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First Black justice of La. Supreme Court collection of papers donated to Amistad Center

5th March 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Juliana Tomasoni
Contributing Writer

The Amistad Research Center hosted a reception at Tulane University to mark the donation of the Revius Oliver Ortique, Jr. papers to its collection. The family donated Justice Ortique’s paper that comprises files of correspondence, opinions, speeches, university essays, professional position papers and photographs of the civil rights activist. Ortique’s collection of papers are about 20 feet, according to Laura J. Thomson, the director of Processing at Amistad. Notable photographs in the collection include the Kent State Massacre in 1970. Ortique, who was the first African American appointed to the Louisiana Supreme Court, served as a member of President Richard Nixon’s special commission to investigate the incident.

Xavier University’s former president Dr. Norman C. Francis, chef Leah Chase and Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Burnette Johnson were some of the guests at the private reception hosted at the Tulane University president’s house on Feb. 28. The reception included dinner and a panel led by Dr. Kara Olidge, the executive director at the Amistad Research Center, whose mission is to collect, preserve and provide open access to original materials on African-American history.

“It is important for children in our community to understand the work from who came before them,” said Kim Boyle, the organization’s president and chair, who felt that young school children would benefit from the collection.

“It is important for young people to understand that someone paved the way for them,” Boyle said, noting the influence of Ortique for African-American attorneys today. “We consider him a mentor. We consider him a leader and our guider,” Boyle said.

Ortique was born in New Orleans in 1924 and earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Dillard University in 1947 and then his master’s degree from Indiana University. He earned his law degree from Southern University Law School in 1956. He served in World War II and practiced law privately until he became involved in civil rights cases. When national guardsmen were killed at Kent State University and Jackson State University, President Nixon appointed Ortique to the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest. Locally, he served on the Civil District Court and was chair of the New Orleans Aviation Board, among other roles in other boards and committees.

Ortique died at age 84 on June 22, 2008. His daughter, Rhesa McDonald, said that the family is very proud of her father’s accomplishments and that they are honored to have his work preserved by Amistad and accessible for research by scholars and the wider community.

Tulane University’s president Michael Fitts said that the importance of Ortique’s papers will now endure thanks to the collection at the center.

“We are honored that the McDonald family has given the Amistad these papers because that will be a treasure not only now but in five, 10, 20 years to see the evolution of someone who was not just a great lawyer and a great public server, but a great judge and a great figure in American society,” Fitts said.

This article originally published in the March 5, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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