With finishing my work for this semester, Tulane’s graduation, the dizzying buzz that came with meeting the Dalai Lama (more on that later), as well as the staggering workload that came after it, I forgot to mark an important day.
On May 20th, fifty years ago, the United States Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision in Lombard v. Louisiana, holding that a state or city could not interfere in any peaceful sit-in demonstration in a public place of business. The ripple effect was far-reaching, overturning seven different cases in Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, and Maryland, and proving to be monumental in the civil rights movement.
Lombard v. Louisiana stemmed from a September 17, 1960 incident in New Orleans in which African Americans Oretha Castle Haley, Rudolph Lombard, Cecil W. Carter, Jr., and white Tulane graduate student Sydney L. Goldfinch, Jr. walked into McCrory’s Five and Ten Cent Store at 1005 Canal Street, sat at the counter, and asked to be served. They were refused – the manager turned off all the lights, closed the store and called the police. The four were arrested, charged with “criminal mischief,” and sentenced to serve 60 days in the Parish Prison and pay $350. Goldfinch, who was mistakenly identified in the newspapers as a Jew, was charged with “Criminal Anarchy,” a crime that carried a potential ten-year prison term, and was charged an additional bond of $2500. New Orleans Mayor DeLesseps “Chep” Morrison and police superintendent Joseph Giarrusso issued statements condemning their actions and stating that individuals who participated in sit-ins did not represent the community’s interest.
Lombard v. Louisiana was instrumental in helping end segregation in New Orleans and in the South, and added momentum to the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act. To put it in another perspective – we would not have the New Orleans Saints without the passage of this act. One of the conditions of the NFL was that they would not award franchises to cities that required public places to be segregated by race, which Louisiana still did. Once the civil rights act passed, New Orleans was free to pursue a professional football team.
So next time you scream “Who Dat!” say a thank you for the nameless and faceless brave individuals whose sacrifices not only endeavored to give rise to a more egalitarian and tolerant society, but also brought us Drew Brees, Jonathan Vilma, and the rest of Dem Boys. Who Dat Indeed!