Attacking Jim Crow: Black Activism in New Orleans, 1925-1941
Department of History
After the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, blacks in the South lost most of the rights achieved during Reconstruction and for over half a century lived in a system defined by disfranchisement and segregation. Plessy promised a “separate but equal” society but by 1920 it was evident that separate was fulfilled but equal fell short in facilities. At about the same time, a three-tiered racial hierarchy, rooted in New Orleans long and distinctive racial history, returned. New Orleans‟ black community was split into two groups, American blacks and Creoles. The two groups rarely interacted. As the black community developed its own economy, independent of white control, however, interactions between elite members of each group began to take place.
By 1925, elite members of each group came together to provide the black community in New Orleans with its first racial progressionist leaders. Racial progressionists used a gradual and moderate approach centered on attacking Jim Crow from within. They practiced a restrained, modest and reasonable leadership style in which they carefully and slowly petitioned whites for concessions within the system while not posing a threat to the white power structure. They chose to work primarily through two organizations, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Federation of Civic Leagues. Through these organizations racial progressionists strove to make separate better in New Orleans‟ black community by petitioning for better schools and more recreational facilities. This study thereby v examines, what might be considered, the first phase of the civil rights movement, in one southern city, New Orleans.
By the mid-thirties, the black community, led by the Louisiana Weekly, began to question the gradual and moderate approach of racial progressionists. The Weekly argued that the community needed new leaders who offered an active, aggressive and inclusive approach to obtaining civil rights. In 1941, a group of young men who called themselves “The Group” took over the leadership role in the New Orleans‟ NAACP. They provided the community with the aggressive leadership it needed to continue the attack on the Jim Crow system that racial progressionists had begun in 1925.
Sinegal-DeCuir, Sharlene, "Attacking Jim Crow: Black Activism in New Orleans, 1925-1941" (2009). Faculty and Staff Publications. 35.