Notable African Americans from Louisiana
Avery Alexander Louis Armstrong Israel Augustine Danny Barker "Papa" Celestine Joseph S. Clark Walter L. Cohen A.L. Davis Henriette Delille Thomas Dent Rivers Frederick Roy Glapion Oretha Castle Haley Murray Henderson Mahalia Jackson Morris Jeff, Sr. Valena C. Jones Thomy Lafon L.B. Landry Alfred Lawless Rene Metoyer Ernest Morial Homer Plessy Mack Spears Dorothy Mae Taylor A.P. Tureaud Madame C.J. Walker Fannie C. Williams Gertrude Geddes Willis
Rev. Avery Caesar Alexander June 29, 1910 - March 5, 1999
Rev. Avery C. Alexander was an important leader in the struggle for civil rights for black Louisianians. He was born Avery Caesar Alexander on June 29, 1910 in Terrebone Parish, LA. By 1927, seven years after his father's death, the family relocated to New Orleans. He gained his high school diploma in 1939 from Gilbert Academy where he had taken night classes. He studied at several universities and graduated from Union Baptist Theological Seminary. He was ordained into the ministry in 1944.
A member of the NAACP, Rev. Alexander traveled statewide participating in voter registration drives in the years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. In New Orleans, he helped to organize several boycotts against white businesses to hire blacks for jobs above the "broom and mop" level. He also led a successful boycott against New Orleans Public Service, Inc. to hire the first black bus drivers.
Rev. Alexander participated in marches with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., including the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and the first and second marches on Washington. He also was involved in sit-ins to integrate lunch counters all over New Orleans. In one incident, during a sit-in being held at the eating facilities at City Hall, he was arrested and dragged by the heels up the steps from the basement of that building. Films of that event became the story of the day nationwide.
In 1975, Rev. Alexander was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives (Democrat, District 93) holding that office until his death. During his life he was also a real estate broker, insurance agent and longshoreman, becoming the manager of the longshoreman's welfare system from 1958-1962. In 1990, he established the Church of All People, a non-denominational ministry. He continued his fight for civil rights until his death at the age of 89 on March 5, 1999.
Louis Armstrong August 4, 1901-July 6, 1971
Daniel Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong was one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century. He was born in a ghetto to Willie and Mary Ann Armstrong. His musical career began at age twelve when he was sent to the Waif's Home for Boys after being arrested for firing a gun on New Year's Eve. While there he learned to play the cornet and to read music from Peter Davis, the home's drill instructor and bandmaster. After his release he took lessons from a local cornetist, Joe "King" Oliver.
In 1925, he started recording with his own band and during the 1930s his band toured Europe. While playing the London Palladium he acquired the nickname "Satchelmouth" later shortened to "Satchmo." Armstrong gained acclaim as a jazz vocalist, using improvisational techniques and inventive lyrics to enhance his small scratchy voice.
Daniel Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong died on July 6, 1971, in New York City of kidney failure.
Israel Meyer Augustine, Jr. November 16, 1924-August 29, 1994
Israel Augustine, Jr., the first African American district judge in Louisiana, was born in New Orleans. A graduate of McDonogh 35 High School he received a B. A. from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He obtained his law degree from Lincoln University in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1951, he was admitted to the Louisiana Bar and in 1962, he was allowed to practice before the Supreme Court.
In 1970, Israel M. Augustine, Jr. became the first Black elected as judge in Criminal District Court. In 1971, he presided over the Black Panther Trial, a case that brought him national attention. A champion of the people, Augustine established several community programs such as "Roots" Home Coming Program, the First Offender and Angola Awareness.
Judge Augustine died of Lou Gehrig's disease and is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Daniel "Danny" Barker January 13, 1909 - March 13, 1994
Daniel "Danny" Moses Barker was born on January 13, 1909, in New Orleans, LA. Born into a musical family, his interest in jazz came early. His grandfather, Isidore Barbarin, had been a member of the great Onward Brass Band. Clarinetist Barney Bigard, who played with Duke Ellington, gave Danny lessons in clarinet. His uncle, the great jazz drummer Paul Barbarin, also taught him how to play the drums. Nonetheless, when it came to playing music, Danny settled on the banjo and guitar as his favorite instruments.
In 1930, he married Louise Dupont, who sang blues and was better known as "Blue Lu" Barker. The couple moved to New York that year where he led the life of a jazz musician; working the clubs and doing session work. While there, he worked with great musicians like Red Allen, Sidney Bechet and the legendary "Jelly Roll" Morton .
In 1938, he recorded with Decca Records. Along with his wife Blue Lu, he wrote her best known hit, "Don't You Feel My Leg" a risqué tune recorded as "Don't You Make Me High". Also in that year, he joined Benny Carter's Big Band. The following year, he became rhythm guitarist for Cab Calloway's Big Band and played and recorded with Calloway until the late 1940s. Following his break with Calloway, he became a freelance rhythm man recording in New York with other great New Orleans transplants such as Sidney Bechet.
By the mid 1960's, he and his wife decided to return to New Orleans and keep the traditions associated with jazz music alive by lecturing on traditional jazz history. He founded the Fairview Baptist Church Band to continue the marching band tradition. Young musicians like trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis and drummer Herlin Riley were members of the Fairview band. Barker continued performing and sharing his love and knowledge of jazz music until his death on March 13, 1994.
Oscar "Papa" Celestine January 1, 1884-December 15, 1954
Oscar "Papa" Celestine was born in Napoleonville. While a young man he moved to Algiers and played cornet with the Algiers Brass Band and Henry "Red" Allen's Excelsior Brass Band. Later he formed his own band, The Original Tuxedo Orchestra in 1910 and the Tuxedo Brass Band in 1911. One of the cornet players in Papa Celestine's Brass Band was Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong. Celestine's band was known for playing wherever jazz music was needed--funerals, picnics, or dances. In 1953, the band played for the President of the United States.
Joseph Samuel Clark June 7, 1871-October 27, 1944
Joseph S. Clark, an educator and college president was born Josiah Clark in Sparta, Louisiana where he attended public and private school. He received his B. A. from Leland College in 1901 and an M. A. Degree from Selma University in 1913. He did post graduate work at Harvard and Chicago Universities.
Dr. Clark served as president of Southern University in Baton Rouge from 1913 to 1938. He was also the president of the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools in 1916 and superintendent of the Louisiana State School for Negro Blind.
Dr. Clark died in New Orleans and is buried on the grounds of Southern University in Scotlandville.
Walter Louis Cohen January 22, 1860-December 29, 1930
Walter Louis Cohen, a politician and businessman, was born a free man of color in New Orleans. He was educated at St. Louis Catholic School and Straight College. An active member of Reconstruction politics he was one of the few African Americans to hold political office after Reconstruction. He was appointed to the office of Customs Inspector by President McKinley, to the position of Registrar of U. S. Land Office by President Theodore Roosevelt, and to the office of Comptroller of Customs by President Harding.
A successful businessman Cohen was founder and president of People's Life Insurance Co. He was also active in benevolent and fraternal organizations.
Walter L. Cohen died in New Orleans and is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3.
Reverend Abraham Lincoln "A. L." Davis November 2, 1914-June 25, 1978
Abraham Lincoln Davis was a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the first African American city councilman in New Orleans. He was born in Bayou Goula, Louisiana and moved to New Orleans in 1930 to live with a sister and attend high school. Reverend Davis graduated from McDonogh 35 High School, received his B. A. degree from Leland College and his theological degree from Union Baptist Theological Seminary. He became the pastor of New Zion Baptist Church in 1935 where he became known as the Rev. A. L. Davis. He served as pastor of New Zion for forty-three years.
In 1957, Rev. Davis and a group of civil rights activists met at New Zion to organize the SCLC. The group chose as its first president Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Davis became its first vice president. In 1975, he was elected to the City Council.
Rev. A. L. Davis died at the age of 63 of pancreatic cancer and is buried in Bayou Goula.
Henriette Delille ? 1813-November 16, 1862
Henriette Delille, the founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family, was born a free woman of color in New Orleans in 1813. She was a feminist, social worker and educator. She and a friend, Cuban born Juliette Gaudin, worked to teach religion to the slaves, encouraged free quadroon women to select men of their own class and encouraged slave couples to have their unions blessed by the church.
In 1835, Delille sold all of her property hoping to found a community of Black nuns to teach in a school for free girls of color. After several failed attempts, Delille and Gaudin received permission from the diocese to begin a new religious order. The Sisters of the Holy Family Order was founded at St. Augustine's Church in 1842. They were later joined by Josephine Charles. The first three novices, Delille, Gaudin and Charles, are considered the founders of the congregation. Although the primary work of the sisters was in the area of education, during her tenure as head of the order, Delille made it possible for the order to build a home for the sick, aged, and poor Black residents of the city.
At the time of her death, on November 16, 1862, the order numbered twelve. She is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2.
Thomas C. Dent March 20, 1932 - June 6, 1998
Thomas Covington Dent, writer, civil rights activist and dramatist, was born on March 20, 1932 in New Orleans, La. He was the eldest son of Dr. Albert Dent, a President of Dillard University and Ernestine Jessie Covington Dent, a former concert pianist.
Dent began his writing career as an undergraduate at Morehouse College where he wrote for and later edited the campus newspaper the Maroon Tiger. In 1952, he graduated from that college earning a B.A. in Political Science. He did graduate work at Syracuse University before serving a two-year stint in the U.S. Army. By 1961, he was back in New York working for a Black weekly newspaper called the New York Age and serving as press liaison for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a position he was appointed to by NAACP attorney (and later Supreme Court Justice) Thurgood Marshall.
While in New York, Dent's literary talents and cultural activism fused to give his work a strong cultural identity found in the briefly published issues of Umbra magazine which Dent helped found and edit. His New York experience exposed him to several other African-American writers whose works were also revealing the culture and struggles of African-Americans at that time.
In 1965, Dent returned to New Orleans and helped found the Free Southern Theater (FST), a collective of artists, thinkers and activists fighting racism and segregation through drama productions. During his time at FST, he wrote "Ritual Murder", perhaps his best-known play, which examines black-on-black crime. The following year, in 1968, out of the need he saw to aid the development of younger writers and create a cultural base for them in the city, he began a writer's workshop as part of FST called BLKARTSOUTH. He was a mentor to several young writers and influenced many whose works he edited or reviewed.
He was constantly involved in African-American literature, writing articles and reviews for magazines and co-founding literary journals such as Nkombo and Callaloo. He also produced collections of poetry and essays, first Magnolia Street in 1976 followed by Blue Lights and River Songs in 1982. He was a fervent oral historian and collected interviews about the Civil Rights Movement and jazz in New Orleans. In 1987, he worked as executive director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation which produces the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. He resigned that position in 1990 to begin work on what would be his last book, Southern Journey, A Return to the Civil Rights Movement (1997). A year later, on June 6, 1998, he died of a heart attack.
Rivers C. Frederick May 22, 1874-September 1954
Rivers Frederick, a surgeon and civic leader, was born in New Roads, Louisiana at his father's farm. He attended Straight and New Orleans Universities before studying medicine at the University of Illinois.
In 1904, he became an assistant professor of surgery at Flint Medical School. Four years later, he became chief surgeon at Sarah Goodridge Hospital. When Flint-Goodridge became a unit of Dillard University he headed the surgical department. Frederick was also a civic leader who organized chapters of the Urban League and the NAACP in New Orleans. Frederick was also a founder of the United Negro College Fund and the Louisiana Life Insurance Company.
Dr. Rivers died at Flint-Goodridge and is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Roy E. Glapion, Jr. December 2, 1935 - December 28, 1999
Roy E. Glapion, Jr. was born on December 3, 1935 in New Orleans, La. He was educated in Catholic schools in New Orleans and obtained his Bachelor of Science degree from Xavier University in 1958. He received a Master's degree in education from Southern University in 1977. He served for 24 years in the Orleans Parish Public School System as a teacher and coach, the majority of his time spent at Carter G. Woodson and Joseph S. Clark schools. He then served for 12 years as Coordinator of Athletics for Orleans Parish Schools and later became the system's Athletic Director.
Glapion joined the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club in 1972 and soon became the club's finance chairman. By 1976, he was elected club president, a position he would hold until 1988. Under his leadership, the Zulu Organization obtained a permanent address at 732 North Broad St. and expanded their community service, fund raising, and social outings.
In 1994, he was elected to the New Orleans City Council as Representative for District "D". While on the city council, he continued to be active on community issues and championed the causes of small and minority businesses. He served on several council committees including the budget, utilities, and telecommunications committees.
At the beginning of 1998, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. While fighting the disease, he was elected King Zulu 2000, but lost his battle with cancer before he could reign. He died on December 28, 1999 and the Zulu organization honored him by allowing his reign to be posthumous, the King's float rolling empty in his memory on Mardi Gras 2000.
Oretha Castle Haley July 22, 1939-October 10, 1987
Oretha Castle was born in Oakland, Tennessee and moved to New Orleans with her parents in 1947. After graduating from Joseph S. Clark High School she enrolled at Southern University in New Orleans where she joined other students in the struggle for civil rights, eventually becoming the head of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in New Orleans. In 1967, Oretha married fellow CORE member Richard Haley.
Mrs. Haley served as deputy administrator at Charity Hospital where she instituted better health care for the Black Community. While at Charity, she helped organize the New Orleans Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation. In 1972, she directed the political campaign of Dorothy Mae Taylor who became the first Black woman legislator in the state.
After a lengthy battle with cancer, Oretha Castle Haley died at the age of 48. She is buried in Providence Memorial Park.
Murray Henderson January 2, 1883-April 15, 1930
Murray Henderson, a philanthropist, was born January 2, 1883 in Algiers. He attended McDonogh No. 5 Elementary School. He studied as an apprentice at the John A. Barrett Funeral Home and later operated his own funeral home. Mr. Henderson spent his years bettering conditions for those less fortunate than himself. During the severe influenza epidemic of 1918, Henderson paid the medical expenses of many victims of the illness and provided food for impoverished convalescents. At Christmas time, he provided toys for needy children. He lived a quiet lifestyle on the Westbank, having no interest in accumulating wealth. This giving reputation made him a legendary figure in the history of Algiers.
Henderson died in Algiers on April 15, 1930 at the age of 47. He is buried in McDonogh Cemetery.
Mahalia Jackson October 26, 1911-January 27, 1972
Mahalia Jackson was one of America's greatest gospel singers. She was born in New Orleans on October 26, 1911 to Charity Clark, a laundress and maid, and Johnny Jackson, a Baptist preacher, barber and longshoreman. She attended McDonogh School No. 24 until the eighth grade.
Influenced by the music of the Sanctified Church she began singing at the young age of four in the children's choir of Plymouth Rock Baptist Church.
In 1927, Mahalia migrated to Chicago and while working as a maid, laundress and date packer studied beauty culture at Madam C. J. Walker's and Scott Institute of Beauty Culture. She opened a beauty shop after this training. When the director of the choir at Greater Salem Baptist Church in Chicago heard her sing she became the choir's first soloist. Her beautiful voice made her popular.
During the 1930s, she toured the "storefront church circuit" singing to congregations. Jackson bridged the gap between the sacred and the secular in her performances, often using scriptures to justify her use of hand clapping and stomping while singing.
The next two decades found Mahalia recording songs and touring the United States and Europe. She became closely associated with the civil rights movement during the 1960s often singing at benefits for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the boycotters and student sit-ins.
Jackson died of heart failure at the age of sixty in Chicago. She was honored with funerals in Chicago and New Orleans and is buried in Providence Memorial Park in Metairie.
Morris Francis Xavier Jeff, Sr. August 11, 1914-August 29, 1993
Morris F. X. Jeff, Sr., a pioneer in establishing recreational and educational programs for African American children when New Orleans was segregated, was born in Morgan City, Louisiana. After moving to New Orleans with his family at an early age, Mr. Jeff graduated from McDonogh 35 High School and Xavier University. He later obtained a master's degree from the University of Michigan.
Mr. Jeff began his teaching career in Lake Charles in 1937. In 1940, he returned to New Orleans where he dug ditches for the Works Progress Administration. He was later promoted to a position in the WPA's recreation department. Mr. Jeff's career with the New Orleans Recreation Department began in 1947 when he became head of it's "colored division." As head of this division he instituted many youth programs that are still in use in the city.
Mr. Jeff died of heart failure at the age of 79 and is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3
Valena Cecelia MacArthur Jones August 3, 1872-January 13, 1917
Valena C. MacArthur Jones, an educator, was born in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. She graduated from Straight College in 1892. Upon graduation from college, she was made principal of the Bay St. Louis Negro School. She left that position in 1897 to teach in New Orleans Public Schools. During the four years she taught in New Orleans Public Schools, she was voted the most popular colored teacher in the city.
Miss MacArthur quit teaching to marry Rev. Robert R. Jones in 1901. Mrs. Jones helped her husband edit the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a paper put out by the African Methodist Episcopalian Church.
Mrs. Valena C. Jones died January 13, 1917, at New Orleans and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
Thomy Lafon December 28, 1810-December 28, 1893
Thomy Lafon, businessman and philanthropist, was born a free man of color in New Orleans. His mother, Modest Foucher, was probably of Haitian descent and his father was Pierre Laralde, who was either of French or French and African descent.
Most of his early life was spent in poverty, but somehow he acquired enough education to become a school teacher. Between 1842 and 1850 he became a merchant, invested in real estate and made loans to others. His wealth resulted from shrewd investments and his frugal lifestyle.
He made large contributions to American Anti-Slavery organizations, the Underground Railroad, the Catholic Indigent Orphans Institute founded by Marie Bernard Couvent and the Louisiana Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans. When Lafon died the bulk of his estate was left to charitable, educational, and religious institutions in New Orleans. Among them were Charity Hospital, the Lafon Old Folks Home, the Society of the Holy Family, and Straight University.
Thomy Lafon died December 22, 1893, in New Orleans. He is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3.
Lord Beaconsfield Landry March 11, 1878-January 21, 1934
Lord Beaconsfield Landry, physician, civic leader and soloist, was born on March 11, 1878 at Donaldsonville, Louisiana. His father, Pierre Landry, was the first Black Mayor of Donaldsonville. Lord Beaconsfield received his elementary education in Donaldsonville and later completed high school at Gilbert Academy in Baldwin, Louisiana. He received a B. A. in 1902 from Fisk University where he was a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. He taught school until 1904 when he enrolled in Meharry Medical College. He received his M. D. degree in 1908 and returned to New Orleans to practice medicine in Algiers.
Dr. Landry, always interested in helping the less fortunate, began a column "How to Keep Well" in the Louisiana Weekly newspaper on May 8, 1928. He operated a free clinic for the poor people of Algiers.
He also directed the Osceola Five, an all male vocal group that specialized in Black cultural music for educational and religious programs.
On January 23, 1934, Dr. Landry died of blood poisoning. He was originally buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, but later his remains were reburied in Nashville.
Alfred Lawless July 16, 1872-September 9, 1933
Reverend Alfred Lawless was born in Thibodeaux, Louisiana. He attended Straight University in New Orleans from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1900 and Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1902. In 1904, he founded Beecher Memorial Congregational Church. In August 1913, he became principal of Fisk Colored School, the first public school in New Orleans to provide modern instructional equipment and adult education classes to African Americans.
Alfred Lawless became the Superintendent of Negro Congregational Churches in the South in 1917. Reverend Lawless died in Atlanta and is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery. The Lawless Memorial Chapel on Dillard University's campus is named in his honor.
Rene C. Metoyer September 7, 1858-October 27, 1937
Rene Metoyer, one of Louisiana's first black notary public, and descendent of a prominent Louisiana family, was born in Natchitoches, Louisiana on September 7, 1858. During Reconstruction Metoyer went to New Orleans to work as a page in the Louisiana Legislature. He received his law degree from Straight University in 1886 and was admitted to the Louisiana Bar that same year. Before opening his own law office in the Pontalba Building, he clerked in the law office of Rouse and Grant. In 1917, he was appointed to the position of notary.
Rene Metoyer was active in several organizations in New Orleans and was grand commander of the Supreme Council of the 33rd degree.
He died in New Orleans on October 27, 1937. He is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3.
Ernest Nathan "Dutch" Morial October 9, 1929-December 24, 1989
Ernest Nathan Morial, lawyer, judge, state legislator, and mayor, was born in New Orleans to a working class family. In 1951, he graduated from Xavier University with a B. S. degree and in 1954 he became the first African American to receive a L. L. B. Degree in Law from Louisiana State University Law School. In 1967, Morial was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives, thus becoming the first African American legislator since Reconstruction. In 1970, Morial became the first African American Juvenile Court judge. Two years later, he attained another "first" when he was elected to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. He was elected mayor of the city of New Orleans in 1977, the first African American to attain this title.
Morial was one of the nation's leading civil rights advocates. With support from his mentor A. P. Tureaud and his wife Sybil Haydel, he won a number of successful desegregation suits aimed at education, transportation, and public institutions.
Ernest Morial died after an asthmatic attack and is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No.1. His eldest son, Marc, became mayor of New Orleans in 1994.
Homer Plessy March 17, 1863-March 1, 1925 In 1892, Homer Plessy challenged a two-year-old street car law that separated passengers traveling on trains in Louisiana. His action made him a plaintiff and defendant in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Case of Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896.
Plessy was the second child of Adolphe Plessy and Rosa Debergue Plessy. His father died when Plessy was five, and his mother Rosa remarried shortly thereafter. Plessy was apprenticed as a shoemaker, the profession of his stepfather and maternal relatives. In 1887, Plessy married Louise Bordenave at St. Augustine Church.
In 1890, then state legislator Murphy Foster, (grandfather of Louisiana Governor Mike Foster), wrote the Separate Car law which called for the segregation of passenger trains traveling within the state of Louisiana. In 1892, the Citizens' Committee, a group of influential African American civic and business leaders, chose Homer Plessy to board the white car of the East Louisiana Railway leaving from New Orleans and traveling to Covington. The Citizens' Committee's strategy was to purposely break the Separate Car law in order for a case to go before the state supreme court. The case eventually made its way to the United States Supreme Court and ruled against Plessy. The supreme court upheld the statute of "Separate but Equal" and unfortunately this landmark decision eventually was used to justify segregation in education, public accommodations, and transportation.
After the case Plessy drifted into anonymity, later becoming a life insurance collector with People's Life Insurance Co.
Plessy died in 1925 and is buried in his mother's family tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
Mack Justin Spears ?-October 28, 1988
Mack Justin Spears was born in Wilson, Louisiana to Charlie and Mary Wheelock Spears, and attended elementary and secondary public schools in New Orleans. He held a Bachelor's degree from Dillard, a Master's degree from Xavier University, and a Doctorate in Education from Harvard University. During his career as an educator, he was a teacher, principal, visiting professor, university dean, and university professor of education.
Dr. Spears was the first African American to become president of the Louisiana School Boards Association. He was also the first African American to serve on the Orleans Parish School Board. He was elected president seven times during his eighteen years on the board.
Mack J. Spears died on October 28, 1988 after a lengthy illness and is buried in Lake Lawn Cemetery.
Dorothy Mae Delavallade Taylor August 10, 1928 - August 18, 2000
In 1971, Dorothy Mae Taylor became the first African American woman elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives. This accomplishment was one of many that she held as a public official.
The youngest of thirteen children born to Charles Henry and Mary Delavallade on August 10, 1928, Dorothy was educated in Orleans Parish Schools and attended Southern University at Baton Rouge. Her career in public service began after she married Johnny Taylor, Jr. in 1948. By the mid-1950s Taylor was a wife and mother and an active member of her children's Parent Teacher Association (PTA). As president of the PTA during a time when segregation was still the norm in Orleans Parish Schools, Taylor demanded that the Orleans Parish School Board provide supplies for black schools equal to those given to white schools. Her activism continued following the desegregation of the school system as she led efforts to desegregate the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) and to help black citizens register to vote.
The first political office she held was as Deputy Clerk in Civil District Court. In 1971, her familiarity with the community and their grassroots support helped her become the first Black woman elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives. The following year, she was awarded the Legislator of the Year award from Louisiana State University. During her years as a state legislature she worked with issues regarding health care, the penal system, child care and discrimination. By 1984, Governor Edwin Edwards appointed her State Secretary of the Department of Urban And Community Affairs, making her the first African American woman to head a state department.
During her long career in public service, she championed the cause of the poor. In 1986, she was elected to the New Orleans City Council, the first Black woman to be so honored. Though her work on the council was blanketed by her drive to have Carnival Krewes integrate their clubs or cease to parade, Taylor's work extends far beyond that controversy which came in the later part of her political career. She supported fair utility rates for all New Orleans citizens, fought for environmental concerns, launched voter registration drives, encouraged women participation in city government and was active in creating neighborhood forums that brought the community and city government together.
She retired from the council in 1994, remaining out of the political spotlight but active in her church, Mount Zion Methodist Church. Upon her death on August 18, 2000, she was funeralized there five days later.
Alexander Pierre Tureaud, Sr. February 26, 1899-January 22, 1972 Attorney A. P. Tureaud Sr., civil rights leader, was born on February 26, 1899. He received his early education in the schools of New Orleans. He received his law degree from Howard University in 1925. Tureaud first practiced law in Washington, D.C. He decided to return to his native state and opened a law office in New Orleans in 1926. In a later interview he stated that he never regretted the decision.
"Mr. NAACP" as Mr. Tureaud was called fought against racial discrimination in the south for fifty years. In 1927, he joined the NAACP's legal team as an attorney for the organization's Legal Defense Fund, filing numerous lawsuits to desegregate schools, businesses and public facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi. His name appeared on virtually every suit filed by the NAACP because for a time he was the only black lawyer in the state of Louisiana.
Tureaud died on January 22, 1972. At his funeral, his longtime associate and noted civil rights attorney, Thurgood Marshall, delivered the eulogy.
Madame C. J. Walker ?1867-May 12, 1919
Madame C. J. Walker, entrepreneur and philanthropist, was born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana. Married at fourteen and widowed at 20 with a two-year-old daughter, Sarah took the only employment available to her to support herself and her child, that of a cook and laundress. Her interest in cosmetology led her to develop hair care products that would give the hair a soft texture and make it easier to comb and style. In 1906, she moved to Denver and set up a hair care company. Sarah met and married Charles Walker, a newspaperman who helped her advertise her products. She later divorced Walker but kept his name, thus becoming known as Madame C. J. Walker.
The demand for her products was great and in 1910 she moved to Indiana where she developed a laboratory and factory employing more than five thousand people. Business flourished and Madame Walker opened several beauty schools across the country to train cosmetologists in the Walker Way of Style.
Walker became a social activist, and supported causes which fought the policies of racism. She provided funds for Monroe Trotter's National Equal Rights League and the NAACP's anti- lynching drive.
Walker died on May 25, 1919. She is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York.
Fannie C. Williams March 23, 1882-June 12, 1980 Fannie C. Williams, an educator, was born in Biloxi, Mississippi. In 1904, she graduated from Straight College, a school that later merged with New Orleans University. In 1920, she received two degrees from Michigan State College, a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Pedagogy.
When she returned to New Orleans in 1921, Williams taught at Valena C. Jones Normal School, a school established to train African American teachers and then certify them to work in the school system. She would later serve as principal of the school. She was instrumental in having a nursery and a kindergarten class established for African Americans in the public school system and established an annual child health day when medical professionals visited schools and performed their service free of charge.
Her influence extended beyond the Orleans Parish School system. She participated in three White House Conferences during the administrations of U. S. Presidents Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. Williams served as president of the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools and on the board of directors of Dillard University and Flint-Goodridge Hospital.
In 1977, she was the recipient of awards from the American Teachers Association and the National Teacher's Association. She died in 1980 at the age of 98.
Gertrude Geddes Willis March 18, 1880-February 20, 1970
Mrs. Gertrude Pocte Geddes-Willis was one of the first American female funeral directors in New Orleans. In 1940, Mrs. Willis was the founder and president of two corporations, Gertrude Geddes Willis Life Insurance Company and Gertrude Geddes Willis Funeral Home. Mrs. Geddes-Willis was a lifetime member of the NAACP and the YWCA and a member of several benevolent societies and professional organizations. She was also active in the Ladies Auxillary Council of the Knights of Peter Claver.
One of her special interests was youth development. Throughout her career her entrepreneurship gained the respect of both local and national business leaders.
Mrs. Willis died on February 20, 1970. She is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3.