Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Public School Desegregation in New Orleans

On November 14, 1960, four young African American girls entered the formerly all-white elementary schools William Frantz and McDonogh 19 in New Orleans. Despite the insults and rotten food cast their way, Ruby Bridges, Gail Etienne, Tessie Prevost, and Leona Tate provided the capstone of what historian Liva Baker called “The Second Battle of New Orleans” — the hundred-year struggle to end segregation of the city’s public schools. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of this historic event in New Orleans, the Amistad Research Center has embarked on a project to commemorate the struggles and the triumphs of the individuals and community organizations that led to the desegregation of the Orleans Parish public schools.

Newspaper clipping from November 14, 1960, showing a crowd protesting the integration of William Frantz School.

With a grant from the Keller Family Foundation, the Center is currently processing six archival collections that document desegregation efforts in New Orleans and the surrounding area. Two collections, the Natalie Midlo Collection and the A.M. Trudeau Jr. Papers, have been completed and the finding aids are now available online.  Other collections include the records of the Catholic Council on Human Relations and the personal papers of community activists Rosa Freeman Keller and Jane T. Lemann, as well as the research collection of Dr. Alan Wieder, which includes three scrapbooks of newspaper clippings contemporary to the integration of the Frantz and McDonogh schools.

The finding aids for six additional collections that have already been processed will also be posted online. By expanding access to these collections, Amistad will provide the primary source material — letters, fliers, legal papers, and others — that documents the events around November 1960 and the resulting impact on the city of New Orleans and beyond. In addition to the work with the Center’s archival collections, Amistad is also planning a related exhibition that draws from a variety of its holdings. The exhibition, entitled Through a Crowd, Bravely: The 50th Anniversary of Public School Desegregation in New Orleans, will be on view in the Center’s exhibition gallery from October 4-December 22, 2010. Public programming events will also be held, and more information on those will be made available in the future.

Posted by Christopher Harter

(From the Alan Wieder Collection, Amistad Research Center. Image may not be reproduced without permission.)

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