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Loyola University, one of the first to desegregate, celebrates its centennial

2nd April 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Travis M. Andrews
The Louisiana Weekly Contributing Writer

Loyola University will spend the year celebrating its centennial with the official kick-off taking place on Friday, April 13.

During its first 100 years, one of its stellar and historical moments the Loyola University family believes is its involvement in the desegregation of New Orleans. That fete, according to the university, is thanks to the atmosphere of the university and the work of Jesuit priests Fathers Joseph Fichter, S.J., and Louis Twomey, S.J.

Not only did the school actually begin integrating before 1960 and well before other schools in the area, according to Ted Quant, the director for Loyola’s Twomey Center for Peace through Justice, it actually began desegregating — before hand … under the watchful eye of the law.

Quant said he couldn’t confirm the story, but when he was doing union work, he found himself complaining about a particular manager. He doesn’t remember who, but as he was complaining to his boss about organizing against different oppressions and the lack of social consciousness this one man had, his boss quietly said “he has a better consciousness about justice in the workplace than most do.”

Confused, Quant inquired further. That’s when he discovered Father Twomey was holding secret night classes at Loyola in which white and Black students could come together and discuss things like justice in the workplace and oppression.

“[I have] no confirmation but the story came from a black union leader who participated in those discussions,” Quant said.

Well, little did he know, but Father James Carter, S.J., the president emeritus of Loyola, participated in some of these very first classes. In 1944, Carter remembers having classes with Xavier students.

“I was in one of the first ones,” Carter said. “In those days, if you let it be known that that was happening, it would have brought the Ku Klux Klan down on you.”

Carter said desegregation was always the attitude, in some form or another, at Loyola University.

“The attitude at Loyola was very forward looking on the subject of race,” Carter said. “By the time it happened, it wasn’t a question of whether it was right or wrong or if it was going to happen but when it was going to happen.

Which isn’t surprising, given that Quant said Twomey would bring students of all race down to Dryades street to help picket for the integration of the businesses there. The intentions of these daytrips were two-fold: to protest and to help white students understand what it meant to be on the other end of the racial struggle.

“Back in those days, when you went picketing, you didn’t just picket for a few hours. You picketed all day long,” Carter said. “They would be cursed and spit on and angry remarks made. … then Father Twomey would bring them back to the University, and they would discussed what it was like: ‘what you suffered today is what Black people have suffered every day. They would get a chance to feel what it was like to be despised and treated so ugly because they were standing up for justice and doing something right.”

Carter said when desegregation finally occurred at Loyola, there wasn’t any tension in the air.

“The papers were full of tensions over desegregation in the elementary schools,” he said. “But I didn’t sense any tension around here during the desegregation.”

In fact, he remembers being brought to see James Baldwin speak before desegregation, an unusual activity at the time for a white student.

The desegregation of Loyola, unlike Tulane University, was not done with pressure from the outside but rather simply because it could be done. The president in the early ‘60s was Father Andrew Smith, who had already desegregated Springhill University. This allowed universities like Loyola to lead the way and burn a path in the city of New Orleans for the other schools to follow.

“I think that was a great chapter in our history, the desegregation of our school,” Carter said, and Quant said, “I think it’s going to be a good time to remember things that we don’t even know about ourselves.”

This article originally published in the April 02, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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