American Experience

In New Orleans, the fulfillment of Brown v. Board of Education would ultimately occur when the day arrived following the federal courts’ reversal of those statutes. Louisiana and several Southern states enacted legislation to shut down schools that were confronted with racial integration after the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education mandated the desegregation of public schools. Prior to a first-grader named Ruby Bridges entering that school, the state of Louisiana had attempted to prevent her and other African American students from enrolling in predominantly white schools.

By the end of the McDonough school, all white parents had removed their children. Only three white families remained, and they faced death threats from the white store owners who refused to allow the family to shop and the father was fired from his job. Bridges encountered mobs of white parents who shouted racial epithets and threats. She was guarded by marshals when she arrived at the school. One leader of the organization called on white parents to boycott the schools, saying “they are forcing your children into schools with burr-heads.” With the integration came upheaval and protest. On the first day of desegregation, three black girls, including Frantz William Bridges, started first grade at McDonough school, following the order of Federal District Judge Skelly J. Wright.

The percentage of black students attending public schools in New Orleans increased significantly over the years. In 1960, the black population in New Orleans was 37%, which rose to 45% in 1970 and then to 55% in 1980. This increase in black students attending public schools coincided with a middle-class white family exodus to the suburbs, leading to the integration of schools. Despite protests and flight to suburban areas, Ruby Bridges, a black girl, joined a few other black and white students in the second grade the following year. As the years went on, the number of students attending the school dwindled.

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Orleans itself said that she could have the same thing about the integration, they knew all that they had to do and if they didn’t go on, they realized that Tulane would be irreparably damaged, a lot of people think that “at that time,” said Rosa Keller, the white president and activist of the local Urban League. While the appeal to admit black students to Tulane’s university board was voted in favor of Tulane’s decision, a lawsuit was filed against the university for maintaining its private status precluded by the state’s involvement. After they arrived, they faced the same issue that Tulane University had been a segregated institution for 129 years until February 1963, when 11 black students integrated the prestigious city’s most prestigious higher learning institution, shortly after the desegregation of New Orleans’ public schools.

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