The Elysian Fields Bus

Stop 1 of 7 in the 55 in '58: Integrating the University of New Orleans tour

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.

Images

From High School Student to History Maker

From High School Student to History Maker

Joseph Narcisse (tall young man in back row), one of the 55 African-American students who integrated LSUNO in 1958, is pictured here with a group of his friends shortly before graduating from St. Augustine High School. (Source: James Rachal) View File Details Page

Change is the Only Constant

Change is the Only Constant

A court order led to both black and white students being allowed to register for classes during LSUNO's first semester. Here, an unidentified black student can be seen in the third chair on the right. James Narcisse, one of those first African-American students, said that registration had been “quiet” and without incident. He had hoped that attending classes would be the same way. He was wrong. | Source: UNO Archives (MSS 159), Courtesy of Louisiana and Special Collections, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans. View File Details Page

The LSUNO 55

The LSUNO 55

This is a list of the 55 verified African-American students who enrolled at LSUNO in the fall of 1958. School authorities believe that there may have been others, but possible supporting documentation has been lost. | Source: Research by James Rachal, independent scholar, and Lisa Werling, UNO Library. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Becky Retz, “The Elysian Fields Bus,” New Orleans Historical, accessed July 26, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/549.
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