We are celebrating the lives and accomplishments of those who have made contributions that have changed our lives. These Black History figures have had a far-reaching influence in Louisiana and beyond in every walk of life.
Ernest “Dutch” Morial
Ernest “Dutch” Morial was an attorney and politician who was active in the Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans beginning in the 1960s. His political career was marked by a number of firsts for an African American, including being the first since Reconstruction elected to the Louisiana State Legislature and the first to serve on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. He was also the first African American mayor of the city of New Orleans.
In 1967, Morial was elected to the Louisiana State Legislature as Representative for District 80 (Wards 1 and 2), becoming the first African American elected to that body since Reconstruction.
In 1977, Morial announced his candidacy for Mayor of the city of New Orleans, suing the State Judicial Commission for the right to campaign while remaining a judge. Ultimately, Morial won the general election over Joseph DiRosa by over 6,000 votes, becoming the first African American mayor of New Orleans.
Ernest Nathan Morial died suddenly and unexpectedly on December 24, 1989, of a cardiac arrest.
New Orleans attorney Alexander Pierre Tureaud was a major influence in constructing the legal strategies used to challenge the constitutionality of segregation in civil rights cases of the twentieth century. He served as an advisor and mentor to many leading jurists, public officials and activists, and was co-organizer of the New Orleans Federation of Civic Leaders, principal attorney for the Louisiana NAACP, legal counselor to the Louisiana Education Association, and Roman Catholic Knights of Peter Claver.
The magnitude of Tureaud’s contribution to the civil rights movement in Louisiana and throughout the United States cannot be understated. Tureaud retired from law in 1971, and died in New Orleans in 1972 at the age of 73.
Arturo A. Schomburg
One of the most influential forces behind the creation of The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is the man the building is named after, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1874 to a Black mother and a father of German descent, young Arturo often wondered about the lack of African history taught in his classrooms. This interest formed the cornerstone of Schomburg’s eventual lifework consisting of research and preservation—work that would lead him to become one of the world’s premier collectors of Black literature, slave narratives, artwork, and diasporic materials.
Laurence Clifton Jones
Laurence Clifton Jones was the founder and long-time president of The Piney Woods Country Life School, in Piney Woods, Mississippi. In 1909, Dr. Jones learned about the high illiteracy rate of 80%, in rural Rankin County, Mississippi. Identifying that need as his personal mission, he started The Piney Woods Country Life School.
Known as “The Little Professor of Piney Woods”, Dr. Jones had a “head, heart, and hands” philosophy. His philosophy addressed educating the mind, bringing alive a spiritual passion and required the students to develop three skills by which they could support themselves. @thepineywoodsschool
Madam C. J. Walker
Sarah Breedlove–who later would come to be known as Madam C. J. Walker–was born on December 23, 1867 on the same Delta, Louisiana plantation where her parents, Owen and Minerva Anderson Breedlove, had been enslaved before the end of the Civil War. This child of sharecroppers transformed herself from an uneducated farm laborer and laundress into one of the twentieth century’s most successful, self-made women entrepreneurs.
After changing her name to “Madam” C. J. Walker, she founded her own business and began selling Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula, which she claimed had been revealed to her in a dream.
By the time she died at her estate, Villa Lewaro, in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, she had helped create the role of the 20th Century, self-made American businesswoman; established herself as a pioneer of the modern Black hair-care and cosmetics industry; and set standards in the African-American community for corporate and community giving.
Source: “Madam Walker Essay” from www.madamcjwalker.com by A’Lelia Bundles
The McDonogh Three
On November 14, 1960, Leona Tate, Gail Etienne and Tessie Prevost made history when they ascended the stairs of New Orleans’ McDonogh 19 to desegregate the then all-white school. On that same morning, Ruby Bridges integrated William Frantz Elementary. The four 6 year-old girls became the first African Americans to integrate formerly all-white schools in the Deep South.
Doug Williams guided the Washington football team to a berth in Super Bowl XXII thereby becoming the first Black quarterback to start a Super Bowl. His performance that day was memorable as he engineered a thrilling 42-10 win over the Denver Broncos and was named the game’s MVP.
Williams, an All-America quarterback at Grambling State University, was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round of the 1978 NFL Draft. His finest seasons in Tampa came in 1980 and 1982. He was named the Buccaneers’ Most Valuable Player both years after passing for more than 3,000 yards in each of those seasons.
In 1986, Williams joined Washington. He shared quarterback duties with Jay Schroeder in 1987 until he staged a late-game comeback win over the Minnesota Vikings in the season finale that solidified his role as the starter for the playoffs. The rest is history.
Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club
Can the history of Mardi Gras be told without the story of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club? Of course not!
Years of extensive research by Zulu’s Historian staff begins the story here:
Early in 1909, a group of laborers who had organized a club named “The Tramps,” went to the Pythian Theater to see a musical comedy performed by the Smart Set. The comedy included a skit entitled, “There Never Was and Never Will Be a King Like Me,” about the Zulu Tribe.
Governor P.B.S. Pinchback
P. B. S. Pinchback was serving as president pro tem of the Louisiana senate when, in 1871, the state’s first black lieutenant governor, Oliver Dunn, died. This left Pinchback to take his place. So far, timing seemed to be Pinchback’s strong suit, and it was again a year later when his nemesis, Louisiana’s white governor, Henry C. Warmouth, was impeached after a bitter election (more on that in a bit). In the fallout, Pinchback stepped in as acting governor from Dec. 9, 1872, to Jan. 13, 1873.
It was just a blink of an eye, but as W.E.B. Du Bois noted in his towering 1935 study, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, Pinchback was the only black governor of any state during Reconstruction and remained the only one until Douglas Wilder’s election in Virginia in 1989.
Source: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. from “100 Amazing Facts About the Negro”. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/the-black-governor-who-was-almost-a-senator/
Reginald McWilliams Ball Sr.
Reginald McWilliams Ball Sr. was founder of Ball’s Industrial Institute, the first black trade school for WWII veterans in 1947, in Lake Charles, La. A prolific entrepreneur, he established Ball’s Auditorium, a premiere entertainment venue on what was then called “the Chitlin Circuit” during segregation. Ball’s Auditorium hosted such performers as Otis Redding, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke.
Numa James Martinez
Numa James Martinez operated New Orleans’ first private kindergarten for Black children. In addition to the basic instruction offered by most kindergartens, Martinez taught his students Japanese, French and Spanish.
Martinez’s daughter Bianca Boyance told the Times-Picayune, following his death in 2019, “he was an adoptive father and grandfather to them, regardless of what their needs or economic backgrounds were. He went out of his way to make them feel included and special.”
Martinez Kindergarten School’s notable alumni included former New Orleans mayor Sidney Barthelemy, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, and former U.S. attorney Kenneth Polite Jr.
In 1960, when Ruby Bridges was only six years old, she became one of the first Black children to integrate New Orleans’ all white public school system. Greeted by an angry mob and escorted by federal marshals, Ruby bravely crossed the threshold of this school and into history single-handedly initiating the desegregation of New Orleans’ public schools.