The New Orleans Tribune and the Struggle for Public Education

by Mark Charles Roudané

 Louisiana Public History Forum. Southern University of New Orleans. February 28, 2015
The Fillmore School, Photo: New Orleans Public Library
The Fillmore School (later McDonogh No. 16). Photo: New Orleans Public Library

 

The New Orleans Tribune, America’s first Black daily newspaper, was published during the Civil War and early Reconstructions eras. The Tribune was organized by several leaders in the free Black community, including its founder, Louis Charles Roudanez; publisher Jean Baptiste Roudanez; and first editor Paul Trévigne. The newspaper proclaimed itself an “organ of the oppressed” and defiantly vowed to “spare no means at our command” to achieve equality for all of African descent.   Unlike the early northern Black newspapers that preceded it, the Tribune embraced an ambitious agenda that challenged the very premises of power supporting a white supremacist society. In its time, there was no journal in New Orleans or beyond as willing to look the white man in the eye and challenge his prejudices.[1]

 

The Tribune began publishing on July 21, 1864, immediately after the closure of its predecessor, L’Union (the South’s first Black newspaper). Union occupation of New Orleans and nearby parishes presented a whole new set of possibilities, including the overthrow of a sinister system of racial oppression. The Tribune seized this historic opportunity and fought for the redistribution of land to slaves, full legal rights, equitable legislative representation, equal accommodation in public facilities, streetcar desegregation and integrated public schools. The newspaper’s primary mission, the right for all Black men to vote, resonated throughout the nation and demanded Lincoln’s attention.

 

Proclaiming itself the “organ of the whole colored population,” the Tribune became the voice of free and freed people of African descent, built unity, and created a seminal Black narrative.   As will become apparent, the newspaper emerged as a formidable political tool that built America’s first sustained Civil Rights Movement.   The Tribune’s program was well summarized in the French language section of its January 24, 1865 issue in the editorial “Nos Demandes.”

 

We demand, like all others citizens and on the same footing as they:

The right to come and go.

The right to vote.

The right to public instruction.

The right to hold public office.

The right to be judged, treated, and governed according to the common law.

This is our program. May all those who are worthy of exercising these rights join us in fighting for them.

 

 

Using the Tribune as evidence, this study will primarily consider the newspaper’s own words—the Black perspective—on the right to public education, a right Roudanez, Trévigne, and their fellow radicals believed inseparable from liberty and equality.   In listening to their voices, we can better understand the chaotic, complex, and often confusing, cast of characters, events, associations, conventions, parties, platforms, elections, and laws that formed the history of those times.

 

I have pored through every issue of the Tribune preserved by the Library of Congress, both the French and English sections. I have identified every editorial, letter to the editor, reprint from other newspapers, anecdote, or announcement related to the education issue. This paper will examine the more significant pieces, and contextualize them in the histories of New Orleans, Louisiana, and United States.

 

Between 1864 and 1866, the Tribune reported little on the schools. News and editorial columns concentrated primarily on the issues of Black labor, Black suffrage, the political setbacks inflicted by the Johnson presidency and the re-empowerment of the slave-owning class and their unrepentant allies. In 1864, the Tribune issued five education stories, only two of which had significant content. In 1865, there were only 9 articles or significant references to education in the 209 issues that were published.   Unfortunately, only the October through December 1866 issues of the Tribune are on the Library of Congress microfilms. They contain just 3 education related reports.   Despite the lack of reporting, the number of schools serving the Black population was growing.

 

In 1864, a rudimentary system of schools for former slaves was created in the Union occupied parishes of Louisiana. Missionary, military, church, and private schools were cobbled together under the authority of a newly created Board of Education for Freedmen.   In late 1863 there were 7 schools serving 1,700 Black children, all in New Orleans. By the beginning of 1864, there were 54 teachers serving some 3,200 Black children.   By June 1864, the Board of Education for Freedmen had assumed control of the American Missionary Association schools and began to organize schools in all the parishes. The patchwork system had expanded significantly, now counting 51 schools, 93 teachers, and almost 6,000 students in 15 parishes. And by year’s end, the Board had established 100 schools in occupied Louisiana, servicing almost 10,000 students.[2]

 

The October 23, 1864 Tribune article “Education des Affranchis,” (Education of Freedmen) reported there were 78 schools serving 7,900 Black children. It concluded: “Better days are approaching…It is better to spend on intelligent and enlightened schools than to spend on prisons.”

 

Black education was hotly debated at the all-white Louisiana State Constitutional Convention, held in 1864. The delegates initially considered a racially separated tax system to fund racially separate schools. But under pressure from General Banks, they eventually approved a general tax to support public schools for all children. In reality, officials never allocated any tax dollars for Black schools, and it was generally understood that any schools would remain segregated.[3]

 

That fall the Tribune called attention to the injustice of Black taxation for the exclusive education of white children, long a source of anger. Now the legislature was making sure whites would not pay a penny in tax in the event any Black-only schools were to receive public money. Indeed, the city did not finance any Black schools until late 1867.[4]   The following letter, published in the December 28, 1864 Tribune, comments on the legislature’s proposal to fund separate schools:

            “The colored people, according to this act, will support their own schools, and the whites theirs. This is worse than formerly; for, in the dismal days of slavery, the colored people were taxed…for the sort of public (?) schools of those times…Why is it less desirable now to make a common tax for public learning than it was formerly? The people of the North are watching every act of this Legislature; and a measure of this kind will only tend to make them think that the people of this State are yet so linked to former prejudices that they have not the boldness to accept the…lesson taught by the Civil War.”

 

In 1865, The Tribune reported on the status of bills and amendments in the Education Committee of the State legislature. It also mentioned education related developments in the State Convention of Colored Men and in various public meetings. In one of the few early education editorials, “Public Schools,” appearing in the February 17, 1865 issue, we find the first comments on segregated schooling:

 

            “If we want to know the amount of sympathy and justice we are to expect from the Legislature…let us look at the school law which passed the House. This bill is marked by a kind of repulsion or fear of colored children, in the same manner that the denizens of infested cities feared, during the Middle Ages, the unfortunate leper.

Section 18 provides that ‘white and colored children shall not be taught in the same school; they shall be kept separate and distinct under all circumstances.’ Moreover, it was not enough to…draw a line between two elements of one and the same people…The law…provides that the black schools shall be…‘at least half a mile apart.’ Whether this clause is grounded on account of moral or physical contagion, is not explained…

According to Section 14, a minimum of 15 children, of one race, is necessary for the opening of a public school. Where we see that wherever there be sixteen white and fourteen colored children, the white children will have the privilege of a white school, while the colored children will have to look for ‘the nearest school for colored children,’ which may be three, four, or six miles or even more, from their residences. It is true that should the reverse be the case, the white children would be placed in a similar position. But this only shows the absurdity of making two peoples with one, two nations with one, two bands of enemies with one brethren.”

 

In June, 1865 the Bureau of Education for Freedmen released their schools to the authority of the newly created Freedmen’s Bureau. This poorly funded agency was established by Congress to provide assistance to the 4,000,000 freedmen. Under its authority, over 1,000 schools, dozens of teacher-training programs, and several Black colleges were established nationwide. Throughout the war years, Blacks embraced any educational opportunity, and often supplied the money, labor, land, teachers, buildings and books that made their schools possible. In Louisiana, attendance grew steadily, and even with limited conditions and severe overcrowding, it was estimated that some 50,000 former slaves had learned to read by 1866.[5]

 

In 1866, the Tribune concentrated on the larger political front, especially on the right to vote, and there are only three known articles dealing with the schools that year. Significantly, the Tribune’s extensive coverage of the newly legislated Black codes of Louisiana would make news throughout the country. The re-empowered class of former slaveholders had moved quickly to reverse any civil right’s gains, and the Black codes essentially returned the formerly free and the freedmen to a state of semi-servitude. The new laws were often copies of previous slave codes, and simply substituted “freedman” or “negro” for the word slave.[6] The northern press picked up the Tribune coverage of these outrages, and anger built rapidly.   Eventually, even a presidential veto could not overcome the early 1866 passage of a significant federal Civil Rights Act, which invalidated discriminatory state laws and provided legal support for the right for Black education.[7]

The report “Schools in Louisiana” appeared in the September 5, 1866 edition. It commented on educational setbacks it the country parishes, and on the imposition of a fee on Black parents to fund schools. President Johnson, responding to angry white property owners, vetoed property taxes that supported education in Louisiana.[8] The fee system was implemented to replace lost revenue, drastically reducing the number of teachers and students in the Black schools.[9]

 

            “In his last general Report, dated December, 1865, Major General O.O. Howard states that there was, at that time, in the State of Louisiana, 141 schools organized under the auspices of the Freedmen’s Bureau, for the education of the colored people. He said that 265 teachers were employed…and that 19,000 pupils attended these schools.

But since that time (December, 1865) things have greatly changed. The (Freedmen’s) Bureau has withdrawn its support from the colored schools; they had to be made fee schools. Moreover, the (white) citizens have opposed by all means in their power the continuance of the great work of education in the country parishes. They have refused to rent buildings for school purposes, and to board the teachers; they have whipped Mr. LeBlanc at Point Coupée; dangerously stabbed in the back Mr. Burnham at Monroe; and beaten almost to death Mr. Ruby at Jackson. The record of the teachers of the first colored schools in Louisiana will be one of honor and blood.”

 

This editorial went on to chronicle the difficult circumstances that confronted Black families, largely unable to pay a new fee to attend their unfunded schools. It also reported on the formation of local associations to help Black children attend school until independent schools were in place. Again, from the September 5, 1866 Tribune:

            “We are confident that the good work thus inaugurated will go one, and that the school system…will…be put on a respectable footing, even had it to be done by individual exertion. The value of education is well felt; and so long as we do not enjoy our share in the school fund of the State, or so long as children are not admitted in all public schools irrespective of the color of their skin, we are bound to look after the interest of the rising generation, and to make up, by all means, the short comings of the governing class of the day.”

 

The Tribune did its share to walk the talk of “making up the short comings.” The October 14, 1866 issue reported on Tomy Lafon’s donation of two lots of ground to establish an integrated school for orphans. Dr. Roudanez paid for the building’s foundation. From the article “Orphans Asylum, For All Children Without Distinction of Color.”:

 

            “Here…children will be admitted, without distinction of origin, race, or color—setting an example…worthy of being followed by every institution of…educational character in our State.

While we are asking for political equality and impartial rights, we must not forget that the best way to realize that object and to make the result infallible, is to actually elevate the people…”

 

In 1866, the planter class was still firmly in control of Louisiana, but northern backlash and the passage of a national Civil Rights Act threatened their power.   Then, on June 30, 1866, a horrific event in New Orleans would profoundly change the political landscape of the entire country. Blacks proudly assembled at the Mechanics’ Institute to draft constitutional articles that would make universal male suffrage the law of the land. Police led a mob into the meeting and dozens of convention delegates, mostly Black, were massacred.[10]   The slaughter shocked the nation and revealed the unrepentant racism of former Confederates. That fall, the resulting political firestorm helped the Radical Republicans seize control of the nation’s Congress.[11] The leaders of these newly empowered Congressmen firmly believed the Freedmen were entitled to the same rights as white men.[12] Suddenly, the wind was at the Tribune’s back.

 

In March, 1867, the Radical Republicans would quickly override President Johnson’s veto and pass sweeping Reconstruction legislation. Louisiana was to be treated like a conquered enemy, and for the state to be re-admitted to the Union, it had to follow new mandates, including sanctioning the Black vote. The Black code was out and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was now to be enforced under military rule. Encouraged by new enforcement, the Tribune would aggressively pursue the schools issue, publishing 43 editorials or reports on education in 1867.

 

City officials in New Orleans sensed that public schools for all children, perhaps even integrated public schools, would now be forced upon them. They schemed a separate public school system for Blacks. Their real intentions were obvious to the Tribune, as evidenced in an April 14, 1867 editorial, “A Bit of Advice.”:

 

            “The last piece of hypocrisy and deception…is the sham attempt of Board of School Directors to declare in favor of the public schools.

This Board has been in existence for years…expending on white schools the money of the colored tax payers…And up to 1867, they never dreamed that there were in the city of New Orleans twenty odd thousand children for whom no only they did not provide schools, but that they kept carefully and jealously outside of all educational benefits… For four years that very Board witnessed the efforts made by the Freedman’s Bureau, charitable institutions and devoted individuals to remedy their neglect, and they remained as silent as stone.

What was their duty…as friends of education? As soon as slavery was abolished and the Black Code set aside, their duty was to open the existing schools to all children. But they proved themselves respecters of the Black Code, even after its suppression.

When the Civil Rights Bill became a law they had another opportunity to throw open the doors of the public schools to the colored children… They could, at that time, have done it honorably and without just criticism from the privileged class. All local rules in regard to color were cancelled by the Civil Rights Bill…The school directors needed only to have the will to do justice to all on that occasion…

But the Board…had friends they liked better than our children—the Confederate mothers of white children, good and bad, worthy and trash.

…there is no authority or power given the Board…to…expend any portion… appropriated…for the support of the schools, for any other purpose than the education of white children…

These persecutors of colored children…have power and authority…under the Civil Rights bill…to admit all children without distinction…

Who is fool enough to expect anything from these men? Even were they willing to open the public schools, their very associations in family and society would deter them from doing so…Who are the men who will dare to open the public schools to the children of the whole people, unless they be colored men and a few of their oldest and most tried friends? We have nothing to hope from others.”

 

The Tribune continued to call for practical measures to achieve racial equality, both in the schools and in all aspects of daily life. “No Separate Schools” appeared in April 26, 1867, again rejecting the segregated schools proposal:

 

            “Equality before the law has been proclaimed by the supreme power of the land, in the most explicit language in the Civil Rights Bill, which has today over a year of existence, and yet we are not nearer to practical and substantial equality before the law…

It is not, therefore, sufficient to proclaim to the land ‘equality before the law,’ by legislative enactment. We must have the practice of equality of rights in the community at large, in things of common life, in the manners and customs, before full and impartial protection may become a reality for the men of African race.

“That such distinct organization for ‘colored children’ is in opposition to the Civil Rights Bill is perfectly clear…It provides that…it will not be legal, in any State, the local legislation or even constitution not withstanding, to make any distinction WHATEVER, on the ground of ‘origin, race, or color.’ It will not be said that ‘colored schools’ do not establish such a distinction; they do.

The recent ordinance is passed in defiance of the Civil Rights Bill…

We object therefore to the ordinance in toto on the ground of its illegality, and also on the ground of security, for there can be no true and practical equality…for the black and colored men before the practice of equal rights and equal privileges is well established in the customs and manners of this community.

The board tells us that the time has not come yet ‘to consolidate all the schools in the city.’ We can but laugh when men tell us ‘it is too soon’…The ‘too soon men’ opposed the abolition of slavery, the arming of the colored men, the granting of civil rights, the universality of suffrage…We need no ‘too soon men’ at this time. We need men of action, boldness and sincerity.”

 

In the spring of 1867, Blacks declared war on the city’s segregated streetcar system. Anger had grown over forcing Blacks to use a small fleet of cars marked with stars.   In April, the Tribune escalated its war of words on the star cars. Finally, on May 5, Black New Orleanians had had enough.   They began boarding white only cars throughout the city. A day of sometimes violent fighting on the streetcars culminated with a massive demonstration on Rampart Street near Congo Square. Over 500 protestors gathered there, and many occupied white streetcars. Officials, taken aback by the militancy of the demonstrators and fearing a repeat of the Mechanics’ Institute Massacre, reluctantly decided it prudent to integrate the system. Surprisingly, the change went well, and a white backlash did not materialize.[13] Inspired by this victory, the Tribune turned its attention to the schools, as evidenced by the May 9, 1867 editorial, “The Public Schools.”

 

            “Now that the vexed question of distinction of race in the city cars has been finally settled, every one see how simple and natural it is to have only one kind of conveyances for all classes of passengers.

This experiment well illustrates the fact that absurd distinctions are not of the essence of human society. Such discriminations may be maintained by pride, prejudices, or hatred. But as soon as they are dropped, the whole community perceives that they were not necessary, and that the social machinery works better and in a simpler way after they have disappeared…

But now that the car question, which was a minor one, is settled, the time has come to consider the propriety, justice, and simplicity of admitting all children into the public schools. The distinction kept up in the schools has no different, and therefore no better ground, than that which was made in the cars. It originated from the same source, slavery, which has now disappeared….

We do not see why the city should go to the expense of organizing twenty or thirty schools, when she has already a sufficient number of public schools to receive all the children to be educated…The idea of having schools over which will be inscribed ‘for children of fair complexion only,’ or ‘for children with blue eyes only,’ and of other schools set apart ‘for children of dark complexion,’ and ‘for children with dark eyes,’ is of itself ridiculous, and brings a smile on the lips of every reader outside the Southern States.

The next step, therefore, is to do away with the distinction of race in the public schools, as it has been done away with in the city cars.

…We have to make this community one nation and one people, where two nations and two people previously existed. We had better begin at the root, and first of all unite the children in the public schools…When parents agree to sit together, children can as well sit close to each other. When parents are conciliated, children can attend the same schools.

Let, therefore, those who devoted themselves to the work of uniting the full grown and old persons, now turn their energies to the abolition of the prejudice of race in the public schools of the Crescent City.”

 

The Tribune employed the “star” as the local symbol for segregation, much as Jim Crow would be used in the later Black press. Just one week after the Rampart Street demonstration, the newspaper pushed the issue in its “Star Schools” story, dated May 12, 1867:

 

            “A great deal is now said about star schools, as the separate schools proposed for colored children by the present City Council and City School Board are already termed in advance. Just as the star car system is on the point of abolishment, a new and more odious discrimination is proposed against the children of our citizens and tax-payers….a new effort is made to defeat the colored people in the accomplishment of their rights by establishing schools based upon the spirit of caste.

Separation is not equality. The very assignment of schools to certain children on the ground of color, is a distinction violative of the first principles of equality.

Who believes that this sudden alacrity is for the purpose of securing education to colored children? It is being hurried through, because…The establishment of schools in separate buildings to be now hastily procured will embarrass the friends of progress when they get in power. The star car educationists know it is less difficult to do than to undo.”

 

Also appearing in the May 12th issue was a letter written by Tribune founder Louis Charles Roudanez, inviting Mayor Heath to “throw the public schools open to all children.”

 

“The Public Schools,” appeared in the July 9, 1867, Tribune, calling on the election of Black council members and a Black mayor to “blend both races together in the public schools.”:

 

            “Who will open the public schools to all children? We are of the opinion that it will only be done by a colored mayor, with colored members among the city council.

We have but good friends in all the positions of influence and power, from whom the opening of the public schools could be expected and obtained. But five years have elapsed and nothing has been done.

…does that fact not conclusively show that there is a cause which prevented all these good men from doing what they…desired? This cause evidently is to be found in the very nature of their social relations. They were not willing to take upon themselves the blame…that a prejudiced community would have cast upon them…No white officer will open the schools to all children. This is a demonstrated fact.

Since the stumbling block comes from the social relations of white officers, let us elect officers whose social relations are in the opposite direction…Let the ordinance be passed by a partly colored council and carried through by a colored mayor.

One word will have the magic power of blending both races together in the public schools. That word shall be uttered. As to the effect on the population of New Orleans, we have no fear of it. The next day after the star cars were disposed of, not a single man objected to that reform, and everybody found that the new system worked…So will it be with the star schools. After one week of common attendance…no-one will object against it. And in the future, the rising generation will be raised as one people, and we will no longer have two nations in this nation.”

 

The July 24, 1867 Tribune editorial “No Colored Schools! Public Schools for All,” demanded integrated public education in no uncertain terms:

            “At its last meeting, the Board of Assistant Aldermen made an appropriation of sixty thousand dollars to open and organize “star schools” in the city of New Orleans. For four years, since the Proclamation of Emancipation, and for three whole years, since the abolition of the Black Code, the authorities of the Crescent City did not care even to consider the propriety of educating colored children.

They left them as pariahs on the public streets, while they shamelessly applied the taxes paid by colored parents to educating white children. No case of partiality and legalized robbery was ever so conspicuous in any country.

But now, at this eleventh hour, our city authorities…are hurrying up the organization of ‘star schools. …They sillily imagine that by organizing star schools today, they will prevent colored children from attending, next month, the existing public schools.

The Convention is about to assemble, and the Convention will see to it that the growing generation be raised as one mass and as one people.

We greatly doubt that the ‘star schools’ will ever have time to be organized; possibly some men may make an attempt to get at the money…Let the Board throw open the existing schools to all children, and it will not cost the city a single penny to extend the benefit of education to all classes of the people.

‘Education to all’ is a liberal principle. But it is not quite enough. We must add ‘education in the same schools,’ so that we may have in future no superior and no inferior classes, but only American citizens.”

 

In September, 1867, Black men officially voted for the first time, coming out 70,000 strong to elect delegates, 50% of whom were Black, who would go on to create a racially balanced state legislature.[14] The Tribune editorial, “The Coming Convention,” published on October 23, 1867, extolled this groundbreaking realization of Black power:

 

            “These are no ordinary circumstances. The whole country—nay, the whole world, are watching our moves, to decide whether popular government, in its most complete sense, is practicable or not. The people who elected the delegates have—a majority of them—recently been freed from bondage. They were not raised as freemen, but as slaves, without the benefits of education and almost outside of the pale of society…How have these newly enfranchised citizens exercised the right to suffrage?

This Convention, elected by a mass of eighty thousand voters, among whom there were not eight thousand white men, will be composed for a small majority of Caucasian delegates—showing thereby that no selfish design, no exclusive view guided the colored masses…The absurd accusation of Africanization is thus set at rest, and it is demonstrated that despite the abstention of the white element, no class will be neglected and no injustice done.

Now it is perfectly legitimate that nearly one-half of the assembly be taken from the oppressed race. Most of the white candidates had more political experience than the colored ones; but none like the colored man knows through the experience of life, what oppression is and which are the guaranties proper to protect him against…a prejudiced administration of the government.

There will be, in that Convention, two parties, the pure Radicals and the compromising Republicans. Efforts will be made…to secure the ascendency to the compromising section. But such efforts are doomed to fail…The time has come when any citizen should enjoy his full rights as well as every other citizen, without star schools, star juries, a star militia, and star witnesses before our courts of justice. We know that the attempt will not be made squarely; deceptive means will be resorted to, as was done with the ‘star schools’ of New Orleans…The day has come when these things are to be realized, and one is a true Radical who says ‘it is too soon.’ ”

 

“The Schools,” appeared in the next day’s issue, October 24, 1867:

 

            “All the white dailies of the city, the Republican included, are opposing the use of common schools, and advocating the principle of race schools.

When it was proposed to arm the colored man, a general opposition was raised from the pro-slavery side. They told him (Lincoln) the blacks would not make good soldiers.

Next came the abolition of slavery. It was said that the African race was destined by nature to live in a state of bondage.

Next came the question of suffrage. Once more, they (timid Republicans) were unwilling to force universal suffrage upon a reluctant pro slavery element.

So it is today with the school question…They see that they will lose THEIR schools, purposely organized for them under their influence and control…Some of our Republican friends, taking the same course they followed on the question of arming the black, of abolishing slavery, of enfranchising the colored man, play into the hands of rebels; experiences did not enlighten them.

They should now understand, by the anxiety rebels show to maintain their rebel schools, that there is a national interest in destroying them…Let these rebels know that we are in earnest. When the black regiments were organized, the Southerners began to think that the Republic would not recede…When the right of suffrage was conferred upon all citizens, the rebels realized the downfall of their political supremacy. Now let them understand by breaking up of their schools that they will not be allowed to raise a class of rebel children.”

 

 

“Talking and Acting,” was published in the October 29, 1867 Tribune.

 

            “The father of four or five children will not pay three dollars a month, for each of them, for private schools, when he can get them educated freely in the public school—be it even along side of colored children. Prejudices are not allowed to affect the pocket as readily as they affect the brain. We judge from the past; and we do not believe in the threat of withdrawing white children from common schools—at least as a permanent thing.

…the Picayune said a few days ago, the black ‘should recollect that it is quite enough for them to have their children educated at the expense of the white people,’ while the fact is that up to the year of our Lord, 1867, the white had their children educated at the expense of the colored people. For over thirty years, the colored residents of New Orleans have paid taxes upon fifteen millions of assessed property, they have paid the school tax among others, and never was this tax used but to the exclusive benefit of white children.

We see through that example how forgetful or ignorant our opponents are…they speak loud today; but this is not the first time they spoke very loud and submitted afterward. Let common schools be established, and they will be tame tomorrow.”

 

On October 30, 1867, the editorial “The White Man Party and the Radical Party” anticipated seizing state control:

 

“We hold the vote; we may elect whom we please. Is it necessary for us to elect white magnates, whose children are too good to go to school with ours, and to depend upon these dispensations…for a few crumbs? Not at all. Since we have the vote, let us elect our own men…We do not need to owe anything to others; we are in a situation to help ourselves. We are in a situation to be just to ourselves and to elect our fellowmen. Let us do it.

We have more than the ballot; we compose a majority in the State, and with the help of our Radical friends, we compose a majority in the Convention. We are, therefore, able to make the law…the colored masses are the masters of the field. Everything depends on the colored vote…But do not assist in building up the ‘white man party’ which can be but a source of deception for our people. White men who are with us are Radicals, not snakes.”

 

The Tribune would continue its relentless pursuit for a new political and social order. Many Tribune loyalists had been elected to serve as delegates to the constitutional convention that began in November, 1867. The paper would cover every day of the four-month gathering, monitoring the progress of its equality agenda. They paid particular attention to loopholes, as evidenced by this notice, posted in the December 21, 1867 issue:

 

            “We must…immediately state that the question of schools is not treated in the proper way. The words “without prejudice to any” are not sufficient, and in no way do they secure the attendance of all children, without distinction of origin in the public schools. The coming Legislature may enact, under that clause, that star schools be affected to colored children. They may say that inasmuch as the means of education will be provided thereby for children of African descent as they are for Caucasian children in the white schools, they do not do ‘prejudice to any.’ It is therefore, necessary to insert into the Constitution a better and more explicit clause. Nothing should be left to interpretation.”

 

  • •••

 

Even though the Tribune suffered from a white carpetbagger takeover of the Republican Party, and lost its bid to control state government in the 1868 elections, its political achievements were not lost. Indeed, the new constitution left little to be interpreted.   It’s ratification marked a true turning point in American history. The Louisiana State Constitution of 1868 mandated strong civil rights provisions and contained almost everything the Tribune had campaigned for:

 

“The right to come and go.

The right to vote.

The right to public instruction.

The right to hold public office.

The right to be judged, treated, and governed according to the common law.”[15]

 

The Black Codes were eradicated. The Black voter equaled Black power equaled Black representation. And alone in the Reconstruction South, segregation in the public schools was forbidden. The new state legislature and vigilant Black parents overcame strong and at times violent white resistance, and between 1872 and 1877, a well-managed system of 21 integrated public schools was implemented in New Orleans.[16]

 

Though the Tribune’s vision of racial equality unraveled in a maelstrom of white terrorism and counterrevolution, the seeds were planted and the newspaper’s legacy endured. The Citizens Committee emerged from the next generation of Afro-Creole activists, as did the newspaper the Crusader, both important in the fight against Jim Crow laws that led, unsuccessfully to the Plessy v Ferguson challenge.  Those skirmishes produced a new cadre of Black Louisiana lawyers eager to redress racial injustice, including the pioneering twentieth century civil rights attorney A.P. Tureaud. Tureaud’s efforts became part of a greater battle that would overturn the Plessy verdict, culminating in the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v Board of Education, which led to the end of segregation in the public schools.

 

150 years later, African Americans in New Orleans face a school system that largely ignores their needs.   In the protest tradition of America’s original civil rights leaders, a modern New Orleans Tribune, community activists, students, and parents are fighting for equality, fair representation, and truly public education. The words of Tribune founder Louis Charles Roudanez still ring true: “Let them have the will; let them be well awaked to the importance and character of that reform; let them above all, insist upon it, on every occasion and at any time.”[17]

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 Notes

[1] Mark Charles Roudané, The New Orleans Tribune: An Introduction to America’s First Black Daily Newspaper (Minneapolis, MN: self-published, 2014).

[2] For an excellent summary of Black education in Louisiana during the Civil War, including data supplied by the Board of Education for Freedmen, see Peter C. Ripley, Slaves and Freedmen in Civil War Louisiana (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976), 126-145.

[3] Joe G. Taylor, Louisiana Reconstructed, 1863-1877 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974), 48.

[4] John W. Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 1860-1880 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973) 111.

[5] Ripley, Slaves and Freedmen in Civil War Louisiana. 143-145.

[6] Ibid., 191.

[7] Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988) 244-245.

[8] Taylor, Louisiana Reconstructed, 1863-1877. 457.

[9] Howard A. White, The Freedmen’s Bureau in Louisiana (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1970), 177.

[10] James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., An Absolute Massacre, The New Orleans Race Riot of July 30, 1866 (Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001),

[11] W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1935) 466

[12] Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. 229.

[13] Roger A. Fischer, “A Pioneer Protest: The New Orleans Street-Car Controversy of 1867.” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 53, No. 3. (July, 1968) 219-233.

[14] John R. Ficklen, History of Reconstruction in Louisiana Through 1868 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1910) 193.

[15] la Tribune de la Nouvelle-Orléans, 24 janvier, 1865.

[16] Louis R. Harlan, “Desegregation in New Orleans Public Schools During Reconstruction.” The American Historical Review, Vol 67. No. 3 (April, 1962) 663-675.

[17] Louis Charles Roudanez, “Planks XIII and XIV.” (New Orleans: Private Roudanez Family Collection, 1870).