In its November 30, 1960, issue, Senior Scholastic reported on the integration of public elementary schools in New Orleans. "Integration Strife" (view the original article or read the transcription, below) focused on two schools, including William Frantz Public School where Ruby Bridges made history. Because they were minors, the students — and their schools — were not named.
"Integration Strife" also looks at the tug-of-war between the U.S. District Court and New Orleans and mentions the statuses of other states with segregated public schools.
The beginning of integration in the public schools of New Orleans, La., turned a city famed for its hospitality into a city of violence.
Rioting broke out in New Orleans after four Negro girls were admitted to the first grades at two previously all-white public schools. Police employed fire hoses to turn back brawling street crowds. Several hundred whites and Negroes were arrested.
Said Joseph I. Giarrusso, superintendent of New Orleans police, “I never remember anything like this in New Orleans before.”
The school integration order had been issued by Judge J. Skelly Wright of the U.S. District Court. The four Negro first-graders, all age six, were escorted to the two schools by a group of U.S. marshals. White housewives joined white students outside to jeer and wave placards bearing segregationist slogans.
Within a few days, white students had virtually deserted the two grade schools. Widespread absences were reported in the other New Orleans public schools as well.
At the same time, Louisiana’s Governor Jimmie H. Davis called the state legislature into special session in efforts to counter the integration moves ordered by the federal court. The legislature passed a so-called “interposition act.” This act declared that the state was placing itself between the federal court and the people of New Orleans and, in effect, cancelling all federal orders for school integration in Louisiana.
Caught in the middle of the federal vs. state tug-of-war, the Orleans Parish (county) school board (with jurisdiction over New Orleans public schools) petitioned the federal court to suspend the integration order pending settlement of the controversy.
A special three-judge federal court, however, refused to lift the integration order. The court also postponed decision on a state request to cancel all federal action to end segregation in Louisiana public schools.
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney-General William P. Rogers warned Louisiana against attempting to block the court orders. Rogers said that any interference would leave him “no recourse but to use the full power of [his] office to support the orders of the federal court.”
As we went to press, calm had returned to New Orleans. Schools were closed all week for teacher conferences and the Thanksgiving holiday. This closing had no connection with the integration protests. City and school officials held their breath, hoping that the resumption of school would not bring a resumption of disorder.
WHAT’S BEHIND IT. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic decision declaring segregation (separation of the races) in public schools unconstitutional. The high court ordered all federal district courts to see that “a prompt and reasonable start” was made to end segregation–although no specific time limit was set.
At the time of the Supreme Court decision, 17 Southern and border states, plus the District of Columbia, maintained segregated public schools.
While many Americans hailed the court’s decision as a long overdue one involving basic civil rights, many Southerners charged that the Supreme Court had usurped authority given to the states under the 10th amendment of the Constitution.
Nevertheless, some areas moved quickly to obey the court order. Schools in the District of Columbia have been fully integrated. And Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kentucky each report at least 10,000 Negro children attending schools with white students, according to the Southern School News, a publication of the Southern Education Reporting Service.
Five states have made almost no move toward complying with the integration orders–Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and, until this month, Louisiana. Most of the other Southern states in the integration controversy have “token” integration. For example, a few Negro pupils have entered “mixed schools” in Richmond, Va., and Houston, Texas.
All told, Southern School News reports, only about six per cent of the 3,000,000 or so Negroes enrolled in the South’s public schools are now attending classes with whites.
Photo Caption: TENSION IN THE SOUTH: White students in New Orleans, La., wave signs (one with segregation misspelled) in protest against admittance of four Negro girls to previously all-white public schools. Meanwhile, federal and state authorities were locked in legal maneuvering over the school integration issue.
Senior Scholastic, Vol. 77, No. 11, November 30, 1960, pp. 20-21