Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Theory, Policy, and Practice

Document Type



Straight University emerged as an integrated higher education institution in New Orleans in 1870 and promoted education and training for young men and women, irrespective of race, gender, or ethnicity. Named after its generous patron, Seymour Straight, the university emerged as a space for community and egalitarianism at a time when the assertion of emancipation and civil rights redefined how people lived together in reconstructing a “New South.” Education represented an archetype to shape the future direction of Southern society in a meaningful and tangible way, and Straight University represented this ideal at its founding. The university also became a popular option for Afro-Creoles in New Orleans. As francophone people of African descent, Afro-Creoles were free people of color (gens de colour libre) and formed a distinctive caste between black slaves and free whites within Louisiana society. Afro-Creoles represented the city’s predominantly black Catholic and French-speaking community and maintained a philosophy of political radicalism, revolution, and social and political protest. This activist spirit and dissent played a significant role in developing opportunities for education, equality, and citizenship against the backdrop of a dizzying political, social, and cultural milieu in New Orleans during Reconstruction. This dissertation traces the founding and development of Straight University in Reconstruction New Orleans. As a social and educational history, this study theorizes that the progressive Afro-Creole community in New Orleans influenced opportunities and access to higher education at Straight, irrespective of race, age, gender, class, or ethnicity. It also examines how a racial consciousness in New Orleans played a role in the formation of Afro-Creole culture and identity which transcended to the development of Straight University. Through archival records and secondary source analysis, this history reveals Straight University as a democratic space, free of racial standardization and disdain, where students could attain an education to become an educated and free citizenry. Finally, another goal of this study is to complicate the traditional narrative of black higher education. For example, the history of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)—of which Straight University is a part—tends to be overwhelmingly linear in structure and drawn from the interrelationships between northern philanthropy and denominational groups. While important to Straight’s origin and development, and examined herein through the lens of the American Missionary Association (AMA), the analysis tends to be one-sided and monolithic. Moreover, little voice or perspective is given to the local community of color, their intellectual movement, and their motives and influence. In presenting a different perspective, then, this dissertation explores the different people and constituencies involved from below—that is, the people that were overwhelmingly disadvantaged, exploited, and marginalized, who articulated ideas and concerns against existing power dynamics.



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Committee Chair

Mitchell, Roland



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