The University of New Orleans welcomed back some of the first African-American students to attend the school when it opened in 1958. Despite the 55 years that have passed since that time, many recalled vivid details of a painful transition.
About 300 people attended a forum on Tuesday to listen as speakers described the hostile reception they received from students and faculty as they arrived at the former Louisiana State University — New Orleans in September 1958.
Dorothy Caulfield Poydras recalled she was interviewed by TV reporters as she stepped on campus. She was asked where she worked and replied, the Broadway Bar. That bar was attacked nightly for months. She says attending the reunion filled her with emotion.
“You know, when I walked on the campus, it just made me want to cry remembering those years and how we were treated those years ago. It makes me want to cry, really. You look at it now, it’s different now from what it was then. It just… it just… You just get full.”
Poydras ended up leaving school after enduring more than a year of abuse. She continued her education, though. And now she owns that bar.
Joseph Narcisse said he was thrilled to attend university, but he found himself walking through a gantlet of white students hurling bottles and shouting racial insults. He stayed for two years before leaving to join the military. Several years later he returned to UNO and finished his degree. He says that, during his second enrollment, he remembers passing two young African American men debating an issue.
“I smiled when I heard them. You know, I said ‘Well, things are getting better.’ It was just nice to hear some black students speaking in an academic way. And it just felt like maybe we had a little bit of something to do with that.”
UNO President Peter Fos told the former students that their courage paved the way for the school becoming open to people of all races.