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Thread: Separate but equal

  1. #21

    Default Faces from the front line of desegregation

  2. Clara Constantine Broussard
  3. Shirley Taylor Gresham
  4. Charles Vincent Singleton
  5. Martha Jane Conway Bossett

    Clara Constantine Broussard
    Her mother started it all.

    Fifty years ago, Helma Constantine didn't think it made much sense that her daughter, Clara, had to leave home for a college education just because she was black.

    Broussard was 21 years old when she started at Southwestern Louisiana Institute.

    "It wasn't something that was easy," Broussard said. "It's nice to be recognized for what we did."

    She stayed in school one year before she decided that she really wanted to go to beauty school.

    She looks to her mother as the driving force behind the lawsuit and changing the course of the lives of the students that followed her. It is a strength she wants her grandchildren not to forget.

    "I want them to know what their grandmother and great-grandmother did," Broussard said, turning to look at her mother. "She was so determined."

    Shirley Taylor Gresham
    Shirley Taylor was 19 when she first set foot on SLI's campus. She didn't think twice about the prejudice she would face.

    "I wasn't thinking," Gresham said. "I just wanted an education and to register. That was it."

    She attended the university for one year before she left to join the Army.

    "I always wanted to be in law enforcement," she laughed, "but there was a height and weight requirement and I didn't have either."

    While in the service, she was in the signal corps.

    "I left as a sergeant," she said. She went on into the banking business where she retired after 40 years.

    Friday was her first time back on UL's campus since she was a student. Today, she'll receive an honorary degree in humanities for her courage that first semester.

    "It hasn't hit me yet," she said. "I am just so honored and pleased. They always say good things come at last. It's good to know that our fight was not in vain."

    The rest of the story

  6. #22


    Shawn Wilson/UL Lafayette alumni President:

    "That was a very monumental occasion. But, in actuality, the fact that we had 72 students enroll that following September made it the largest desegregation in the deep south. After us, other universities slowly began to desegregate..."

    The KLFY story

  7. #23

    Research The Valiant Four earn degrees

    University of Louisiana honors desegregation students

    More than 50 years ago, Clara Constantine, Shirley Taylor Gresham, Martha Jane Conway and Charles Singleton set foot on the campus of Southwestern Louisiana Institute wanting to attend college there.

    They were told no based on the color of their skin, but didn't take that for an answer. They filed a lawsuit against the university and won the right to enroll.

    On Saturday, that same university, now known as the University of Louisiana, awarded the four students honorary degrees during graduation ceremonies for their fight to integrate the school.

    "It made us feel so proud," said Gresham, who now lives in California. "I never thought I would get speechless, but I am."

    Gresham and Clara Constantine Broussard stood dressed in their caps and gowns glowing with the same excitement as the twentysomethings buzzing about them.

    "It feels so great," Broussard said.

    For different reasons, each of the three women left college to pursue different careers or to start families. Singleton never attended classes because he could not afford the tuition.

    UL President Ray Authement told students of stories he heard from Norman Francis, now president of Xavier University, about what it was like growing up in Lafayette more than 50 years ago.

    The rest of the story

    Marsha Sills

  8. #24
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Lafayette, Louisiana

    Ragin' Cajuns

    Class act Baby! Class act!

  9. #25
    Join Date
    May 2003
    San Antonio TX


    Tastefully done too! I was at graduation to see my niece and this was a very well done presentation. Congratulations, and THANKS to those first black students.

  10. #26

    People In Search of an Education (1954)

    Helen Elizabeth Reaux, UL Student 1950's

    Mercer Island resident was one of the first African American students to integrate a Southern college in the 1950s

    In 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace stood with armed state troopers on the schoolhouse steps of the University of Alabama to bar black students from registering for classes. Captured on television, the event and the ugly conflicts about race that followed in the segregated South, shocked the nation.

    But years earlier, two dozen or so African American students registered for classes at the Southwestern Louisiana Institute, now the University of Louisiana ... at Lafayette, to little notice or fanfare. They were among the very first to attend and integrate a white college in the South.

    Simply in search of an education, Islander Helen Reaux Gordon, then a resident of nearby Abbeville, La., was one of those students.

    A group of four black students had sued the school in 1953 when administrators refused to enroll them. The students prevailed in their suit, opening the way for the first African American students to attend classes on the campus.

    In the fall of 1954, Gordon wasn't afraid to be first. She was determined.

    The local newspaper reported then that the assistant state attorney general at the time felt that the black students in Lafayette should be willing to commute to the black college, Southern University in Baton Rouge, 80 miles to the east.

    ``If I didn't go to Southwestern to college, I wouldn't go to college at all,'' she said of the school just a few miles away from her hometown. ``There was no money for me to go across the state to one of the black colleges.''

    It is difficult to imagine how anyone could be afraid of Gordon.

    Barely 5 feet tall, with a smattering of freckles, the once red-haired Gordon says she is probably Creole, a mix of French, American Indian, Irish, Scotch and maybe Jamaican heritage.

    ``You name it,'' she laughs with a wave of her hand. Gordon's family name, Reaux, is French.

    This fall, 50 years after those first students set foot on the campus amid the very mixed emotions of its administrators, the courage of those first students was recognized by a conference and memorial to the students at the university now called UL Lafayette.

    She said the black students did not realize the larger implications of their enrollment at the college at first.

    ``We were young,'' she reminds a visitor.

    ``We knew we were paving the way,'' she said, ``but I didn't know the great price we were paying.''

    Getting into the school turned out to be the easy part.

    The hardest part was the isolation, she remarked. ``We were invisible.''

    The rest of the story

    Mary L. Grady
    Mercer Island Reporter

  11. People Gobar among first to desegregate University of Louisiana

    Werely Gobar, of Port Arthur, was one of 70 black students who started integration at Southwestern Louisiana Institute in the fall of 1954.

    PORT ARTHUR - Before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington or the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 70 brave black students stepped on the Southwestern Louisiana Institute campus and ignited the spark of desegregation that would later spread throughout the South.

    Junior Werely Gobar, one of those courageous students, enrolled in S.L.I. in the fall of 1954, paving the way for millions of aspiring black scholars to enroll in equal education universities.

    Born in Beaux Bridge, La., Gobar grew up in the segregated deep South where he was limited to riding in the back of public buses, drinking from "black only" labeled water fountains and attending segregated schools.

    "I attended Southern University in Baton Rouge from Sept. 1953 to May 1954," Gobar said. "It was an all black school. In 1954 two men spoke to my mother and when I got home she said two men were looking for me. Two lawyers, Tourneau and Thurgood Marshall were handling a desegregation suit against S.W.L. Institute and asked me if I would be available to go to school there that year if it was to become desegregated."

    The lawyers were trying a desegregation case against the institute following the denial of admission of four black students in 1953. During litigation, Marshall and Tourneau recruited young adults from the surrounding Lafayette black communities to attend the all white institute. It would be the first of many attempts to break down race barriers in higher learning institutions.

    "They won the case and it was feasible for me to register in the fall of 1954," Gobar said. "I was excited about the opportunity to stay at my momma's house. Mmmm, I couldn't pass up my momma's good cooking."

    Despite the comfort of remaining at home, Gobar was now forced to face the racism and cruelty of his white peers that he had not dealt with while attending Southern University.

    "The atmosphere was not too nice," Gobar said. "You know, there was name calling and teasing, no violence though. Some of the men were belligerent, but I am grateful to the young ladies that went to school there. They were the peacemakers. The ladies held the guys back, they soothed tense situations."

    The ugliness of racism extended beyond name calling for Gobar, however, as he and the other students were ostracized by white students and organizations.

    "It hurt bad that we could not play sports or participate in school activities," Gobar said. "Other schools would not have participated if a black man was allowed to play on a sport's team. I was strictly there for the school, for the education."

    Gobar said despite the alienation by white students, that he valued his time at the institute and would never regret the close friendships that he developed with his black peers.

    "We formed our own groups," Gobar said. "There were some very good days at that school. I made friendships there with a lot of the guys and girls."

    Looking back on his experience at S.L.I., Gobar said he feels the school did both he and the other students a service and a disservice by keeping the publicity about the integration quiet.

    "I am 71 years old now and I just want to say that I am very highly grateful for my time at S.L.I.," Gobar said. "I will cherish my time there for the rest of my days. I want to thank the courageous teachers that took a chance on us. I want to thank the people of Lafayette for their cooperation and for not allowing violence or brutality. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart."

    Gobar said he feels that it is now time for the intrepid black students who took a giant leap of faith for freedom to gain the recognition that they deserve for integrating an all white school, two years before Brown vs. The Board of Education was finally enforced.

    The rest of the story

    By Ashley Sanders

  12. Default Intergration Decree chronology

    Early 1950s -- Federal judges begin ordering black students be admitted to graduate and professional schools founded for "white children of Louisiana."

    1956 -- Louisiana Legislature passes a law to remove teachers or state employees who advocate integration at colleges and universities.

    1964 -- All-white LSU ordered to admit black undergraduates; all-black Southern University New Orleans ordered to admit white undergraduates.

    1973 -- Federal government tells Louisiana to submit college desegregation plans or risk losing federal dollars.

    1974 -- U.S. Justice Department sues Louisiana's college management boards to dismantle dual university system for black people and white people.

    1975-1980 -- Lawsuit lies essentially dormant.

    The rest of the story

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