As we enter the final months of the country’s first black president’s term, we find ourselves still within the shadow of institutionalized racism. The ghost of past injustices linger and so I thought it fitting to take a look back on evolving race relations in Louisiana. This is a short blog and as such, we will begin and end in the middle of the action. There is not enough time for an in depth discussion.
In 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson provided legal justification for racism in the form of sanctioned segregation. The Louisiana constitution followed that heartbreaking ruling when in 1898 it all but eradicated blacks from the political sphere so that the number of black voters plummeted. By 1940 there were only 886 black voters in the state. In 1908, Louisiana; in an attempt to preserve the purity of white blood, passed legislation making the cohabitation of blacks and whites a felony. The Catholic church began making strides to follow societal norms and in 1916, they created the first black parish in New Orleans. Streetcars segregated in 1902 and the Ku Klux Klan began operating in the state in 1920. I realize this is probably getting depressing. All I have done so far is rattle off shameful moments in our history. Let us move into some positive changes.
New Orleans had long led the country in the fight for racial equality and that march forward continued into the 1900s. The New Orleans’ chapter of the NAACP was founded in 1917 and in 1927, they gained a huge victory when the United States Supreme Court ruled against a city ordinance that segregated public housing. In 1930, history was made when a white man was convicted of the murder of a black girl. No other white person had ever been found guilty in the murder of a black person. The black community toiled ceaselessly to affect change and slowly but surely change came. New Orleans especially led that charge right on into the modern Civil Rights movement, standing tall with Martin Luther King, Jr. We can now take pride in the first black president but there is still much to be accomplished. We must move past racial profiling and the disturbing cases of police brutality to remember that racism is not a problem yet solved. We still have much work to do.
**This blog would have been impossible were it not for the book, Race & Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle In Louisiana 1915-1972 by Adam Fairclough.
Crescent City Historic Tours