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Philosophy against Misosophy



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From Journal of Ethnic Studies, 6:1, Spring 1978, 25-41.

The Struggle for Civil Rights in

New Orleans in 1960:

Reflections and Recollections


Hugh Murray 

My first picket line was the worst.  Spring 1960 in New Orleans was like most springs in New Orleans—beautiful—yet hot by standards of most Northerners. The sit-ins had begun a few months before in North Carolina, and the national television news carried daily reports on the struggle against segregation.  There had been an attempt to organize a sit-in in New Orleans in April, but the protest energy had been diverted into safer channels through skillful maneuvering.  Some, like myself, felt disappointment with the failure of people in New Orleans to take a stand against Jim Crow in the manner sweeping so much of the South.  We moaned and groaned.  We were limited to talk.  We were not organized.

One of the other Tulane students who had spoken up for integration was Lanny Goldfinch.  Born in South America, he grew up in the American South, had a thick Tennessee accent and curly blond hair.  Although he was the son of a Baptist preacher, many thought that he was Jewish, given his views and his name.  This impression was reinforced because as a philosophy student, he used logic and incisive examples in arguing against the system of segregation on campus.

It was through Lanny that I first heard that the New Orleans Consumers’ League was picketing an A&P Supermarket.  This League had little to do with the later consumers’ movement—rather it was a Black organization pressing for improvement of the Black situation in New Orleans. The A&P was located in a neighborhood with a large Black clientele, but it refused to hire Black check-out clerks.  The Consumers’ League had begun to picket the store, needed people to man a picket line, and Lanny contemplated volunteering.  He was also urging me to do the same.

Louisiana’s law concerning picketing was different from that of many Northern states, for in Louisiana only two pickets were permitted per block.  Even so, organizing two people to maintain a picket line for many hours for many days was no simple task.

I wanted to get involved, yet I was afraid.  My parents were conservative, and knew nothing of my integrationist activities.  I worried that there might be unpleasant repercussions—against me and against them—should I picket.  Moreover, May 1960 signaled the end of the university’s semester, and I had to pass final examinations.  I had to devote some time to taking the tests, some time to cramming for them.  Well, Lanny said he was going to picket on a day when I had an exam, but I promised to go the following day.

The following morning I saw Lanny on campus and inquired how the protest had gone. He replied that there had been a few hecklers and police, but really no trouble. I drove the many miles from Tulane to Dryades Street, parked a few blocks from the supermarket, and walked to the area where I volunteered.  I would take a shift, about two hours.  So two of us began to walk back and forth before the store’s entrance, each of us carrying a sign urging people not to buy at the A&P so long as it discriminated against some of its customers.  The other picket, who like myself had just come on the line at the time of the change in shift, seemed most distressed that I was his fellow picket.  If I seemed nervous, he was visibly so.  Finally, after some twenty minutes, he announced that he was wearing new shoes, that they hurt his feet, and he would have to leave the picket line.  He promised to return to Consumer League headquarters and get a replacement so there would again be two of us. Meanwhile he left his sign with me.

At this point I felt foolish as well as frightened. Walking to and fro, carrying two signs, one in each hand, I was the picket line.  The signs were worded in such a manner that if one did not know which organization was picketing and why, one might not deduce that race was an issue at all. Worse, I was alone on the line, blocks from headquarters: and while many Blacks resided in the general neighborhood, there were Whites in the immediate vicinity of the A&P.

After a few minutes of pacing alone, two White children approached me—a girl of about six, and a boy of four.  In one hand he carried a small can of black paint, in the other, a brush.  The girl egged him on—“Paint him!  Paint him black!”  The boy dutifully dipped the brush in the bucket and raised it preparing to ruin my pants—which was about as high as he could reach.  As the brush neared, I looked down and said, “You don’t want to do that, little boy.”  He put the brush in the can and looked at his sister.  She again urged him on.  “Go ahead, paint him, don’t be afraid.”  As I was moving constantly with my signs and the children halted each time they spoke or were spoken to, the lad had to rush to catch up to me.  He again lifted his brush, and I looked him squarely in the eye, “You don’t want to do that little boy.”  I did not say this in a threatening tone, but the sight of someone three times his size carrying two sticks with cardboard on them must have been somewhat intimidating to the boy.  He returned to his sister, who again sent him back to me, and with the frustrating monotony of which young children are so fond.  This scene was repeated numerous times.  It seemed as if an hour passed in this “game,” but in reality only about a quarter of that time had elapsed.  Happily, my black pants did not get painted.

The game ended with the arrival of my new co-picket, a member of the International Longshore-men’s Association, Black, stocky, and undoubtedly strong.  The man with the sore feet looked about as non-athletic as I, so I was pleased more ways than one to see my new partner.   The pesty children scattered.  The co-picket was a member of one of the Black ILA’s in New Orleans, which was ironic, for my father was also a member of the ILA—but he was in one of the all-White ILA unions. ILA Sometimes the different ILAs worked together, but on certain social questions they worked at cross-purposes.  Thus, the Black ILA contributed money to groups seeking to destroy segregation.  On the other hand, during the mid-1950’s when the most recent assault on segregation began, my father, like almost every other member of the white ILA, joined and paid dues to the White Citizens’ Council, a leading segrega-tionist organization.  If the union leadership did not overtly sponsor such membership, certainly it did nothing to discourage it.  Indeed, it would have been impossible for the Citizens’ Council to recruit so openly in the union without the tacit support of the leadership of the White ILA.

The Black longshoremen and I picketed in front of the A & P for some time. Across the street an elderly man walked out of his residence to deposit; something in the garbage can and did a doubletake when his eye spotted our picket. The gray-haired White man began to stare at me. Then, he crossed the street, looking more at me than at the traffic. His fists were clenched at his side; his face radiated anger. He was approaching the sidewalk directly in line with my step. Should I stop? Should I alter my path? I decided to keep walking in the same direction and at the same pace. I stared directly In front of me, seeing him peripherally. He halted a few inches from me. I did not know what to expect. He glowered at me, then he glanced at the longshoreman a few feet away. He let me pass, then walked on in the opposite direction.

Nothing else happened during that protest except the monotonous passing back and forth.  Before it was time for me to leave, Lanny arrived with a reporter from the Black newspaper of the New Orleans area, the Louisiana Weekly.   Our pictures were taken, as a representative from the Consumers’ League thanked us.  The following week our pictures appeared on page one of the Weekly.   To my horror, another photograph appeared on the same page.  At that very time the shipowners were conducting negotiations with the leaders of all the New Orleans ILA unions.  The leaders of the Black union and the leaders of the White union—that is, my father’s boss—were pictured on the same page that displayed mine. Although I had thought that my father’s boss would never read the Louisiana Weekly, undoubtedly he would read this particular issue of the paper.  A few inches below his photograph, Lanny and I were displayed as integrationists.  Happily, the paper did not print the names of the White picketers, and my father had no difficulty on his job.  Neither my father nor his boss was aware of my activities.

I passed my university exams.  I did not plan to attend summer school, so I thought I would rest for a few weeks and then get a summer job.  A friend was selling Fuller Brushes and with his encouragement and his connections I too chose to become a Fuller Brush man in June 1960.  While May is hot, June can be sweltering in New Orleans.  I would drive to a suburban area along the Airline Highway just outside the city.  There were some white shell roads in the area, the kind that would be raked of dust as my car drove over them (some visiting Canadians were amazed that we would pave roads with what they deemed souvenirs from the sea.)  At least I got some breeze while driving, but stopping arid walking up to homes the heat really got to me.  I wore no undershirt, so my garment clung to me with sweat, while my face was covered with a thick layer of grease atop which lay beads of sweat.  Fortunately, my crew cut was sufficiently short to prevent hair from falling on my forehead and sticking in the goo, but my black glasses slid down my slippery nose and distorted my vision.  Later 1 would wonder if the oil shortage might not be reduced by somehow recycling facial grease.

I suspect that seeing someone at the front door with a brief case, greasyface, sweaty shirt, skinny arms, and nasal voice was not sufficient inducement to persuade people to purchase Fuller brushes.  Alas, I was my own best customer.  Earning less than $30 my first week, and with the second no different, I relinquished my career as a Fuller brush man.

I returned to the Tulane University library where I had worked a few years before in the reserve book room, and I made arrangements to resume work there beginning in late August.  The reason for the two month’s delay was related to my proposed trip of July and August, but before I discuss that important trip, I must digress to record some events at the University 1959-60.

Tulane was a segregated institution when I attended on scholarship as an undergraduate from 1956-60.  It did have a liberal, perhaps even radical reputation in the community, but during my four years of undergraduate study, I had concluded that Tulane’s political reputation was most undeserved.  True, in the effort to balance the women’s arts and science division, Newcomb College, so that it was one third Catholic, one third Protestant, and another third Jewish, there were many students from varied locales. The Catholics were generally natives of New Orleans, the Protestants came from Mississippi, Texas, Alabama and other sections of the Bible-Belt South; while the Jews came from New Orleans, the South, and especially, Brooklyn, New York.  Tulane’s policy as a whole was not as strict as Newcomb’s, but Tulane students were probably in roughly similar proportions to those of Newcomb. Since the Jewish students from Brooklyn often expressed liberal attitudes, this may have contributed to Tulane’s leftist reputation, but most of those who spoke liberally did little more than speak.

The other colleges and universities in the New Orleans area had neither Tulane’s political nor academic reputation; nor did they have as many foreign or Northern students in attendance.  Thus, in many ways, the other colleges were more provincial.  On the other hand, Loyola University, a Jesuit institution directly across a fence from Tulane, did allow a few Black nuns to attend.  Dillard University usually had one or two White students on its campus, as well as numerous White faculty members.  The other colleges tended to be as segregated as Tulane, however.

There had been a few attempts to crack the racial wall by promoting intercollegiate activities.  For example, in my freshman year at Tulane I began going to the Methodist’s Wesley Student Foundation for social functions.  As an atheistic Unitarian, I found the religious aspects irrational and therefore, to me, nonsensical, but the people were invariably pleasant—and a few had some progressive political ideas.  A Bible study program was arranged so that Tulane and Dillard students could meet jointly, alternating between the two campuses.  The chaplain of the Tulane Wesley Center owned a small VW, and he drove three of us students to Dillard where about seven young Blacks met us.  We convened in one of the university’s rooms to converse and discuss interpretations of Biblical passages.  I was excited about the adventure, even if impatient with the topic.  But it went well.  A fortnight later four Dillard students came to the Wesley Center on Tulane’s fraternity row.  Fewer people in the duller, familiar surroundings dampened my enthusiasm for the project somewhat, yet I still looked forward to the meetings.  Despite Niebuhr and Barth and Tillich and King James, I felt I was learning something about people in this course.  But word of our gatherings leaked out.  The chaplain had publicized the series within the Wesley Center, and one young Methodist student informed her father, who was a power in a local Methodist Church.  Soon, a number of Methodist churches in the city were threatening to withhold their financial support from the Tulane Wesley Center unless this project were terminated.  It was. Within a year the chaplain left the Wesley Center for a post in the North.

Through most of my undergraduate years I was a representative of the Unitarian student group to the Tulane Interfaith Council. This organization was like the United Nation’s SecurIty Council in that each religious body composing it could veto any activity of the council. The Unitarians invariably pushed for programs on social issues, the Roman catholios for a major religious emphasis week, while the Lutherans sought an interfaith basketball competition. Usually, the only accomplishment of the Interfaith Council was to meet from time to time.

Because I had spoken up on the race issue to various individuals, someone informed me that a new group was organizing at Loyola University during the year 1959-60, the Inter-Collegiate Council for Inter-Racial Cooperation (ICIC).   Blacks, Whites, and a few orientals from New Orleans colleges gathered under the shelter of the Jesuit institution.  Most of the participants were Catholics; most of the meetings accomplished little more than the opportunity to meet across the racial frontier in an atmosphere of cordiality and equality.  But this was an accomplishment.  Moreover, it was in this organization that a number of individuals would first gather together—people who within a year would be organizing the first deep-south chapter of CORE.

In addition, the ICIC did do something as an organization.  The Methodist student magazine, Encounter, was invariably a craft production with fine illustrations and cartoons, some making pointed analyses without words.  One, for example, portrayed a man sitting atop the shoulders of another, hitting him on the head.  A third man, observing the beating, volunteers to the reader, “Well, I can see both sides of the issue.”  We in ICIC modified the cartoon slightly, shading the victim so the point would be obvious to even the most “objective” New Orleans observer, and we mailed the cartoons to over 2,000 people in the area, including the right-winger Leander Perez.  It may have been minimal, but it was something, and more than most groups did.

That same school year, 1959-60, sit-ins, beginning in North Carolina, spread to Baton Rouge by spring.  When students at Southern University in Baton Rouge (Southern was Louisiana’s black LSU) engaged in non-violent protest, despite the racist White police who arrested them and the reactionary Black university administrators who suspended and expelled them, many people in New Orleans felt that we too should do something. Although some individuals in the ICIC wanted to move, the organization as a whole seemed unable to channel this feeling.

Then in April 1960 I was told of a meeting at which a possible New Orleans sit-in would be on the agenda.  My informant was Dr. Georg Iggers, a professor of history at both Dillard and Tulane.  He was a native of Hamburg, Jewish, and had resided in the U.S. since the late 1930’s.  His wife, a German from the Sudetenland, also Jewish, had also fled Europe in the 1930’s.  By the mid-50’s he was teaching at Philander Smith College in Arkansas.  They had been active in the NAACP there and had left Little Rock in the summer of 1957, believing that integration would proceed without major incident at Central High.  Shortly after their departure, Governor Faubus sabotaged any chance of peaceful integration, and President Eisenhower nationalized the Arkansas National Guard, sending in federal troops, under the command of the notorious reactionary, Gen. Edwin Walker, to enforce the law of the land.

In New Orleans Georg Iggers taught chiefly at Dillard, his wife mainly at Xavier, both Black colleges.  In addition, from time to time both taught courses at Tulane.  I had met the family at the Unitarian Church, which I had attended since high school.  The Iggers family alternated between attending the Unitarian Church one week and a reform temple the next. Since he taught history and I studied it, we often talked during the coffee hour, which followed church services.

Indeed, it was through Dr. Iggers that I first became active on the race question.  I asked if he would allow me to sit in one of his history classes at Dillarct.  He was teaching a World History course, one which I could not take at Tulane, anyway, for history majors were denied credit for such a general course.  So I decided that I would drive out to Dillard on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, audit the history class, and then drive across town to Tulane for the classes in which I was enrolled for credit toward my degree. 

Of course, a decision to do something is not identical with doing it.  Though no one was pushing me into attending the Dillard course—in fact, I kept it a secret from my parents—I nonetheless had qualms that first Tuesday morning.  How would I be received on the Black campus?  True, Dr. Iggers and some others were White, but they were teachers.  True, I had visited there my freshman year, but that was at night in a voluntary religious group and I had not been alone.  This time, I would be on my own, particularly walking to and from the class.  After all, what would happen to a student from Dillard who might attempt to sit-in in classes at all-White Tulane?  What had happened to Autherine Lucey at Alabama and the few other Blacks allowed to attend White colleges in the deep South?  I was nervous.

I drove and parked on campus and asked some students the location of Rosenwald Hall.  They were all friendly and helpful.  I found the class room and sat.  Attending the same class was another White, a full-time Dillard student from Canada.  However, other than polite hellos, we never conversed.

On my second trip to Dr. Igger’s class I confronted another problem—one as old as the cliché “they all look alike.”  I was unable to distinguish between those students to whom I had spoken on Tuesday and those whom I had not.  I simply had to learn to distinguish people by using features other than hair color and texture, relying more on skin color and different configurations of the face.  Within a short time this ceased to be a problem.

I sat beside a Dillard student who was also a junior in Dr. Igger’s class.  She hoped to change things in New Oreans, and we talked.  One day, she asked if I wanted to join the NAACP.  I was excited and delighted.  The next day I stood waiting in a lunch line at the Tulane cafeteria conversing with a friend from Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  He had one of the thickest drawls I’d ever heard, and I used to enjoy the diphthongs slowing the pace as he sang “Ah got a gal named Boney Maroni.”  He was a staunch Methodist and had attended the integrated Bible sessions our freshman year.  As we waited I told him, the first White to whom I confided the information, that I had joined the NAACP. “Ugh, Hugh,” he drawled.  The “how could you!” remained unuttered, but the diphthonged disgust of those two words signaled that I was moving in a direction, not only opposed by my family, but by a friend from whom I had hoped to gain support.  Thus, even in 1958 I was sailing in unchartered seas, beyond the ken or approval of kin or acquaintance, except for Dr. Iggers.  The ocean between the Black and White worlds had been traversed many times by others before me, but their records had usually been obliterated.  Ann Braden had written a book about the South in the 1950’s titled The Wall Between, which I read and admired.  But even that was about the upper, upper South, Louisville.  Later, in 1961 when the wall was built in Berlin, I felt that New Orleans had long had such a wall, less penetrable, even if less visible.

In Dr. Igger’s class my friend Shirley told me that the NAACP was forming a youth chapter and asked if I might be interested.  I was, and in a short time I was Vice-president of the City-Wide Youth Chapter of the NAACP in New Orleans.  Shirley was president.  The constitution of the chapter was written in such a way that we could do nothing without the approval of the adult chapter.  Their main interest seemed to be a voter registration drive.  I was unenthusiastic about this because I feared I would be ineffective at urging Blacks to register.  Fortunately, the adult group permitted us some other activities, some of which were fun.  One concerned parks; the other concerned fund-raising.

In February 1959 the Youth Chapter sponsored a dinner to raise funds for the new organization. I sold seven tickets at Tulane, but none of the Whites sald they would attend.  Meanwhile, Shirley bought a $10 gift certificate from Maison Blanche, the city’s leading department store, which would go to the winner of a raffle, chosen from the dinner ticket stubs.  It was the only time in my life that I wished I had not won the prize.  When they called out “Number 2” and I spontaneously shouted, “That’s me,” the groans in the audience were not inaudible.

Not only was I the vice-president, I was the only White present among the 100 possible winners.  When a minister who was to present the award declared that I would, of course, donate the prize to the NAACP, I felt angry—not at the intention, but that he, rather than I, should be allowed to say it.  I was blushing when my turn to speak came, and I simply repeated, haltingly, what the minister had said.  Thus, my first major event in the NAACP Youth Chapter was spoiled by chance.

I recall during my freshman year of college opening a book on German history and reading some of the Nuremberg laws of the 1930’s promulgated by the Nazis to restrict the Jews.  One declared that Jews could sit only on yellow benches in parks.  A thought flashed through my mind—where do Blacks sit in New Orleans parks?  I had never seen any Blacks in either major park, except as custodians.  I remembered the dissension caused in the Unitarian Church a few years before when the church picnic had to be canceled because not all the members of the church would be allowed to attend.  Later, I was told that Blacks could visit the zoo and perhaps other sections of the park on Wednesdays or perhaps Thursdays—some afternoon when few people of either race would be able to attend.  Nonetheless, the notion that Nazis were in some ways more generous to Jews in Germany in the mid-1930’s than was Louisiana to Blacks in the 1950’s struck me as horrible.

By 1958-59 the situation concerning the parks had changed, legally, and Blacks were allowed in the City Park.  The problem was that almost no Blacks were using the newly won right.  The NAACP Youth Chapter therefore sponsored some small events in the park.  I could get only one White friend, Richard P., who had grown up in New Orleans and who would later become an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force, to join us.  We played what may well have been the first integrated tennis match at City Park.  However, each of our NAACP park gatherings was small and one, at which only three people appeared, was the last of our attempts to integrate the park in the spring and summer of 1959.

During the summer I also partook in another NAACP activity—voter registration.  In contrast to the repression in some Louisiana parishes where Blacks were barred from voting altogether, Orleans Parish (New Orleans) did permit Blacks to register.  They were permitted, but not encouraged, to do so.  Since I was only 20 years old, I myself had not yet registered to vote.  The NAACP in cooperation with other Black organizations conducted a small registration school, and Shirley and I volunteered to work there.  First, I had to learn how to register, and then teach those who came to the center.  The registration forms were quite short, but they contained some tricky questions.  The first concerned the age of the applicant; it had to be stated in years, months, and days.  One could not bring in a paper with the answer on it, and extra paper for calculating was denied, as I recall.  The result was that many applicants, both Black and White, failed the test on this question.  A number of weeks had to transpire before a failed applicant could reapply; consequently many potential voters failed the first registration test and became too discouraged to retake it.

Even more arbitrary were the desired answers to some of the other questions on the form. Thus, “Have you ever been registered before?” seems simple enough, but should the answer not be “Yes,” what should it be?  A space left blank or a dash through it would produce a failed test. Moreover, the correct answer would change.  At one point, “No,” in the summer of ‘59, “None,” and at other times other magic words were required to open the door of the voting booth.  Here was a simple method for preventing the proportion of Black voters in New Orleans from exceeding a given percentage.

To increase the frustration, if one failed the registration test, the registrar need not inform the applicant as to precisely what was deemed incorrect on the application form.  Was it the calculation of one’s age?  Or the answer to one of the other questions?  Either way, weeks would have to elapse before a second try, or a third. And the same mistake could be repeated again and again.  It may be boring to read of such details used in New Orleans to reduce voter registration, mainly of Blacks, especially since the laws have been changed since 1959.  But it is important to record some of the procedures used to deny democracy in what some people judged as one of the most liberal cities in the South at that time.  If Blacks had to endure this in New Orleans, where they did register in thousands, what did they endure in Baton Rouge, Shreveport—or in Bogaloosa, where no Blacks were registered at all?

I worked in the registration office a number of days a week, for which I received a free lunch.  However, there was little to do at the office.  Very few people came to learn how to register, often only two in an entire afternoon.  On one occasion I erred and told a woman that she lived in one ward when she lived in another.  Later in the day she returned to the office after flunking the test; I wondered If she thought that I had purposely misled her.

Shirley and I sometimes went riding and talking in my car, and though the Youth Chapter was declining in activity, we still got together.  I was surprised that, though intelligent and a university student, she still had a Negro accent.  There was an entire series of words: bread, led, bed, said, that she pronounced: braid, laid, baid, said, etc. She could not pronounce the “ed” sound.  Once, when she telephoned me, my mother answered. After the conversation was completed, my mother inquired about Shirley’s last name, and I told her the name of French derivation. Next my mother asked if Shirley were White.  I blushed, and said no.

Because of my parents’ views I often felt compelled to lie concerning my whereabouts. r said I was going to Tulane when in fact I was going to Dillard or to an NAACP meeting. I felt it was safe to note that I was going for a drive with Shirley, but at that point her accent gave my mother an early inkling of my secret life. My mother did not press me, and I divulged no more than required.

I was very fortunate to have an automobile, which my father had given me.  Yet, I was doing something with it that he would disapprove.  I would drive around town with Shirley, and we would talk.  We could not really go any place that was White, because we would not be allowed in. Occasionally we went to a Black restaurant, but I found it expensive and the food was not particularly good.  So we drove and spoke, something like the bird described in Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending—the bird that had no legs, it could fly but never land.  So we drove about.

I think it was in the late summer of 1959 that the NAACP was outlawed in Louisiana.  Using an old law aimed at the Ku Klux Klan and other secret organizations, the Louisiana Attorney General demanded the membership list of the NAACP.  The organization rightly refused to comply, for many members of the NAACP would have been subjected to pressure if their affiliation had been known.  For example, teachers could have been fired, as could anyone who worked for state or local government.  Others could have been intimidated in other ways.  After all, did not the letters of the organization stand for National Association for the Advancement of the Communist Party, as many segregationists declared?  So the Louisiana NAACP ceased to exist.  The adult chapter was immediately reconstituted as the New Orleans Improvement Association, but the youth Chapter collapsed.  Thus, my first experience in an interracial organization had not been overly successful, but I felt I was learning—learning about Blacks, and learning about my society with its racism and repression, and learning through my own mistakes how to act in order to change my society.

Another reason I was fortunate to have a father who gave me a car—Shirley and I could not have driven around New Orleans on public transportation.  The buses and streetcars were cheap enough, only 7¢ in those days, but they too were segregated.  On the metal bar at the back of each set of double seats were two holes into which a movable wooden plank with the lettering “For Colored Only” could be inserted.  Each aisle of the bus or streetcar had its sign; Blacks sat behind it, Whites before it.  Going through different neighborhoods most patrons might be either White or Black, so the movable signs provided some flexibility concerning seating arrangements on the vehicle. Usually there was a certain politeness regarding the sign, so that if Blacks were standing and a White was seated with the sign at his back but empty seats before him, he would be asked by a Black to move up a few rows, and he would, so the Blacks would have additional rows of seating room.  This occurred for both races, and I never saw any rudeness over the sign when I rode the public transport daily during my junior high and early senior high school years.  The law in Montgomery, Alabama, that a Black woman would have to relinquish her seat so a White man could sit—that would not have been the case in New Orleans.

Though the bulk of seats on a bus could therefore be assigned to either race, a few seats at either ends of the vehicle were exclusively for Whites or Blacks.  Thus, the last row of seats had no metal bar behind them in which to place the sign, so the last row was reserved for Blacks.  Conversely, five seats at the front facing the center aisle were for Whites.  It was rare that one would be on a bus that was full and exclusively White or Black, but now and then this occurred, as on McDonough Day, when buses would take children from all over the public schools to Lafayette Park where each of us would place a flower on the base of the statue of John McDonough.  McDonough was an anti-Bellum miser who freed his slaves and left a fortune for the education of White boys in Baltimore and New Orleans.  His bequest was a stimulus to public education in New Orleans, and as late as the 1960’s, numerous schools were named in his honor, including the important Black high school, McDonough #35.

On McDonough Day, or equivalent to founder’s day, which we celebrated every May, after placing the flowers we would cross the street to City Hall and visit the Mayor.  Then, one person from each school would receive a key to the city and sit in the Mayor’s chair for a minute.  In the eighth grade I was selected by my grammar school to be the recipient of the city’s key and I slouched in Mayor De Lesseps Morrison’s chair for a moment.  Somewhat like the television program “Queen for a Day,” I was Mayor for a Minute.

Each year as the buses would line up by the grammar school to take us on the McDonough outing, something amusing would occur when the doors of the buses would open to us: we White children would scramble to sit in the last seats in the buses.  I’m uncertain if it was because these were the seats normally forbidden us, or whether in non-segregated cities children also desired to sit in the rear of the bus.

In late 1955 and 1956 when the Montgomery Alabama bus boycott began and propelled Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., to prominence, there was no boycott of New Orleans transportation.  But lawsuits had been initiated, and I think it was during late 1958 that the courts ruled against the segregated seating system in the Crescent City’s buses and streetcars. Lanny Goldfinch had begun studying philosophy at Tulane at the time of the ruling, and Lanny owned no automobile.  Shortly after the ruling Lanny was on a bus seated in the front.

A Black woman entered the bus and sat beside a White woman. The White woman immediately jumped up, moved to the seat beside Lanny, and began to make remarks.  Lanny then jumped up and moved to the seat beside the Black woman. The White woman stared with open mouth in disbelief. In New Orleans the buses and street cars were integrated with few difficulties.

In that summer, shortly after my picketing wlth the Consumers’ League, I was told that someone was coming down from the North to help organize a New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).  The initial meetings would be held at the Negro YMCA on Dryades St., and some other members of the ICIC were also interested in the new project.  At these preliminary meetings a representative from national CORE asked for volunteers to attend a forthcoming national CORE workshop, to be held during three weeks in Miami during July and August.  My Fuller Brush career at an end, I wanted to volunteer.  But I still lived at home.  How could I possibly explain this to my parents?

Happily, there was one other White, also a native of New Orleans, who showed interest in going to Miami.  There were several Blacks, too, including Rudy Lombard, student at Xavier U. and veteran of the ICIC, who prepared to go to Miami.  But my parents would not be convinced by any number of Blacks going to a convention in Miami.  The other White, a student at Loyola and ICIC member, would be my main argument.  And so I argued with my parents that the Miami convention would be a major convocation with thousands of people, including other White Southerners.  The gathering would simply discuss various aspects of the race question.

I was simultaneously attending meetings in the Black community with other CORE people seeking to raise funds for the trip to Miami.  We received a pledge of financial support from the United Clubs and other Black organizations.  This was not totally unrelated to the argument with my parents, for I was telling them that it would be a three-week expense-paid deal.  As I had no extra money and they could not be expected to aid on this journey, CORE had to subsidize the project, not just for me, but for most of the New Orleans contingent.

It was decided that a number of participants from New Orleans would go to Miami—Ollie S. and I were the Whites.  We all gathered one night at the Negro Y in anticipation for our departure in two automobiles.  It was doubly exciting for me for I had never been further from home than Memphis, and that was for only 3 days.  One of the autos had motor trouble, and our departure was delayed.  While this seemed to pose no grave problems for the Blacks, Ollie and I were faced with returning to our families, and additional quarrels.  So we decided to stay out that night.

One of the CORE activists from Baton Rouge, Marvin Robinson, who had been expelled from Southern U because of a sit-in, had been helping to organize the New Orleans chapter.  He had rented a room at the Negro Y, but his wife had just come to town, and thus he would be staying with her. So he offered me his room at the Y that night, and I accepted.  Meanwhile, Ollie went down to the French Quarter to get drunk.  As I would be one of those driving to Miami, while Ollie having no driver’s license could sleep through the trip, that night I chose to sleep rather than drink.

However, I might have gotten more sleep out of a bottle than in that room at the Y.  It was July in New Orleans, and even at night the temperatures often remain in the 80’s.  Outside my window was a bright neon sign, informing the neighborhood that it was indeed the YMCA.  But worse than the light was the lack of a screen.  Even the poorest people in New Orleans have screens on their doors and windows, but there was none on my Y window.  With the window open and shade up I soon began to hear the hum of the mosquitos.  I swatted and scratched.  Then I closed the window and the shade, and sweltered.  Then open and scratch.  Close and swelter.  I did not sleep well that night.  When I awoke and descended the stairs, I saw Ollie sleeping soundly on the couch in the lobby.

Ollie, Juanita, Ruth, and her Uncle left in the first car.  Archie, Marvin and myself drove in Marvin Robinson’s car.  As we would reside in Miami for three weeks, each of us took a suitcase of clothing, each except Archie.  A Dillard student with a lively manner, chubby build and brand-name clothing, Archie was taking a large trunk which simply would not fit into the luggage compartment of the 1956 Chevy.  We tried to persuade him to repack into something smaller, but he contended he required everything in the trunk. The trunk would therefore have to rest on the back seat, greatly reducing space.  Archie was adamant.  Enough time had been wasted, so the four of us embarked on our 856-mile journey.

1960 was the year before the civil rights laws were enacted.  Things that are today so easily integrated were then strictly segregated.  We had decided to drive straight through to Miami, halting only at gas stations and, when necessary, to eat. As Archie didn’t drive, he had the most uncomfortable seat—the middle of the front seat with no door to lean on and legs huddled high because of the hump in the floor.  Ideally, one of the drivers could have napped on the back seat, but Archie’s luggage forced the drivers to rest upright wedged between the car body and the trunk.  With Marvin’s Louisiana license plates, the only potential problem was me—my light brown crew cut and fair complexion would make it difficult to “pass.”

At a gas station in Mississippi a young attendant came out from the garage with a friendly smile and a rag in his hands to wipe the windshield.  When he recognized our group’s composition, the only thing wiped off was his smile.  By that time I was rushing to the rest room.  We integrated a number of restrooms in our haste to relieve ourselves.  In Tallahassee we ate a large meal at a Black restaurant.  It was night when we drove the length of Florida.  Once I fell asleep at the wheel—to be wakened by the rumble of the road’s shoulder.  We rotated drivers at that point.  Happily, Florida’s highways were deserted that night.  Some twenty-six hours after leaving New Orleans we arrived in Miami.

The CORE conclave was set for the Prince George Motel, a Black establishment.  We alighted from the car, registered, were assigned rooms, making sure that all the rooms were racially integrated.  It was during this preliminary period of formal procedures that I received my first shock: it was not going to be a CORE convention of thousands of people, or even hundreds.  Rather the CORE workshop would fluctuate during the 3 weeks with thirty-five to fifty in attendance.  We began with some thirty-five, true, from all over the country, but eight were from New Orleans, and our chapter was just getting started!  I began to wonder what I was getting into.

I had never been away from home for so long before—nine days in Baton Rouge, a week in Arkansas, three days in Memphis.  I was excited by this adventure.  The first few days we had talk workshop sessions; we tried to become acquainted with one another and tried to relax.  The food was excellent, and now and then we would test restaurants for supper, where I first tasted exotic dishes like blintzes.  The workshop sessions stressed the necessity of nonviolence during demonstrations and the philosophy of returning love for hate and converting your enemies.  I was already quite familiar with the theory of nonviolence, but I felt that the national leadership’s presentation of the issue was so one-sided that, even though a pacifist, I raised anti-pacifist questions about the theory.  I noted George Orwell’s objection to non-violence, that if everyone had been pacifist in WWII, except the Germans, what then would have happened to the Jews? The response of some CORE staff as we sat in the cocktail lounge-workshop headquarters was that had Jews used non-violent protest, things might have been different. I remained unconvinced.  But whatever we thought about WWII, all agreed on the necessity of non-violence at CORE demonstrations.  We heard of people who had been kicked and beaten, of others who sat at lunch counters while bigots extinguished burning cigarettes on their skins.  We learned how to huddle on the ground to provide maximum protection without fighting back.  We had practice sessions in which some of us would pretend to be enraged racists harassing the others in our group who carried CORE picket signs.  This theatrical approach was very effective in preparing us for various situations.  In a sense, it was the reverse of assertiveness training, for we were called every name in the book.  Yet, we were conditioned to be unfazed.  It was anti-assertiveness training so that we could be assertive in protest; it was anti-assertive for our egos, so that we could become assertive for our cause.  And the cause was justice and integration.

Another aspect of the CORE approach emerged also. Protest was to be used as the last resort.  There were a number of steps to be taken before demonstrating—observing, testing, and negotiating.  At nightm, when the cocktail lounge reverted to its customary clientele, we would go out, dividing into groups of varying racial composition, entering restaurants to discover if they would serve everyone in like manner.  Sometimes as we strolled down the street, police cars would follow us, driving at a pace no faster than our gait.  Many restaurants served us without question, and aside from the intense police surveillance, we seemed to be having few troubles in Miami.

Moreover, some people in the local community were pleased to have us.  Mrs. Cab Calloway (or was it his sister?) met our group and pledged support.  Lesser known Miamians displayed sympathy, and some attended our workshop sessions or joined us in restaurant tests.  One group of Blacks, however, opposed us.  I recall going to the men’s room of the Prince George and on the latrine wall chuckled at the grafitti: “Allah Saves.”  Since I interpreted it as a creative take-off on the “Jesus Saves” slogan, I laughed. Only later did I learn that there were Black Muslims in the neighborhood of the motel and that they openly opposed integration.  When two CORE people went to the Muslim Temple, the White was denied entry, while the Black had to be searched before she could get in.  The following day a Muslim saw the Black woman who had gone to the temple and asked her sarcastically, “Where’s your blond goddess?”  Even so, CORE made no effort to integrate the Muslim Temple.

One of the Miami Blacks attended university in Des Moines, Iowa, where he had joined the synagogue.  Returning to his home in Miami for summer vacation, he was denied entry into some of Miami’s synagogues.  When a restaurant refused to serve him, we joked and concluded it must have been managed by anti-Semites.  One White group which provided full, consistent support to the CORE workshop was the Jewish Culture Society.  They opened their social center to us so we could have a dance, and a most enjoyable one it was.  They joined our picket lines when that was required. And one weekend, when CORE decided to integrate a White beach, the Jewish Culture group got the picnic table next to ours, providing a buffer between us and any hostile beachniks.

For me, the Jewish organization provided an additional asset.  When I spoke with their members, inevitably I spoke with radicals. They had supported Henry Wallace in 1948. Some bemoaned the collapse of the Progressive Party.  Like me, they thought Harry Truman had been a reactionary President.  It was a joy to meet so many people who expressed views similar to my own.  In New Orleans I had to rely on an out of town newspaper or a book from the North for political reinforcement—and in 1960 in New Orleans there were few papers or books available to provide ammunition for the radical.  Suddenly I was conversing with a number of real live radicals.  There was one drawback.  There seemed to be no young members of the JCS.  The youngest appeared to be fifty-five; most seemed to be in their sixties.  So that even when CORE and the Jewish group were together, as at the picnic or the dance, age immediately indicated the group to which one belonged.

Of course, political discussions were not limited to the people of the JCS.  1960 was an election year, and some of the campaign would reach the CORE workshop.  For example, Jackie Robinson, the baseball great, addressed the forty members of our workshop in the cocktail lounge on behalf of the merits of Richard Nixon and the Republican Party.  Though Robinson was well received, I suspect few CORE activists voted for Nixon that November. Not until the leadership of James Farmer did CORE become associated with Nixon and the Republicans.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also addressed our small group in the lounge.  He spoke of the successful bus boycott in Montgomery and the more recent struggles then occurring.  He also declared his support for John F. Kennedy, but said he was not doing so publicly.  Hearing these two Black leaders in our informal sessions, open to questions, was one of the high points of the Miami conference.

We also held political discussions among our-selves.  Many of the Whites were quite radical by New Orleans standards.  One from Michigan was an avowed socialist, as was another from Miami.  Two had partaken in the World Youth Festival in Vienna, one had participated in the previous festival in Moscow.  One had been to Highlander.  Most of the Blacks were far less radical.  Their orientation was toward orthodox religion.  This cleavage between many Blacks and many Whites was also to be generally true of the New Orleans chapter.  Yet, in December 1971 at a conference of the American Historical Association I heard the sociologist, Elliott Rudwick, present a paper on CORE in general and the New Orleans chapter in particular.  One of his points was that the Blacks were more radical than the Whites.  I challenged this assertion from the floor at that time, but my remarks seemingly had little impact on the Meier-Rudwick book on the Congress of Racial Equality.

Despite my own radical inclinations, there was one very important practical matter where I lined up with the CORE conservatives.  There was a clause in the CORE constitution, passed in 1948, which excluded from CORE all members of the Communist Party.  This topic arose at the workshop because some radicals suggested that the anti-communist clause should be deleted.  I argued In favor of the clause, contending that in Louisiana where we would certainly be called Communists, the clause would provide ammunition to refute the charge.  Of course, the clause did not always reflect reality, for one of the participants in the CORE workshop was in fact a member of the Communist Party.  The CORE constitution’s restrictive clause meant that the Communist had to be secretive about membership.

One day we divided into small groups and went to a restaurant located within a Miami supermarket.  By chance, this day I was chosen to be an observer and was paired with the “blond goddess” from Michigan.  The integrated groups had been seated before we entered; yet we were served before them.  Indeed, they were not being served at all.  As we ate our food the temperature in the air-conditioned eatery dropped dramatically.  When we called to the waitress to complain about the cold, she explained that the air conditioning was broken; then she whispered, “We’ll get ‘em out of here one way or another.”  The other method was soon resorted to, and approximately 20 members of the CORE workshop—half our group—were arrested as undesirables that afternoon.  Many remained in jail rather than accept bail.  It was therefore incumbent upon the rest of us: 1) to free our co-members, and 2) to break the segregated system at Shell’s City Supermarket.

We had leaflets printed and we made signs.  We picketed and distributed handouts in the neighbor-hood.  One of those arrested was my White colleague from New Orleans.  His mother had to be phoned, and I was phoning my parents, for national television may have carried the story.  My parents wanted me to return home, but I assured them that all was fine.  After one day in the steaming hot Miami jail, the New Orleanian and another CORE member decided to be released on bail.  When some of us went to complete the arrangements, we spoke with a Miami policeman, a native of Brooklyn.  He found it incomprehensible that I, a White Southerner, could be involved with CORE, while I was surprised that a youthful Yankee would be so antagonistic to the organization.  I knew little of the North then.

There were informal relationships at the workshop.  One place where we could relax was the swimming pool, and in the late afternoon, between sessions and supper, we would frequently cool off in the pool.  One Black woman from Missouri, Alice Parham, was dreadfully afraid of deep water, and would stand only in the 3’ deep area of the pool.  Some of us tried to coax her into slightly deeper areas, holding her while she clenched to our arms.  But at 4’ she would always move back to the shallower area.  It was in that pool that I became aware that I was losing my consciousness of race; I had to think of the fact that someone was not White.  I would be talking to people not consciously aware of their color.  It was the first time that had ever happened to me.

One weekend we picnicked at an all-White beach.  At first, things went in an orderly manner, with the friendly Jewish group occupying the next table.  Some of us went to swim.  I had never been in the ocean before and was surprised that salt stuck to my skin as we left the water.  In fact, I found the beach not at all as pleasant as the one in New Orleans.  When we swimmers were ready to eat, we left the beach area and trekked through the trees to our table.  A large crowd had encircled our picnic tables.  We asked to get by, before knowing the reason for the spectators, and the circle opened to us without insult.  The CORE table and its neighboring one were the objects of the crowd’s attention, but they seemed to view us more as curiosities rather than enemies.  Even a tourist mobile went out of its way to bring passengers to see us.  As they were not hostile, we managed to ignore the hundreds of sight-seers and proceeded with our picnic as if nothing extraordinary were occurring.  The next weekend, we went to a Black beach, and people either ignored us or were friendly.  There we were enjoying ourselves when suddenly a police helicopter neared.  I feared that they were going to arrest us and would be coming from many different directions.  As the plane landed I ran toward it to discover if my apprehensions were justified.  The police had come to rescue a Black boy who had cut himself in the water, and they made no attempt to remove the Whites from the beach.

Toward the end of our three-week stay, many of our members were required to go to court because of the Shell’s city sit-in.  Our picket and boycott and protest meetings had been going six days a week, and on the seventh we attended Black churches to seek support.  I remember a scene in the Black churches, which would be repeated, of poor people donating funds for the movement—not just dollars, but quarters and nickels and pennies.  Everyone sought to aid us there.  Some of the CORE people remained in jail from the time of arrest until the time of trial, about ten days, so I did not get to know them well.  Interestingly, one Black in a mixed group had not been arrested at Shell’s.  Ruth Dispenza of New Orleans was Negro, but very light.  Since she had been seated with a blond-haired White, it was assumed that they were a White couple.  But all others in mixed groups at Shell’s City had been arrested.  At the trial, the judge nol prossed the cases, Shell’s City remained segregated, and the Miami CORE chapter promised to continue the fight to integrate it after our departure.

Our last weekend, rather than attend Black churches, it was decided that we should test the Christian attitude of some of the White churches.  We divided into small mixed groups and drove to different churches. Unfortunately, I erred as to the location of the Baptist Church to which my group was assigned, and instead of North East, we drove to North West Miami.  When the mistake was discovered, we had to speed across town, but we still arrived about ten minutes after the service was scheduled to begin.  There were two Blacks and myself.  To my surprise the doors were opened to us, and an usher escorted us to the front row.  Only then did I note that no one else sat in the first pew, though a few people were in the second. The choir was singing as we entered.  Next, the minister came to the pulpit.  He requested that those people who were obviously uninvited—”You know who you are”—please leave.  We talked among ourselves a few moments.  Not desiring to be arrested at the conclusion of the three-week workshop, we departed.   As a Unitarian I always felt hypocritical protesting in Christian Churches, but the hypocrisy of those churches was thus exposed, and it put pressure on the members of the congregation to alter the situation.

The return drive to New Orleans was another period in which to relax.  Despite having eaten regular, healthy meals In Miami for three weeks, I had lost weight.  I had been lucky in that I had not been arrested.  And what was it going to be like in New Orleans?  In the car I relaxed, forgetful of the recent past, oblivious to the impending future.


Hugh Murray page