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Thread: Separate but equal

  1. #1

    Research Separate but equal

    This page tracks the history of integration at the University of Louisiana, but first takes you through some US History.

    1892 Plessy v. Ferguson

    Abraham Lincoln's success in the Civil War and the end of slavery sparked a new era for the Black race in America. The "Black Codes" passed following the Civil War, gave Blacks equal rights in the United States. But even though they were guaranteed their freedom from slavery, the law segregated them from Whites. This segregation of Blacks and Whites sparked many questions of the rights guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment. These question would later become a significant factor in a lawsuit 28 years after the amendment was adopted in the case of Plessy V. Ferguson.

    In 1890, Louisiana passed a statue providing "that all railway companies carrying passengers in their coaches in this state shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races, by providing two or more passenger coaches for each passenger train, or by dividing the passenger coaches by a partition so as to secure separate accommodations. . . " The penalty for sitting in the wrong compartment was either a fine of $25 or 20 days in jail. Homer Plessy, a 30-year old shoemaker, was jailed for sitting in the "White's" car of the East Louisiana Railroad. Plessy was a mix of seven-eighths white and one-eighths black. The Louisiana law still considered him black and, therefore, required him to sit in the "colored" car.

    Plessy went to court and argued that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The judge, a Massachusetts lawyer, was John Howard Ferguson. He had previously declared the Separate Car Act "unconstitutional on trains that traveled through several states." However, in regards to the Plessy trial, he stated that Louisiana could regulate railroad companies that only operated within its state. Ferguson found Plessy guilty of refusing to leave the white car.

    Plessy decided to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, but that court upheld Ferguson's opinion. Plessy then decided to take his case to the United States Supreme Court. In 1896, The Supreme Court of the United States found Homer Plessy guilty once again. Justice Henry Brown, the speaker for the eight-person majority, wrote: "That [the Separate Car Act] does not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished too clear for argument...A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races -- a distinction which is founded in the color of the two races and which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color -- has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races...The object of the [Fourteenth Amendment] was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either."

    The one lone dissenter, who argued in favor of Plessy's case, and seemed to be the only one with a real understanding of equality, was Justice John Harlan. He wrote his own speech regarding the case and its decision.

    "Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law...In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott case...The present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible, by means of state enactments, to adopted the recent amendments of the Constitution."

    Justice Harlan's words proved to be prophetic. It was not until the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that "separate but equal" would no longer be the law of the land.

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  2. #2


    1954 Brown v. Board of Education

    Following the decision of the Supreme Court regarding the Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896, many black Americans decided to push for the equality they so rightfully deserved. One of the most significant cases regarding segregation was the case of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1952, the Supreme Court was approached by four states and the District of Columbia, challenging the constitutionality of the segregation of races in the public schools. They wanted desegregation in the public school system, because the current segregation was not equal and it violated their freedoms as citizens of the United States of America.

    Linda Brown was a black girl attending fifth grade at the public schools in Topeka, Kansas. She was denied admission into a white elementary school. The NAACP took up her case, along with similar ones in Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. All five cases were argued together in December, 1952 by Thurgood Marshall, a black lawyer who headed the NAACP. The entire nation was on its tiptoes waiting for the courts decision.

    However, the decision did not come that quickly. For two more years the case was argued and reargued. They were trying to find out the true and correct interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the impact of that Amendment on racial segregation in the public schools. They also considered that if they did decide in favor of desegregation, and that segregation did in fact violate the laws in the Fourteenth Amendment, what method should be introduced to bring about an end to segregation? The court's decision was finally handed down on May 17, 1954.

    It is doubtful if the Supreme Court has ever in all its history made a decision of greater social and ideological significance than this one. This event was the turning point in the desegregation of public schools, and the beginning to an equality among all races.

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  3. #3


    Aid for Black Farmers
    USDA and Cooperative Extension Service
    Education on machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, and farming methods.

    Seaman Knapp--Special Agent for Promotion of Agriculture in the South, 1902.
    Demonstration farm in Texas.

    Aid for Black Farmers
    Jesup agricultural wagon
    Backed by N.Y. banker Morris Jesup.
    Wagon toured countryside with information for black farmers.
    Primarily benefitted middle-class blacks.

    Black agricultural agents
    Thomas Campbell, Macon Co., Alabama.
    John B. Pierce, Norfolk Co. Virginia.
    Eugene A. Williams, Georgia.

  4. #4
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    Default UL the First to Integrate in the South

  5. People University of Louisiana's First African-American Graduate Dies

    LOUISIANA La. — The fourth of 10 children, Christiana Gordon Smith was born in Carencro on June 25, 1916, to Hayes and Andrea LeBlanc Gordon. Forty years later, she became the first African-American to graduate from what is now the University of Louisiana.

    Smith died Friday (07-11-03) at Methodist Hospital in Houston, where she had lived in recent years to be close to her son.

    Smith enrolled at what was then called Southwestern Louisiana Institute after a group of four black students seeking enrollment won a lawsuit in 1954. By that fall, 80 black students were enrolled at SLI.

    She once said she would go to register for classes with a group of 15 other black students just in case there was trouble.

    Her sister, Rita Stemley of Lafayette, said that at Smith's graduation from SLI, a white student refused to walk down the aisle beside her. And she recalled Smith's early tenacity to get her education.

    "She was a very determined woman," Stemley said. "Because we grew up in the country, my older brothers and sisters rode on horseback for about seven miles to get to Arnaudville where Rev. Butler had a little private school.

    The rest of the story

    Beverly Corbell

  6. #6
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    The artistic rendition of Christiana Smith (shown above) can be found on prominent display at the University of Louisiana's Edith Dupre Library. It is based on this picture.

  7. #7

    Louisiana Campus University of Louisiana marks 50 years of integration {i-camera}

    LOUISIANA La. — Fifty years ago this month, four blacks filed a federal lawsuit to gain admission into the local university.

    For many blacks in Acadiana, what was then Southwestern Louisiana Institute was their only hope of obtaining a college education, said Joe Dennis, a Lafayette native and black community activist.

    "When I was coming up, I was not able to go to USL," Dennis said. "If I couldn't afford to go to Baton Rouge to Southern University, I couldn't get a college education."

    Clara Dell Constantine, Martha Jane Conway, Charles Vincent Singleton and Shirley Taylor filed a lawsuit on Jan. 8, 1954 to end a policy of racial segregation at SLI. They said the policy was unconstitutional and it would be a hardship for Lafayette residents to have to travel to the nearest black university, Southern, near Baton Rouge.

    It was that lawsuit, against an institution now called UL Lafayette, that resulted in a fully integrated campus, one that will celebrate the federal Martin Luther King holiday a week from today.

    After the group filed its lawsuit, SLI was ordered later that year to admit blacks, and John Henry Taylor of Arnaudville registered July 22, 1954, without incident. By the 1954-55 school session, 75 black students enrolled at SLI, again with no reported problems.

    The rest of the story

    Claire Taylor

    photo taken at Edith Garland Duprι Library
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  8. #8


    This was definitely a good thing, and something that UL can hang it's hat on. Looking around the campus it is one of the most diverse of all the major state universities in the south. While it wasn't a seemless transition, for its time the integration went smoothly and this is also impressive.

  9. #9
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    Some years back, I researched this issue. We apparently were the first school in the country to desegregate after the ruling.

  10. #10

    Default How far has University of Louisiana come?

    In the past half century, changes on the campus of University of Louisiana haven't only been in what to call it.

    Fifty years ago, the campus was known as Southwestern Louisiana Institute and it was for whites only. In the fall of 1954 — against a backdrop of an emerging civil-rights movement — 80 black students registered on this campus.

    Fifty years later, the university continues to push toward diversity.

    Today, about 26 percent of students are minorities compared with 23 percent at the state's largest university, LSU. But the school doesn't lead state-supported schools in diversity. About 44 percent of the students who attend the University of New Orleans are nonwhite, while that number is 30 percent at Louisiana Tech.

    Each year, the university strives to boost those numbers through minority scholarships, said UL Lafayette President Ray Authement.

    The university has averaged between 17 percent and 20 percent over the years when it comes to recruiting black students, Authement said.

    From a perch on Rex Street, which cuts through the center of campus, the faces that represent that diversity tread from class to class.

    "Everyone mingles with everyone," said Nichole Chambers, 21 and a business administration major. "It just comes natural to smile and say 'hello,' and people say 'hello' back. They say the South is like that."

    But self-segregation still is apparent on campus, said Michael Martin, an alumnus and UL Lafayette history professor who organized this week's symposium marking the university's integration.

    "It's not what I'd call integrated in that there are pockets of white students and black students," Martin said. "There's a difference in terms of socializing in terms of gathering together and in terms of simply, I'd say friendships or something along those lines. We have come a long way in the last 50 years."

    Thirty years ago, less than 1 percent of the university's faculty were black. No other minorities were employed on faculty. Last year, about 16 percent of the faculty was nonwhite, up 3 percent from eight years ago.

    The rest of the story

    Marsha Sills

  11. #11
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    Default SLI student ( Leroy Anderson ) recalls chances lost

    Leroy Anderson of Lafayette stands in front of Cajun Field on the University of Louisiana campus. Anderson, who is a fan of UL athletics, was denied playing on the school's baseball team because of his race when he was a student at the school. Leroy Anderson is one of UL's biggest sports fans, but he never wore a uniform when he was a student on the then-SLI campus in the 1950s.

    Anderson was a member of the first class to integrate the college. He had a year at Southern University before enrolling that fall in 1954 to be near family. That first semester, Anderson recalled a sense of nervousness, but none of his fears were realized. There was the n-word and some teachers showed their prejudice.

    But overall Anderson said he felt "everyone was concerned from the president on."

    "We were a little nervous and apprehensive but I didn't feel any ill feelings," Anderson said. "It seemed like everybody was going about their business. I was always a pretty friendly person. I spoke to everybody, told everybody hello. Naturally, when someone smiles at you, you tend to smile back."

    During the years, Anderson became one of the university's biggest sports fans, following them from field to field, especially to the diamond. But there was a time when Anderson wasn't allowed to walk onto the baseball field or play for a team he grew to love.

    "(Coach) said, 'My friends, it will be awhile before we can integrate the teams. I know well of your exploits, and you would be a great asset, too. We can't use you right now. I'm very sorry about it.' And it went a long time before the teams were integrated," Anderson said.

    The rest of the story

    Claudia B. Laws

  12. #12

    Louisiana In Search of History

    Much of Michael Wade's past few years have been digging through the history of desegregation of Louisiana's colleges.

    And it hasn't been easy, said Wade, a history professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

    Wade, who earned his master's and doctoral degrees at what was then the University of Southwestern Louisiana, is working on a book about desegregation of the state's colleges. His focus is on the desegregation of UL Lafayette. Today, Wade is one of the featured speakers at the symposium commemorating the university's integration.

    Tracking down students who were a part of that first Southwestern Louisiana Institute class has been particularly difficult, Wade said.

    "About three-fourths of the initial cohort of 80 students were female, so they've been difficult to track because so many of them married," Wade said.

    University administration shooing away publicity didn't help either.

    "At the time, they were having to deal with an enormous white backlash that intensified after the Brown (Brown v. Board of Education) decision," Wade said. "For reasons that had to do with segregationist politics as much as anything else, the university did whatever it could to discourage publicity and to minimize the giving out of information. As a result, very little was put down."

    Scholars from across the country will commemorate the anniversary of desegregation during a symposium organized by Michael Martin, an alumnus and now a UL Lafayette history professor.

    The rest of the story

    Marsha Sills

  13. #13

    Default Recalling a great change

    Students and faculty from then and now reflect on fifty years of integration at University of Louisiana.

    Patricia Rickels Joined faculty in 1957, director of University of Louisiana honors program

    When Patricia Rickels looks out the window from her perch in Judice-Rickels Hall, she can't help but smile.

    "When I look out my office window on St. Mary Street and see the beautiful multicolored kids crossing the street, I say, 'Yes, yes, yes, this is what I love.' "

    But the campus has not found utopia, Rickels said. Rickels joined the faculty in 1957, a year after the university saw its first black graduate, Christiana Smith. She and her late husband and fellow professor, Milton, fought for equality on campus during those early years.

    "It's not perfect yet," she said. "Because we can always make things better. I'm a member of the board of directors on the (state) Council for Human Relations. We find across the state that white friends think racism is no longer a problem, and our black friends know that it is still a problem. People who worked for social justice in the '60s think the job is done. It was not done."

    In the early '60s, the first black student was employed on campus. He was assigned to Rickels. The dean of her college told Rickels, " 'You will know how to treat him.' I said, 'How about I treat him like any other student worker?' "

    That student, James Shay, was discouraged from applying for the job, Rickels said.

    She speaks of Shay with the pride of a mother. He is now earning a doctoral degree in public health.

    "He's like a son to me. Bless his dear heart," she said. "His kids are the grandchildren I never had. We only had one child and he got killed in an accident," Rickels said.

    The rest of the story

    Marsha Sills

  14. #14

    Default ( I need your help ) From Memory to History:

    Recovering the Stories of SLI's Desegregation

    by Michael Wade

    My interest in SLI's desegregation began in 1984 when USL history professor Amos Simpson invited me to lunch with Leon Beasley in Charleston, S.C.

    Beasley, a recently-retired USL professor, had begun delving into the oft-heard but little-substantiated story that SLI was the first southern college to desegregate.

    Professor Beasley's small folder of materials hinted at a story of enormous significance, and I found myself wishing that I had followed up on that story when I was a graduate student. Like so many others, I had heard it too. Unfortunately, Leon passed away before he could do more on SLI's desegregation.

    So it was that I began searching the documentary record. The 1954 federal court decision in Constantine v. SLI, newspapers, and records in the UL Lafayette archives provided evidence that it was the first Deep South public college to admit black undergraduates, (Virginia Tech enrolled one black undergrad in 1953).

    As is so often the case with historical documents, they raised more questions than they answered.

    With segregationists firmly in control of state government, why was the decision not appealed? Why did the voluminous literature on civil rights contain almost no mention of this historic event?

    Most importantly, where were the voices— the memories and feelings— of the participants in this process (which of course did not end with registration on that September day in 1954)? Who were those people who, with their parents, had the courage to challenge inequality?

    What kind of fortitude had the next, and harder, step required — to be the pioneers in desegregating a Deep South state college? Was it, as many whites seemed to recall, really marked by generosity of spirit? How did those first students, two-thirds of them women, experience life on an overwhelmingly white campus?

    Given that so many early black students were female, and that most of them had married and perhaps moved away, how did one locate them after four or five decades?

    Given those trying times, would they be willing to re-examine their experiences for the record? Who, after all, would relish remembering such oppression, even if those memories were historically important?

    These are vital questions, because documentary records naturally reflect the viewpoint, often impersonally, of administrators. They are necessarily incomplete, especially in a human story of such significance as this one.

    To this point, I have documented a fairly complete and quite reliable history, in administrative terms. It has been enriched immeasurably by interviews of people both black and white whose names are too numerous to mention here. However, few of them were students.

    A history which does justice to this great event of the civil rights movement must not just include, but feature, the voices of the people who made it possible.

    This column then, is an unabashed and forthright appeal to former students, faculty and staff, and community persons to contribute to this history by sharing their memories with me, either in the form of an oral interview, or by letter, and/or by completing a survey form which you can get by contacting me at by phone at (828) 262-6003, or by mail (Michael Wade, Dept. of History, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608.

    Responses will be treated professionally and with respect. Submissions used in a yet-to-be book on SLI's desegregation will be properly credited. Please don't discount what you know or remember; you were a participant in a great event and your memories are important.

    Michael Wade is a history professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. He earned a master's degree in 1971, and a doctoral in 1978 from the University of Louisiana

    The source of the story

  15. #15

    People Courage uncovered

    Helen Elizabeth Reaux, UL Student 1950's

    Helen Reaux Gordon, UL Walk of Honor (2004)

    In 1954, no one seemed to notice that history was being made on the University of Louisiana campus.

    Helen Reaux Gordon's last visit to University of Louisiana's campus was 20 years ago.

    It was a quick visit to the bookstore.

    Her memories of this place were not the kind that she wished to recall.

    But last week she returned one more time. This time to tell her story of how, 50 years earlier, she was one of the first black students to enroll at then-Southwestern Louisiana Institute.

    She remembered walking together with a group of students toward the stadium for orientation. White students hung out dormitory windows and shouted, "Look at that bunch of blackbirds walking in a pile."

    Adults escorting her and a group of friends whispered, "Ignore it." Fifty years later, the barb tossed out that dorm window isn't forgotten.

    "We've never been validated," said Gordon, fidgeting with a black glove she held over the skirt of her white linen suit. "It's like we were never here. I'm glad that someone is finally acknowledging our presence."

    The first black students who attended SLI in 1954 aren't in classroom textbooks. No television network reported their struggles to attend a college near family instead of commuting across the state to attend a blacks-only school. Their front-page news was dwarfed in The Daily Advertiser by news from around the globe.

    Some of that was done on purpose. Administrators knew that they faced a potentially volatile situation and didn't want ugly scenes like the ones that followed years later. The history books tell those stories of the riots that ensued after James Meredith on the campus of Ole Miss in 1962 and a year later when Alabama's Gov. George Wallace blocked a University of Alabama schoolhouse doorway in protest of the first two black students who enrolled there. Those stories are known.

    But in 1954, no one seemed to care what was happening here, and little has been done since to record it for the history books — until now.

    "Fifty Years Later: Commemorating the Desegregation of Southwestern Louisiana Institute" is a two-day symposium that starts at University of Louisiana on Friday.

    It's been difficult finding people," said UL history professor Michael Martin, who organized the event. "It was purposely kept quiet."

    A lawsuit filed

    It started on Sept. 15, 1953. Clara Dell Constantine, Martha Jane Conway, Charles Vincent Singleton and Shirley Taylor attempted to register at Southwestern Louisiana Institute. But they were turned way. Attempts by The Daily Advertiser to contact these students were not successful.

    The students sued the following January. By April, the federal court had ruled that the state was in violation of the 14th Amendment.

    There are few newspaper accounts and even fewer historical references to the event. Were it not for court records, there would be virtually no written account of what transpired.

    The rest of the story

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  16. #16

    People Tribute is finally paid

    Tribute is finally paid to students who broke racial barriers at University of Louisiana

    Today, Fifty years after the fact, the courageous African American students who opened the doors of UL Lafayette to members of their race are finally being recognized at a symposium on the integration of the school. Those students who broke the racial barrier at what was then SLI set forces in motion that have positively affected the quality of life of our African American population, and made all of us more tolerant and more appreciative of the advantages of diversity — in education and all other walks of life.

    Yet the story of their courage and perseverance has remained untold for 50 years. At the urging of the university officials of that era, the media basically suppressed the story. Both school officials and media management acted, we believe, out of a fear of violence and bloodshed. It was a time of raging racial tension. There were elements of the community that gave decision makers cause for their fear that publicity could unleash turmoil.

    Whatever the motivation, those students who pioneered college integration in Louisiana received no recognition — no well-deserved praise for pushing aside racial barriers. We and the other area media kept our distance. We did not ask and so did not know of the tension, the slights, the racial slurs that they endured. They came, performed a service to their race and the community, and left with few people knowing their names or faces.

    The rest of the story

  17. #17

    Default More blacks registered at SLI 50 years ago

    LOUISIANA La. — The volume of black students registering at Southwestern Louisiana Institute 50 years ago is what set it apart from its Southern peers, according to university researchers.

    The size of that first class of students was unlike other Southern state-supported schools that saw one or two black students integrating at a time, seminar panelists said.

    "You see here (at UL) a different kind of presidential leadership," said panelist Clarence Mohr, a history professor at the University of South Alabama. "We saw on (an) administrative level the willingness to act on good faith."

    The symposium is an effort to give those first black students like Helen Reaux Gordon, "what they wanted," said Gordon Harvey of UL Monroe, "a little validation." Harvey moderated the morning seminar on how integration affected higher education.

    And Gordon got a little of what she waited 50 years for Friday afternoon.

    "We have been validated," Gordon said after a seminar that focused on University of Louisiana's integration. Gordon had felt that the university had done little to remember those first students who had integrated the campus.

    "Without our presence, nothing that followed would have come about."

    After the seminar, Gordon rose from her chair and shared her story with about 100 people in the audience of those early years as a black student on campus.

    "As I look around, it is so different. I see a young woman sitting next to an African American man," Gordon said.

    "I'm so happy to see so many different faces of color. It was worth it," she said.

    The rest of the story

    Marsha Sills

  18. Research University to give honorary degrees to first black students

    HAMMOND — Nearly 50 years ago, Clara Constantine Broussard's mother didn't think it made much sense that her daughter had to attend Southern University when her taxes were paid in Lafayette.

    "She couldn't really afford it and thought that it didn't make sense with her money coming here," Broussard said.

    So, Broussard and three other students — Martha Jane Conway, Charles Singleton and Shirley Taylor — sued the University of Louisiana when they were refused admission because of their skin color and won. The four and about 70 more students were the first to integrate then-SLI.

    Fifty years after integrating UL, Broussard and the others will be recognized by the university for their stand. The university will award honorary humanities degrees to the students during its fall commencement. The university received approval during the University of Louisiana System's meeting on Friday.

    That first class to integrate "played such a significant role in the university and the country," said University President Ray Authement on Friday. "We were the first in the (Deep) South to integrate."

    The students faced prejudice in and out of the classroom for their presence on the previous all-white campus. The administration tried to keep the media at bay during the integration. Because little documentation had been made of the history, the university held a symposium last month to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the desegregation. Scholars from across the country attended, but it was the stories from the students who lived the history that impacted the audience the most, according to those who attended and even the students who lived it.

    The rest of the story

    Marsha Sills

  19. #19

    Research Louisiana to honor first black students (Saturday)

    LOUISIANA La. - Cue "Pomp and Circumstance No. 1."

    Saturday, the University of Louisiana will confer degrees at its graduation ceremonies throughout the day at the Cajundome and Cajundome Convention Center.

    Each semester, the university awards an honorary degree to a notable person in the community. This semester, the university will confer four honorary degrees to the students who paved the way for integration on campus in the 1950s. The four students - then Clara Broussard, Martha Jane Conway, Shirley Taylor and Charles Singleton - filed a lawsuit against Southwestern Louisiana Institute when they were denied admission because of the color of their skin. In 1954, the students and nearly 70 others were admitted in the fall, becoming the first class to integrate the college.

    The rest of the story

    Marsha Sills

  20. #20
    Boomer's Avatar
    Boomer is online now Ragin Cajuns of Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns Greatest Fan Ever
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    We were Black before Black was cool ---remember walking to the president's home --before the one on Campus and letting our People

    men's bball team geaux!!!

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