21 term, over $2 million were being spent on White schools, with the average annual expense per school being $31,113.
In contrast, the total spent on Black schools was roughly $320,000, averaging only $18,831 per school. The majority of White schools saw a daily cost per student above 30 cents, while the highest cost per pupil among Black schools was only 29 cents.
Click on "Table of Total Expenses..." in the lower left of the image to explore the entire table.
The daily cost per pupil at Macarty Elementary School (listed here as "McCarthy"), which would become instrumental in efforts to equalize public schools, was 20 cents per day, lower than all White Schools in New Orleans.
Report of Committee of Investigation (circa 1930) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
In a letter dated November 7, 1929, to members of the Louisiana State Board of Education, State Superintendent of Education T.H. White expressed his desire for "an investigation of teacher-training needs for the colored children of Louisiana, as well as a survey of the courses offered at Southern University," which was the sole state-supported institution of higher education for African Americans. The resulting report by the Committee of Investigation of Certain Phases of Negro Education in Louisiana cited the "substantial progress" made by the state "in its program for Negro education," yet many issues remained.
A Tentative Approach to Negro History For Use in Grades 1-4 New Orleans Colored Public Schools (March 1936) by George LongeAmistad Research Center
African American leaders in New Orleans, sought to ensure that African American history was part of local school curricula as early as the mid-1930s, at least for segregated African American schools. In 1934, Mr. E.W. Eley, Assistant Superintendent of New Orleans Public Schools appointed George Longe, Principal of Albert Wicker Junior High School, to formulate a plan whereby African American history would be correlated with regular history courses throughout New Orleans’ Black public schools. The resulting report entitled “Tentative Approach to Negro History” was the result of that charge.
Letter and petition from Citizens Committee on Equal Education to Orleans Parish School Board Letter and petition from Citizens Committee on Equal Education to Orleans Parish School Board (May 5, 1946) by Daniel E. ByrdAmistad Research Center
In 1941, African American citizens of New Orleans organized a Citizens Committee on Equal Education. Five years later, the committee presented to the Orleans Parish School Board this petition, which outlined "glaring inequities which exist between the White and Negro Schools" in New Orleans, including the areas of Kindergarten education, special education classes, vocational training, teacher loads, curriculums, and other areas.
The Second Battle of New Orleans
Efforts to integrate New Orleans' public school system stemmed from the efforts of African American leaders during the 1930s and 1940s, as well as national efforts on the part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to attack segregation in the U.S. courts. The first school equalization case, Aubert v. Orleans Parish School Board pre-dated the Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which established, in the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, that, "in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." New Orleans would wait another six years for the dismantling of such inequalities, an effort that author Liva Baker would call "The Second Battle of New Orleans.".
Attorney A.P. Tureaud (Undated) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Alexander Pierre Tureaud was a major influence in constructing the legal strategies used to challenge the constitutionality of segregation in civil rights cases during the twentieth century. He served as an advisor and mentor to many leading jurists, public officials, and activists. Tureaud served as principal attorney for the Louisiana NAACP, and as such, was one of the lead attorneys in civil rights cases in the state, particularly those against public school segregation.
Aubert v. Orleans Parish School Board complaint (circa May 1948) by Tureaud, A.P.Amistad Research Center
On May 30, 1948, Tureaud filed the lawsuit Rosana Aubert v. Orleans Parish School Board in an early effort to equalize public schools in New Orleans. The case did not go to trial, but from it, Tureaud would later construct a second suit to desegregate the city’s public schools.
"Angry Parents Plan to March" (October 11, 1952) by Louisiana WeeklyAmistad Research Center
On November 5, 1952, Tureaud, aided by NAACP lawyers Thurgood Marshall and Robert Carter, filed suit on behalf of Earl Benjamin Bush and other African American students to allow their admittance to White schools in New Orleans. Bush’s father, Oliver Bush, was president of the Macarty Parent-Teachers Association. He and other parents were frustrated by the Orleans Parish School Board’s continued negligence to maintain Macarty Elementary School, which was one of the most dilapidated and overcrowded Black schools in the city.
Attorney Daniel E. Byrd (Undated) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
As one of his first duties as regional field secretary for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, attorney Daniel Ellis Byrd assisted A.P. Tureaud in the Bush v. Orleans Parish School Board efforts.
Letter from Daniel E. Byrd to A.P. Tureaud (November 14, 1951) by Daniel E. ByrdAmistad Research Center
In this November 1951 letter, Byrd provides the names of many of those who eventually signed on as plaintiffs in the case, including Oliver Bush’s oldest son, Earl Benjamin Bush, who became the named plaintiff in the case. Like many such cases, the court proceedings for Bush were drawn out. In this case, by agreement between the parties, hearings on this complaint were suspended pending the Supreme Court’s decision on the Brown v. Board of Education case.
Federal Judge J. Skelly Wright
As Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, J. Skelly Wright (center), a New Orleans native from a working class Irish-American family, ordered the desegregation of the New Orleans public schools. During his tenure on the district court, Wright issued a number of rulings in cases brought by the NAACP to challenge segregation in Louisiana. He issued decisions desegregating the law school and the undergraduate school at Louisiana State University, as well as desegregating the city parks and buses of New Orleans and allowing interracial sporting events. As a result of his decision in the Bush case, Wright became one of the most reviled men among segregation supporters.
Bush v. Orleans Parish School Board decree Bush v. Orleans Parish School Board decree (February 15, 1956) by J. Skelly WrightAmistad Research Center
Judge Wright gave his decision on the Bush case in 1956. New Orleans public schools formerly reserved for Whites were required to admit Black students who lived within the schools’ residential boundaries. Opposition to this change was strong, and the Orleans Parish School Board appealed Wright’s decision. It was not until 1960, eight years after it was initially filed, that Bush v. Orleans Parish School Board was resolved and New Orleans’ segregated school system was declared unconstitutional.
In the above interview, Judge Wright discusses the opposition to his ruling.
Orleans Parish School Board statement (May 24, 1960) by Orleans Parish School BoardAmistad Research Center
Judge Wright’s initial plan called for integration to begin in September 1960, but the date was postponed by request of the school board. Although the date was made public, the selection of which schools to be integrated was not (although word may have leaked prior to the day set for integration).
Impeachment Petition Signed (November 30, 1960) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Wright received hate mail, threats of physical violence, and calls for his impeachment and arrest following his decree in the Bush case in 1956. These were renewed leading up to and during the implementation of his desegregation plan, which he issued in May 1960. This photograph was taken in Shreveport, Louisiana, and dates from November 30, almost a month after schools were integrated. Such impeachment petitions were seen throughout the state of Louisiana.
The Lead Up to Integration
Although Wright’s 1956 decision and decree called for the end of desegregation in the New Orleans schools “with all deliberate speed,” (echoing Brown v. Board of Education), integration did not happen until four years later. Failing to receive a plan for integration from the school board, Wright proposed his own in May 1960, which called for a graduated desegregation plan beginning with first grade and progressing upward one grade per year until all the grades were integrated. Wright chose the first grade as the starting grade because, in his view, children of that age “were not color conscious; they haven’t been taught to hate.”
James F. Redmond to Orleans Parish School Board James F. Redmond to Orleans Parish School Board (September 26, 1960) by James F. RedmondAmistad Research Center
Although proponents of integration had hoped the Orleans Parish School Board would select schools in the more wealthy neighborhoods around Tulane University and Loyola University, the Board ultimately selected two schools close to neighboring St. Bernard Parish. Louisiana’s pupil placement law gave school boards the authority to determine where a child could attend school. Students were allowed to apply for transfer to integrated schools, and by the October 7 deadline, only 135 of the 6,482 Black six-year-olds and only one of the 3,335 White six-year-olds had applied for transfer. Of the 135 applicants, the five girls who were to integrate McDonogh No. 19 and William Frantz were selected following a rigorous testing process.
Daniel E. Byrd to Thurgood Marshall (October 28, 1960) by Daniel E. ByrdAmistad Research Center
The testing procedure employed by the Orleans Parish School Board included a series of aptitude tests and observations by psychologists and other "scientific" observers. For the Board, the selection was intended to be scientific, impartial, and based on numbers...a process they referred to as "the machine."
In this letter from attorney Daniel E. Byrd to the NAACP's Thurgood Marshall, Byrd discusses what he has learned about the testing and the reaction to the selection of only five girls to integrate the New Orleans public schools.
Handwritten notes by McDonogh No. 19 principal, Jack Stewart, November 11, 1960. (November 11, 1960) by John A. StewartAmistad Research Center
On Friday, November 11, 1960, School Superintendent James F. Redmond summoned the principals of McDonogh No. 19 (John A. Stewart) and William Frantz (Estelle Barkemeyer) to a meeting and informed them that their schools would be integrated the following Monday. The formerly all-White schools were located in lower-income, predominantly White neighborhoods in the Lower Ninth Ward. Stewart’s notes from that meeting and subsequent notes for McDonogh staff displayed next show the rapid preparation faced by the two principals.
McDonogh No. 19 faculty notes for November 14, 1960 (circa November 14, 1960) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Notes for teachers at McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School regarding integration on November 14, 1960.
McDonogh No. 19 custodian instructions for November 14, 1960 (circa November 14, 1960) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Instructions for custodians at McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School regarding integration on November 14, 1960.
List of U.S. Federal Marshals (circa November 1960) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
More than 150 federal marshals were in New Orleans at the time of the school integration to monitor the situation, inspect the schools, and to assist in the execution of Judge Wright’s desegregation plan. Marshals, as well as New Orleans police officers, were stationed at the two schools to prevent violence and accompany the four girls to school.
Following Judge Wright’s announcement of his desegregation plan on May 16, 1960, New Orleans prepared for what school board president Lloyd Rittiner labeled on his desk calendar as “D-Day.” On the morning of November 14, four young African American girls – Ruby Bridges, Gail Etienne, Tessie Prevost, and Leona Tate – entered first grade at McDonogh No. 19 and William Frantz elementary schools. A fifth student was to also attend Frantz, but when the NAACP and lawyers learned that she had been born prior to her parents' marriage, they feared a scandal and she was pulled from integration efforts.
Pupil Parents are Unafraid (November 15, 1960?) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
While the principals of McDonogh No. 19 and William Frantz were notified just a few days before integration was to take place, the students themselves and their families were notified of their selection on Sunday, November 13 – the day before integration was to take place.
New Orleans School Integrated (November 14, 1960) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
In this photograph, Tessie Prevost enters McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School along with her father and U.S. marshals on the morning of November 14th as one of the first African American students to attend the previously all-White school.
Negro Girl Enters Integrated School (November 28, 1960) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
In this photograph, under escort of U.S. marshals, Ruby Bridges entered William Frantz Elementary School on November 28, two weeks after she entered the school for the first time.
Federal Marshal Wallace Downs (November 14, 1960) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
This newspaper clipping shows young Gail Etienne, one of the three girls who integrated McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School, being driven in a car with Federal Marshal Wallace Downs.
State and Local Responses to Integration
Reaction to the integration of McDonogh No. 19 and William Frantz was seen not only in the New Orleans area, but across the state, especially within the confines of the state government in Baton Rouge. Various tactics were used by anti-integration supporters to hinder efforts to keep the schools open. As seen here, thousands marched on the offices of the Orleans Parish School Board to show their displeasure.
Keep Children at Home, House Urges N.O. Parents (November 16, 1960) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
On November 12, state superintendent of education Shelby Jackson declared that the day slated for desegregation – Monday, November 14 – would be “a statewide public school holiday.” The Orleans Parish School Board announced that it would not abide by the decree; however, later that week the Louisiana state legislature adopted a resolution urging parent to keep their children out of the two integrated schools.
Payroll Might Not Be Met (November 16, 1960) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Pay for teachers in the New Orleans schools, especially those at McDonogh No. 19 and William Frantz, became a tool in the integration battle as the state Legislature attempted to wrest control of the schools from the Orleans Parish School Board.
Brochure for Ninth Ward Private School Association (circa 1960-1961) by Ninth Ward Private School AssociationAmistad Research Center
Rather than see New Orleans schools integrated, some segregationist leaders and lawmakers worked to establish and fund a system of private education though a grants-in-aid program and a proposed sales tax hike.
Excerpt from a talk by Leander Perez, Sr. on opening of Ninth Ward school (circa November 1960) by Leander Perez Sr.Amistad Research Center
Leander Perez, Sr. was the political boss of nearby Plaquemines Parish, as well as a staunch supporter of states’ rights and segregation. His firebrand style and vocal opposition to the integration of the public schools in New Orleans placed him at the forefront of efforts to hinder the desegregation process. When that failed, he supported the boycott of the schools and the establishment of private schools.
School Integration Protest Hits Store (January 31, 1961) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
On the day the schools were integrated, many parents pulled their children from McDonogh No. 19 and William Frantz and began a boycott of both schools. The following day, only 45 white students attended Frantz and only 20 attended McDonogh. By the end of the first week of integration, the white boycott of McDonogh was 100% and remained so for the rest of the school year, except for the brief appearance of the children of John Thompson, which lasted no more than a couple days. As seen here, Thompson himself was picketed at his work place following his decision to briefly send his two sons back to McDonogh No. 19.
Back to School Trust Report No. 1 Back to School Trust Report No. 1 (circa February 1961) by Back to School TrustAmistad Research Center
Reprisals against those who supported integration, especially White parents who did not participate in the boycotts of McDonogh No. 19 and William Frantz, ranged from harassment and threatening phone calls to loss of employment. The Back to School Trust Fund was established to aid those who were the victims of such reprisals.
Drive Begins for New Orleans Negro Pupils (November 17, 1960) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
As during the integration of Little Rock High School in Arkansas in 1957, news of the events of November 1960 in New Orleans received extensive media coverage beyond the city and the state of Louisiana. This clipping shows a campaign by Harvard University students to send Christmas cards and donations for Gail, Leona, Ruby, and Tessie, the four girls who integrated McDonogh No. 19 and William Frantz
WDSU editorial: A tribute to the school board WDSU editorial: A tribute to the school board (circa January 31, 1961) by WDSU-TV (Television station : New Orleans, La.) and WDSU (Radio station : New Orleans, La.)Amistad Research Center
Members of the Orleans Parish School Board faced vilification from both pro- and anti-segregation supports. Following the Board's agreement to comply with desegregation orders, they became the targets of threats by white supremacists and anti-segregationists. Over a year after the integration of the public schools, healing finally began for some in the New Orleans community as evidenced by a public testimonial dinner held in the school board's honor in January 1961.
A War of Words
Apart from pickets and legal chicanery, civic, business, religious, and political organizations in New Orleans and around the state weighed in on the integration battle leading up to and after November 14th. Two of the more vocal groups were Save Our Schools, which focused its efforts on raising support for keeping the New Orleans public schools open during the school crisis, and the White Citizens’ Council of Greater New Orleans, which opposed integration.
Save Our Schools articles of incorporation Save Our Schools articles of incorporation (April 25, 1960) by Save Our SchoolsAmistad Research Center
Save Our Schools (SOS) was formed by Rosa Freeman Keller, Gladys Kahn, and a group of their racially moderate/liberal friends in the fall of 1959. It operated quietly until the Spring of 1960, when it incorporated to “further…the continuation of a statewide system of free public education.” The organization’s membership drew heavily from the Jewish and Quaker communities in the Uptown area of New Orleans.
Fact sheet for Save Our Schools discussion leaders Fact sheet for Save Our Schools discussion leaders (1960) by Save Our SchoolsAmistad Research Center
This fact sheet provided information and answers to questions that might be asked of SOS members in community discussions. It includes answers to such questions as: How many Negro students are attending previously all-White schools? Do White people move away from desegregated school districts? Will desegregation result in lowering academic standards? and Will school desegregation lead to intermarriage?
Close Our Schools? pamphlet with segregationist response (1960) by Save Our SchoolsAmistad Research Center
Save Our Schools circulated pamphlets and flyers about its efforts throughout the community. In at least one instance some of those materials were returned with responses from an irate segregationist as seen on this Close Our Schools? pamphlet.
Signs Waived at Citizens' Council Meeting (November 16, 1960) by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Following the 1954 Brown v. Board decision, white segregationists throughout the South created a network of organizations that came to be called Citizens’ Councils (commonly known as White Citizens’ Councils). Such councils flourished across Louisiana and spread their message through a robust publishing campaign.
Following the integration of New Orleans' public schools, the Citizens’ Council of Greater New Orleans held a series of meetings and rallies in the Municipal Auditorium.
Citizens' Council Bulletin Citizens' Council Bulletin (December 1960) by Citizens' Council of Greater New OrleansAmistad Research Center
The Citizens' Council issued a regular bulletin, and this December 1960 issue advertised another rally at the Municipal Auditorium and a membership drive.
Integration Today Means Racial and National Suicide Tomorrow! (c. 1960s) by Citizens' Council of New OrleansAmistad Research Center
This booklet circulated by the Citizens’ Council in New Orleans included photographs of white women kissing African American men, news accounts of racial violence, crime statistics, and a message to New Orleans teachers that school integration would lead to teacher integration and the loss of jobs.
In this interview excerpt, Citizens' Council member Jackson Ricau discusses his view on the benefits of segregation.
The Continuing Legacy of School Integration in New Orleans
The events of November 14, 1960, were a historical milestone for New Orleans. However, while the integration of McDonogh No. 19 and William Frantz elementary schools was a positive step, it did not mean the end of segregation in the city or its schools. Parochial schools did not integrate until 1962 and segregation in public schools in other Louisiana parishes did not end until even later. By 1964-65, only 873 African American students attended desegregated schools in New Orleans' majority Black school system with over 100,000 students. The NAACP continued its legal pressure on the Orleans Parish School Board’s desegregation process due to the slow pace of integration. A federal judge ordered a sped-up process that officially desegregated schools through the twelfth grade by the 1969-70 school year.
Petition to commemorate the 20th anniversary of New Orleans public school desegregation Petition to commemorate the 20th anniversary of New Orleans public school desegregation (August 31, 1979) by Elizabeth Rogers and Walter RogersAmistad Research Center
Community activists Elizabeth and Walter Rogers organized this petition in 1979, which had been designated as the International Year of the Child, to call for a memorial honoring the four children who integrated William Frantz and McDonogh No. 19. Such a memorial was to coincide with the 20th anniversary of integration. The petition efforts seem to have failed, although historical markers were eventually erected at both school sites.
Through a Crowd, Bravely Part I - 50th Anniversary of Public School Desegregation in New OrleansAmistad Research Center
50th Anniversary Reunion and Panel, Part I
In November 2010, the Amistad Research Center co-sponsored a reunion and panel discussion on the integration of New Orleans' William Frantz and McDonogh No. 19 elementary schools. Panelists included Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost Williams, and Gail Etienne Stripling, who integrated McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School, as well as retired Deputy U.S. Marshals Herschel Garner, Al Butler, and Charlie Burks, who assisted with the integration efforts at the schools.
Part I of this video includes opening comments by sponsoring organizations. Part II includes comments and discussion by participants.
Through a Crowd, Bravely Part II - 50th Anniversary of Public School Desegregation in New OrleansAmistad Research Center
50th Anniversary Reunion and Panel, Part II
This gathering was the first time Ms. Tate, Ms. Williams, and Ms. Stripling reunited with the marshals since November 1960. The panel was moderated by Alan Wieder, who has written extensively on the desegregation of New Orleans schools, and was co-sponsored by the Amistad Research Center, the Louisiana Center for Civil Rights and Social Justice, the U.S. Marshals Museum, and the Tulane University Department of History.
Part I of this video includes opening comments by sponsoring organizations. Part II includes comments and discussion by participants.
Digital exhibition curated by Christopher Harter. This digital exhibition is an expansion of the physical exhibition, “Through a Crowd, Bravely: The 50th Anniversary of Public School Desegregation in New Orleans,” curated by Christopher Harter and held at the Amistad Research Center in 2010.
The Amistad Research Center is committed to collecting, preserving, and providing open access to original materials that reference the social and cultural importance of America's ethnic and racial history, the African Diaspora, and global social justice movements. As the nation's oldest, largest and most comprehensive independent archive, the Amistad's holds 900 manuscript collections which include over ten million documents from the 1780s to present, 250,000 original photographs dating from 1859, 8,000 audiovisual recordings, 40,000 book titles, 2000 periodicals titles, and over 600 pieces of fine art dating from the 19th century.