Documentary Preview: The Desegregation of Tulane University

March 13, 2013

By: Leah Jaques

This video is a preview to the upcoming documentary on the Desegregation of Tulane. It was screened at the first of a series of events celebrating the integration of African American students at Tulane University 50 years ago. The event was held on Wednesday February 27th, 2013 in the Lavin-Bernick Center on Tulane’s Uptown campus.

This year, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the decision reached by the Board of Administrators of Tulane University to change its admissions policies and allow African American students to enroll. The decision came after plaintiffs Pearlie Elloie and Barbara Guillory Thompson filed suit against the exclusionary admissions policy at Tulane, with the help of Attorney John Nelson and Rosa Keller, a prominent Civil Rights activist in New Orleans. Keller was prompted to act as a result of the discrepancy between the views of Tulane’s faculty, many of whom actively supported integration, and Tulane’s Board of Administrators, who were keen to persist with the established admissions policy.

Keller framed her argument for integration around Tulane’s inconsistency in adhering to the stipulations of the school’s benefactor, Paul Tulane. In his 1884 letter of donation, Paul Tulane had stipulated that the money was for the education of young white males, a policy that would be incorporated into Tulane’s charter. Yet in 1961, when the desegregation suit was filed, Tulane had a number of non-white male students, evident in the presence of both female and international students.

Although the plaintiffs were successful when the case was first heard in 1961, the Tulane Board of Administrators appealed Justice J. Skelly Wright’s ruling to integrate the school. In a second hearing at the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Justice Frank Burton Ellis ruled that Tulane’s private status allowed it to maintain a restrictive admissions policy. However, pressure from both faculty and students at Tulane led the Board of Administrators to “voluntarily desegregate” before the plaintiffs could file an appeal. In February, 1963 the first thirteen black students registered at Tulane, ending the 129 year policy denying African Americans the ability to attend Tulane based solely on the color of their skin.

The video includes:

Pearlie Ellioe and Dr. Barbara Guillory Thompson: the original plaintiffs in the desegregation case

Judge Edwin Lombard: one of the first African American men enrolled in the undergraduate program

Dr. Deidre Dumas Labat: the first African American female enrolled at Newcomb College

Gloria Banks MSW: one of the first African Americans enrolled at the school of Social Work

Marilyn Bernard: graduate of Newcomb College, class of 1968

Dr. Addison Carey: the first African American Ph.D candidate at Tulane

The Desegregation of Tulane documentary is sponsored by the Office for Multicultural Affairs and the Anna Julia Cooper Project. This video was produced by AJC Media Intern Leah Jaques.

Leah Jaques is the Media Intern at the Anna Julia Cooper Project for Spring-Summer 2013. She is a visiting student from the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK where she is pursuing a double major in Political Science and American History. At the University of Sussex she founded and was president of the American Studies society.