Growing up in New Orleans during the 1930s and 1940s, Sybil Haydel-Morial wondered why she could not go to certain places like other people. Reflecting on her childhood in her memoir, Witness to Change, Haydel-Morial stated “why I wondered, should my color separate me from the things I want to see and do?” (1) The oppression of white supremacy and racial segregation affected Haydel-Morial’s everyday life. Haydel-Morial’s family created their own networks of interaction in Black communities. In her memoir, Haydel-Morial explained how her "parents, along with other middle-class blacks, out of necessity created our own cocoon of interaction for professional and social activities and at the same time limited the rejection and humiliation we experienced in our Southern cities.” (1) Haydel-Morial’s parents opened their home to weary travelers due to a lack of accommodations for Black people in New Orleans. Haydel-Morial’s parents also made their backyard a play area for the neighborhood children, so that they might safely play.
Haydel-Morial studied at Xavier University before transferring to Boston University in 1950, and that was when she began to see life differently. “I relished my new life in Boston,” Haydel-Morial said. “I would always have an abiding love for Louisiana, but in leaving it, I had found that my roots could grow both deeper and wider.” (1) In Boston, all facilities were open to Black people, and Haydel-Morial wanted to experience life without the trappings of segregation. Haydel-Morial’s experiences in Boston made her want the same for Louisiana. On May 17, 1954, Haydel-Morial turned on the radio and heard the news that in the case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that racial segregation in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. This ruling declared segregation of children in public schools was “inherently unequal.” (2)
The following summer, Haydel-Morial returned to New Orleans. After a Great Books Book Club meeting, Sybil Haydel-Morial met with a friend, Ernest Nathan “Dutch” Morial, and after discussing W.E.B. DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk, the two decided to meet and discuss Brown v. Board of Education. Haydel-Morial applied to Tulane University. She was accepted and enrolled in two courses. When filling out a registration form, Haydel-Morial wrote “Negro” in the blank for race. Tulane University asked Haydel-Morial to leave because they did not accept Black students. Haydel-Morial called “Dutch” Morial, “It’s over,” Haydel-Morial said, “I was asked to leave.” (1) Nearby Loyola University also rejected Haydel-Morial because she was Black. Haydel-Morial returned to Boston to complete her master’s degree and began teaching. (3)
In February of 1955, Sybil Haydel-Morial married “Dutch” Morial and they returned to New Orleans. “Dutch” Morial dove into local civil rights activism in New Orleans and held a law practice with A.P. Tureaud, a prominent civil rights attorney in New Orleans. Sybil Haydel-Morial also became a champion for civil rights. After being rejected by the League of Women Voters for membership on the basis of race, Haydel-Morial and several other mothers formed their own organization, CiCulSo (an acronym for Civic, Cultural, and Social Organization). (1) CiCulSo evolved into the Louisiana League of Good Government (LLOGG), an organization of women of different ethnicities that pursued voting rights and ensured voter rolls included Black people. Haydel-Morial also joined the women’s auxiliary of the Urban League (which her son, Marc, is the current President and CEO), the Urban League Guild. (4) The Urban League Guild supported the Urban League and was responsible for fundraising, mentoring youth, and helping community leaders develop leadership skills. In 1963, Haydel-Morial filed lawsuits against the Orleans Parish School Board for enforcing a law that kept Orleans Parish school teachers from advocating for integration or belonging to associations that favor integration. (5)
Throughout her teaching career in New Orleans public schools, Haydel-Morial brought cultural awareness to many students she encountered. She championed many civil rights issues, all while raising five children with her husband “Dutch” Morial. Haydel-Morial curated educational programs to raise awareness about civil rights while leading a number of community organizations. Haydel-Morial became an administrator for Xavier University, and eventually, Associate Dean, where she remained for 28 years. In 2015, Haydel-Morial completed her memoir Witness to Change: From Jim Crow to Political Empowerment.