Creoles of Color
The major contributor to school desegregation in New Orleans was the community of Creoles of color, also known as gens de couleur libre (free people of color). They were members of the Creole population in Louisiana, a diverse group of people rooted in colonial Louisiana and French colonies in the Caribbean. Creoles of color were situated in a distinct status, in-between white masters and black slaves in the ante-bellum period, due to their interracial heritage and free status.
Creoles of color in the Civil War and Reconstruction
During and the immediately after the Civil War, Creoles of color in New Orleans began expressing their demand for racial integration through their newspaper, L’Union and the New Orleans Tribune. They regarded equal access to public facilities as an essential part of civil rights. Creoles of color put a particular emphasis on the desegregation of public schools. In forging school desegregation, they created an interracial and ethnic alliance with white radicals and Anglophone blacks in the Republican Party. Creoles of color contributed to legalize desegregation and negotiated with white school principals who tried to maintain segregation.
School Desegregation in the 1870s
Throughout the 1870s, Creoles of color supported the desegregation of public schools despite severe criticism and resistance from many white New Orleanians. More than half of the desegregated schools were located down river of New Orleans in historically francophone neighborhoods.
In 1877, when the city school board decided to resegregate every public schools in New Orleans, Creoles of color petitioned the governor of Louisiana for relief, filed consecutive lawsuits against the school board, and held numerous meetings among the black population in New Orleans to halt segregation. Although many of these efforts failed, the resistance against school segregation continued onward.
Plessy v. Ferguson
The efforts of Creoles of color to desegregate public institutions persisted and expanded in various public spheres toward the end of the nineteenth century. Their commitment culminated in Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court case of 1896. In this court case, Homer A. Plessy and the Citizens’ Committee appealed the unconstitutionality of the 1890 Louisiana railroad segregation act, also known as “the separate car act.” Although they lost the case and Jim Crow became the law of the land, the case was the climax of their forty years of commitment to racial equality in the late nineteenth century.
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