Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gaines M. Foster


Throughout the history of the United States individuals and groups have used education as a means to improve their status in America--economically, politically, and socially. When slaves gained their freedom between 1862 and 1865, they, too, looked to education as a way to ameliorate the harmful effects of over two hundred years of slavery. In New Orleans freedmen and those free before the war viewed education almost as a panacea to the many problems within the black community. Black New Orleanians realized, of course, that the gains derived from education would take time to filter throughout the entire community. During the antebellum period New Orleans' free blacks had accumulated a certain degree of wealth and supported educational attainment for its members, and beginning in Reconstruction, led in the struggle for improved education for the entire black population. During Reconstruction blacks won inclusion into the public school system, and for several years many blacks attended desegregated schools. The end of Reconstruction, however, brought eventual disfranchisement and the triumph of a racial ideology that sought to impose on blacks the status of second class citizenship. This view found expression in the type of education whites thought blacks should receive. This study suggests that many blacks in New Orleans refused to accept the permanency of limited education or white supremacy. Devoid of political power, however, blacks used a strategy of petition and protest to school officials to gain educational improvements for the black community. Between 1900 and 1945 that strategy produced improvements, but by the end of World War II, black education still lagged behind the educational opportunities given whites. In 1948 black leaders abandoned the strategy of protest and petition and decided to use the federal courts to gain educational parity within a separate school system. Their goals shifted again in 1952, and they filed suit to end school desegregation in New Orleans. The legal assault to desegregate the schools was part of the larger black effort for racial equality.