Imagine sitting on a bus, hearing loud shouts from outside. You look out the window to see a giant mob of segregationists throwing anything they can get their hands on at you. These are the scenes that Freedom Riders, integration civil rights activists, experienced during the 1960s as they traveled through the segregated South.

The Freedom Riders rode public transit throughout the segregated South in order to challenge local laws or customs that enforced segregation. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) funded the travels of the Freedom Riders. [1]

On May 15, 1961, the Freedom Riders traveled to New Orleans by plane after a group of segregationists violently attacked their busses in Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama. [2] The Freedom Riders struggled to find a place to stay upon their arrival in the city. Hotels refused to admit them. [3] Many people were afraid to house the Freedom Riders because they believed trouble would follow. These fears were agitated by groups like The Citizen’s Council, which, according to the Times-Picayune, referred to the Freedom Riders as “a lawless, radical group” and “ideological brigands”. [1] The Council went so far as to demand Mayor deLesseps S. Morrison “rid the community of [the] agitators before violence erupt[ed].” [1]

Ultimately Xavier University of Louisiana came to the aid of the Freedom Riders. Francis C. Norman, then Xavier University’s Dean of Men, fought to permit the Freedom Riders to stay on Xavier’s campus and kept their visit a secret from the general public to ensure their safety. [4]

Xavier University housed the Freedom Riders in St. Michael’s Residence Hall on the third floor; they stayed in the dormitory for a week. [1] The presence of the Freedom Writers was significant for Xavier University students and the surrounding community, the Riders encouraged the community to take a public stand against social prejudice and racism.

Both the generosity of Francis C. Norman and Xavier University and the courage of The Freedom Riders remain palpable on the college’s campus today. St. Michael’s Residence Hall has continued to serve a temple of hope and strength for both Xavier University and New Orleans. [5, 6]

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3935 Pine Street, New Orleans, LA 70125