In the fall of 1963, Ben Franklin High School became the first New Orleans public high school to integrate. Fourteen African American students, all of whom met Franklin's stringent admissions requirements, helped to break the lingering color barriers of Jim Crow New Orleans. They were thrust into the spotlight in a city and state that was reluctant to acknowledge the implications of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education.
The common perception of school integration tends to oversimplify the process: the Supreme Court made the ruling, there was some resistance in the South, but the schools integrated anyway, and the matter was settled. In reality, the Supreme Court took another year to rule that integration be carried out "with all deliberate speed," and with the ambiguity of those four words, it would take another 19 years before the public schools of New Orleans were fully integrated. The 1963 integration of Ben Franklin helped establish an example which the rest of the city could follow, and it proved that even in a school for exceptional children, integration was possible, even if it wasn't easy.