Artist: Brendon Palmer-Angell
Storyteller: Katy Reckdahl
In September 1960, the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE, staged two high-profile sit-ins, in an attempt to desegregate Canal Street lunch counters. Integration had slowed to a standstill. “We were fed up,” said Rudy Lombard, a CORE leader who was then a senior at Xavier University. For each sit-in, a group of white and African American CORE members sat together at a “whites-only” lunch counter. At F.W. Woolworth on September 9, 1960, seven CORE protestors were arrested, after a five-hour sit-in. On September 17, 1960, they tried again at the nearby McCrory’s five-and-dime store. Lanny Goldfinch, a white Tulane University grad student, walked into McCrory’s with Lombard and two other African American students Cecil Carter Jr. from Dillard University and Oretha Castle, who was enrolled at Southern University at New Orleans. The four sat quietly, refusing to leave until they were arrested. The McCrory’s group, called the “CORE Four,” was well-known nationally because they were convicted of “criminal anarchy” in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the hard work was done by New Orleans CORE, a small group that was “courageous to the bone,” Lombard said. Lombard believes that courage was rooted in history. “People in the New Orleans group had “a certain confidence, because they came out of a culture that was so rich: they knew that everything that was unique in the city could be traced to the black presence.” Though New Orleans had no segregation ordinances, Mayor Chep Morrison set the tone from City Hall, wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1963 Lombard decision. “These convictions, commanded as they were by the voice of the state directing segregating service at the restaurant, cannot stand.” In other cities, sit-ins and picket lines lasted for months or mere days. But, for the next two years, New Orleans stores continued to segregate. And every day for those two years, CORE members picketed and sat in on that part of Canal Street. “We were prepared to continue until it stopped or we died,” Lombard said.