New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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1962 New Orleans Citizens Committee gave a free one-way ride to blacks to move North.

On June 7, 1892 in New Orleans, Homer Adolphe Plessy, a 34 year old African-Creole artisan boarded the East Louisiana Railway bound for Covington, a small town on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Plessy, described as having at least seven-eighths Caucasian ancestry, could easily have passed for white, and indeed on earlier occasions had been seated in the section of the train reserved for whites. Plessy was deliberately challenging Louisiana's "separate car act," a law passed in 1890 that prohibited blacks from using seats in cars reserved for whites. The new law was part of a concerted attempt by the Louisiana legislature to place legal authority behind the already entrenched practice of racial segregation.

The New Orleans Citizens Committee was first organized in 1891 in an effort to take the new law to court. The attorneys believed that a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1883 expressly denied states the right to discriminate against persons on the basis of race, color or previous condition of servitude, although private operators could. As expected, Plessy was ordered arrested by the conductor, removed from the train, and charged with violating the law.

During the 1960s, The Citizens' Committee was a composed of about fifteen black businessmen and community leaders. The Citizen's Committee included several generations of black leaders, including black lawyers Lolis Elie, Revius Ortique, and Dutch Morial. Their colleagues were the Reverends A.L. Davis and Avery Alexander. Dr. Leonard Burns represented the United Clubs and the Urban League. Oretha Castle, the only woman on the Citizens' Committee, represented CORE.

During the desegregation crisis, in an effort to bridge the impasse, members of the Citizens' Committee met fifteen of their white counterparts in the city. The negotiations between these two groups cleared the way for the desegregation of the city.