Begin this tour by climbing aboard the Elysian Fields bus, just as many black students did on their first day of classes in September 1958. The bus runs from Canal Street, through the French Quarter, and all the way up Elysian Fields Avenue to the University of New Orleans (UNO) campus, then Louisiana State University at New Orleans (LSUNO). (To find a bus schedule click here.)
Imagine you are one of those 55 black students on the way to integrate LSUNO. Pay your fare and find a seat. You can sit where you like, because a judge had ordered the buses and streetcars desegregated the previous year. You may feel a little nervous. Not only is this your first day as a college student, but you are also a black student on your way to a campus that was originally intended for white students only.
Joseph Narcisse, pictured below, was one of those students, and he remembers the trepidation he felt wading into the uneasy waters of integration:
“I got on the Elysian Fields bus and it was full of white students," he recalled. "But then I saw there were some black students too, and I felt better.”
It had been four years since the Supreme Court in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education had struck down the doctrine of separate but equal and ordered the integration of American schools. However, many Southern education systems were not in a big hurry to follow through on that order. In a famous example, it took three years, as well as the intervention of President Eisenhower and the U.S. Army, to enroll nine black students in the all-white Little Rock (Ark) Central High School in 1957.
After watching protests to integration across the South, and recognizing the possibilities for the new commuter college branch of LSU opening in New Orleans, local civil rights leaders set to work on behalf of black New Orleans college students. Their efforts resulted in Narcisse and approximately 54 other black freshmen integrating LSUNO on its opening day in September 1958. The names of these 55 students can be read in the images below.