Recollections from 'The 55' on Segregation and Harassment at UNO

Facing the bus, turn right and walk around the back of the bus stop to explore the campus, as you learn more about the rough road to integration. The giant statue of King Lear in front of the Performing Arts Center seems to hang his head in shame over the past. Walk toward the library. Stroll beneath the live oak trees, perhaps sit on a shady bench, and watch the squirrels scamper around the commons. You may find it hard to believe the hateful behavior that took place here - some from students, some from adults.

At a 2013 panel discussion, members of the 55 recalled various forms of harassment that continued long after the first days of school. Included in these memories are white students surrounding black students and yelling racial slurs, cherry bombs being thrown at them, and worse. Janice Coleman-Sawyer, one of the 55, recounted an incident that occurred in the old airplane hangar. Because the cafeteria remained a segregated part of LSUNO’s campus, the hangar became the black students’ de facto hang-out. To hear Coleman-Sawyer’s story, see the first video below.

Harold Fontennette, pictured below, also remembered that white students would throw firecrackers in the hanger as the black students ate. He describes: ”They would go pop, pop, pop, and it sounded like somebody was shooting at you. We would jump under the tables."

Not even the classroom provided a safe haven. Arnolie recalled students placing tacks on the seat of her desk, and teachers getting in on the act. Members of the 55 told stories of their names not being called during roll; teachers telling them they had failed an assignment, but refusing to return the graded paper; and some instructors being openly hostile. Hear more of these stories in the second video below.

These incidents began even before the students arrived on campus. According to a September 1958 report in The Louisiana Weekly newspaper pictured below, the weekend before classes began, a cross was burned outside the school’s main gate and “there was a sign hanging on the fence that warned Negroes they were not wanted.”


Video 1: Hurling more than insults
In a 2013 panel discussion, LSUNO 55 member Janice Coleman-Sawyer tells of the physical threats the African-American students were subjected to. ~ Source: UNO History Department
View File Record
Video 2: Teachers get in on the act
In a 2013 panel discussion, LSUNO 55 member Janice Coleman-Sawyer remembers the unexpected unprofessional behavior of some faculty members. ~ Source: UNO History Department
View File Record



Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans, New Orleans LA