The Second Battle of New Orleans: The Hundred-Year Struggle to Integrate the Schools

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9780060955069: The Second Battle of New Orleans: The Hundred-Year Struggle to Integrate the Schools

Two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate rose in a descant above the cacophony of insults and obscenities shrieked by a crowd of angry white women in pincurlers and toreador pants lining the sidewalks leading to the William Frantz Elementary School in a blue-collar section of New Orleans. Their chanting set the pace for a six-year-old black girl, who thought it sounded like a nursery rhyme, to march toward the redbrick building on the sultry, sullen morning of Monday, November 14, 1960. Until that moment, the student body of the William Frantz Elementary School had been entirely white.

The little girl's name was Ruby Bridges. She was braving the crowd's hostility because her mother, the daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, who could read a little and write a very little, "wanted it better for (her) kids."

(John) Steinbeck described Ruby in his best-selling Travels with Charley as "the littlest Negro girl you ever saw, dressed in starchy white, with new white shoes on feet so little they were almost round." As tomatoes, rotten eggs, and spittle whizzed over her head, barely missing her, she looked, said Steinbeck, like a "frightened fawn." The hair ribbon on her pigtail bobbed up and down exuding a perkiness nobody felt.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

A first-rate case study of the endless struggle for black equality. Baker (The Justice from Beacon Hill, 1991, etc.) portrays the experience of New Orleans as a microcosm of the war over desegregating public schools that should have ended in the Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education but quite painfully did not. She delineates the city's complex racial dynamics from the antebellum period through the 1960s, showing how the window of promise that Reconstruction opened for blacks was slammed shut in 1896, when the Supreme Court held in Plessy v. Ferguson that Louisiana could pursue the creation of ``separate but equal'' public facilities. The heart of the story is the decades-long war in the courts and the streets that finally led to the end of legal segregation in the city's public schools, only to be followed by the de facto segregation created by ``white flight'' to private schools and the suburbs. Like most good popular history, this book is character-driven; it demonstrates that events are the product, not simply of impersonal forces, but of individuals facing specific challenges. These include J. Skelly Wright, the white federal judge who issued order after order to implement the Brown decision in his native New Orleans and consequently endured years of vicious attacks; black lawyer A.P. Tureau, who strove tirelessly for the equal justice promised by the Constitution; and Leander Perez, the racist mastermind of white Louisiana's resistance. Despite the ultimate legal victory of those who sought to enforce Brown, the ``Second Battle'' of New Orleans is a tragedy. The city's whites, like those throughout the South in the 1950s and '60s, clung tenaciously and often violently to their system of racial superiority, and the city's economic and social elites only exercised the leadership necessary to bring the battle to an end when it proved bad for business. A vigorous, thorough, but ultimately saddening work. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

Baker, biographer of Oliver Wendell Holmes (The Justice from Beacon Hill) has produced a thorough but sprawling account of desegregation in New Orleans. She explains that the book began with a focus on federal district judge J. Skelly Wright, who developed into a civil rights activist; the story then broadened. Still, her best passages concern Wright, whose epiphany came in 1945 when, back in his hometown after WWII, he saw blind white and black New Orleanians led to separate parties at the Lighthouse for the Blind. Baker also unearths the story of A.P. Tureaud, a black Creole lawyer who quietly but insistently fought for civil rights in Louisiana, and whose son integrated Louisiana State University. The author weaves in a large cast of characters, including New Orleans civic leaders and Louisiana political bosses, as well as the story surrounding Brown v. Board of Education. Though Baker writes well, even elegantly, the book seems overstuffed. Nevertheless, her prodigious effort has restored a complex history, and her contemporary update shows New Orleans to be a city where incremental racial progress has brought neither significant school desegregation nor racial harmony. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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