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Righteous Lives: Narratives of the New Orleans Civil Rights Movement

Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 292
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    Righteous Lives
    Book Description:

    An emotionally evocative, richly textured history based on autobiographical accounts of those who lived and shaped the struggle. The importance of many of Rogers' subjects and the uniqueness of New Orleans make this must reading for anyone interested in the history of the movement. But those interested in oral history and African-American autobiography will find riches aplenty as well. A welcome addition to a number of literatures--Doug McAdam, author of Freedom Summer Righteous Lives skillfully blends oral history with a perceptive analysis of three generations of civil rights leadership in New Orleans. Rogers has revealed not only what people did, but what they remember, and how their assessments of their activism have changed over time.--Donald A. Ritchie, U.S. Senate Historical Office "Rogers paints a slightly less rosy picture, one in which the Louisiana un-American Activities Committee staged a raid on the offices of the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF), and the City Council passed laws prohibiting the right to peaceful assembly, paving the way to jailing protesters." - Gambit Weekly This important study provides fresh insights into the lives of both black and white civil rights leaders, documents the diversity of individuals and motivations, and traces movement history in a major southern city. Well written and well researched, this book is highly recommended for readers at all levels.--Choice Charts the distinctly different experiences and memories of 25 black and white civil rights activists of three 'generations' in New Orleans, opening with a deft sketch of the city's unusual racial background with its black Creole caste.--Publishers Weekly An important study, full of valuable information, profoundly moving testimony, and provocative insights.--The Journal of Southern History A major contribution to our understanding of the civil rights movement. RIGHTEOUS LIVES illustrates the complexity of movements for social change, the long history of seemingly spontaneous conflicts, and the personal consequences of political activism. Rogers reveals how issues of caste and class, of gender and generation divided the black community in New Orleans, while her in-depth interviews and observations bring to the surface previously unexamined contradictions within the white southern experience as well. RIGHTEOUS LIVES also offers perceptive and thought-provoking insights into broader issues of collective and individual memory, life history, and autobiography. It evokes the struggle for African-American self-determination in the Crescent City with clarity and conviction, and it stands as a fitting testimonial to the courageous men and women whose voices provide so much of the book's fascinating narratives and textures.-- George Lipsitz, University of California, San Diego When former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke campaigned for governor in late 1991, race relations in Louisiana were thrust dramatically into the national spotlight. New Orleans, the political and economic hub of the state, is in many ways representative of Louisiana's unique racial mix, a fusion of African-American, Caribbean, European, and white Southern cultures. An old, colorful port famous for its French and Spanish heritage, distinctive architecture, and jazz, New Orleans was a peculiarly segregated city in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet, despite its complicated racial and ethnic identity and heated desegregation battles, New Orleans, unlike other Southern cities such as Birmingham, did not explode. In this moving work, Kim Rogers tells the stories, in their own words, of the New Orleans' civil rights workers who fought to deter the racial terrorism that scarred much of the South in the 1950s and 1960s. Spanning three generations of activists, RIGHTEOUS LIVES traces the risks, triumphs, and disappointments that characterized the lives of New Orleans activists. Chronicling watershed moments in the movement, Rogers' compelling narrative illustrates how blacks and whites worked together to decompress the tensions that accompanied desegregation in the ethnic mosaic of New Orleans.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7667-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. XI-XIV)
  5. One Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    New Orleans was a peculiarly segregated city in the 1950s. An old, colorful port at the mouth of the Mississippi River, it was famous for its French and Spanish heritage, distinctive architecture, fine restaurants, jazz, and an aura of steamy sexuality and vice. The city had long inflamed the fantasies of American writers and artists, who were intrigued by its bohemianism, decayed gentility, and langorous sensuality. New Orleans always seemed more Caribbean than Southern, more open about its corruption and frivolity than places in the historically Protestant South. Awash with tropical colors and smells, comfortably mixing decadence and piety, it...

  6. Two Overcoming Massive Resistance: Integrationists, 1954–1959
    (pp. 17-48)

    The decade of the 1950s was a frightening period for black activists and their few white allies, as the convulsion known as Massive Resistance swept the South in the wake of theBrowndecision. By 1954, New Orleans’ civil rights leaders had lived through two decades of extremes. The Depression of the 1930s had deepened the South’s agricultural crisis, and World War II had brought population shifts, increased prosperity, and the beginnings of the region’s economic integration into the national system. The war had also heightened the aspirations of Southern blacks who served in the military, or enjoyed higher wages...

  7. Three Desegregating New Orleans’ Schools: The Political Generation, 1960–1961
    (pp. 49-76)

    Many of the men and women who emerged as activists between 1959 and 1961 became involved in one of two community crises. Several black lawyers and community leaders became advisers, counsels, and strategists for the protests launched by the Consumers’ League, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, and by the young people in the NAACP Youth Council and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Additionally, a number of white liberals were drawn into the explosive school crisis of 1960–1961, when the legislature attempted to close the city’s public schools rather than allow token desegregation, and sought to “interpose” itself between the...

  8. Four “Would New Orleans Burn?” The Political Generation, 1961–1964
    (pp. 77-109)

    Between 1962 and 1966, New Orleans became a desegregated city. Lunch counters in downtown stores opened to blacks, segregation signs were removed from public buildings, Tulane University integrated its classes, and employers began to hire black personnel in businesses throughout the city. For the black leadership, the process was sluggish, and, at times, frustrating, but it was largely peaceful. By the selective use of protests, litigation, and negotiations, the black community pressured the city’s white elites, and through them, New Orleans’ elected officials, to change racial policy.

    The school crisis, and the behavior of the state legislature, united and galvanized...

  9. Five “Terror and Solidarity”: The Protest Generation, 1960–1965
    (pp. 110-146)

    They came of age in the shadow ofBrownand the Montgomery Bus Boycott. By 1960, when they were in their late teens and early twenties, the members of New Orleans’ protest generation were ready to act. Several had joined the Dryades Street protests, and were anxious to launch an assault on segregation throughout the city. These leaders—Jerome Smith, Rudy Lombard, and Oretha Castle—were the products of ambitious, highly supportive working-class black families, the first generation to attend college, and the first to engage in active protests. But these three, and their activist colleagues, also had stringent parental...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. Six “I Don’t Know That I Would Feel as Valuable to Myself as I Feel That I Am”: After the Revolution
    (pp. 147-189)

    In recalling their political experience twenty and thirty years after the events of the civil rights movement, each New Orleans activist told his or her story through incidents and actions that reveal the symbolic content of his or her experience. These memories represent large blocks of time or powerful experiences in their lives. They are recalled as events which revealed something important, or which provided a transition from one stage of development to another. Often, these memories function as keys to themeaningof their experiences, and, hence, to the meaning of their lives.¹

    Memories of activism are both constructions...

  12. Seven The Meanings of the Stories
    (pp. 190-212)

    Most of the stories in this book were taped in November of 1978, in April and May of 1979, and in June and July of 1988. I conducted the first set of interviews as part of dissertation research on the desegregation of New Orleans’ institutions. The interviews were frequently intense and dramatic. Many were emotionally moving. Albert Dent, with suppressed anger, described his experiences of denial as a boy and young man. Rosa Keller related the agonies that Skelly Wright and his family experienced during the school crisis of 1960–1961. Rudy Lombard remembered his intense idealism, and bitter disillusionment....

  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-232)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-240)
  15. Index
    (pp. 241-255)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 256-257)