Explore the Campus

Stop 4 of 7 in the 55 in '58: Integrating the University of New Orleans tour

Facing the bus, turn right and walk around the back of the bus stop to explore the campus, as you learn more about the rough road to integration. The giant statue of King Lear in front of the Performing Arts Center seems to hang his head in shame over the past. Walk toward the library. Stroll beneath the live oak trees, perhaps sit on a shady bench, and watch the squirrels scamper around the commons. You may find it hard to believe the hateful behavior that took place here - some from students, some from adults.

At a 2013 panel discussion, members of the 55 recalled various forms of harassment that continued long after the first days of school. Included in these memories are white students surrounding black students and yelling racial slurs, cherry bombs being thrown at them, and worse. Janice Coleman-Sawyer, one of the 55, recounted an incident that occurred in the old airplane hangar. Because the cafeteria remained a segregated part of LSUNO’s campus, the hangar became the black students’ de facto hang-out. To hear Coleman-Sawyer’s story, see the first video below.

Harold Fontennette, pictured below, also remembered that white students would throw firecrackers in the hanger as the black students ate. He describes: ”They would go pop, pop, pop, and it sounded like somebody was shooting at you. We would jump under the tables."

Not even the classroom provided a safe haven. Arnolie recalled students placing tacks on the seat of her desk, and teachers getting in on the act. Members of the 55 told stories of their names not being called during roll; teachers telling them they had failed an assignment, but refusing to return the graded paper; and some instructors being openly hostile. Hear more of these stories in the second video below.

These incidents began even before the students arrived on campus. According to a September 1958 report in The Louisiana Weekly newspaper pictured below, the weekend before classes began, a cross was burned outside the school’s main gate and “there was a sign hanging on the fence that warned Negroes they were not wanted.”


Registering for the future

Registering for the future

This photo, which appeared in The Times-Picayune, shows Harold Fontenette and Josephine Eli, the first two black students who registered for classes at the new LSUNO. | Source: The Times-Picayune, Sept. 10, 1958. View File Details Page

Burning Hatred

Burning Hatred

Although it is difficult to see at the bottom of this old photo, a cross was burned at the main entrance to the new LSUNO campus the weekend before the school’s first classes began. | Source: The Louisiana Weekly, Sept. 20, 1958. View File Details Page


Video 1: Hurling more than insults

In a 2013 panel discussion, LSUNO 55 member Janice Coleman-Sawyer tells of the physical threats the African-American students were subjected to. | Source: UNO History Department View File Details Page

Video 2: Teachers get in on the act

In a 2013 panel discussion, LSUNO 55 member Janice Coleman-Sawyer remembers the unexpected unprofessional behavior of some faculty members. | Source: UNO History Department View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Becky Retz, “Explore the Campus,” New Orleans Historical, accessed July 20, 2017, http://www.neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/817.
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