We students often take for granted all that we have. And sometimes we have so little and have so much struggle, that it's hard to think about people who went before us and made things better than they would have been. One group most people never knew about is the African American lawyers that existed in the early years of the civil rights movement. We know about Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, and Martin Luther King, Jr. We also need to know about Louis Martinet, Homer Plessy, and A. P. Tureaud. The cases they dealt with and their activities and businesses are important.
One group working to keep the past flame alive is the Louis Martinet Society. In 1957, in New Orleans, a group of black attorneys started gathering weekly to review and discuss legal case issues. The group was named after Louis Martinet, a civil rights leader, writer, and teacher active in the post-Reconstruction period in New Orleans. Martinet was one of the lawyers who set up and helped with the famous Plessy vs. Ferguson case, which the U. S. Supreme Court finally decided against Plessy and Martinet, claiming that separate facilities for black and white people were legal as long as they were equal. It would not be until almost 60 years later, in another famous Supreme Court case called Brown vs. the Board of Education, that this concept of separate but equal would change.
Before the end of Reconstruction and the reestablishment of white racist power in the south, Martinet served as a state representative from 1872-3. A year later, he was one of the eight graduates in New Orleans' Straight University's first law class. He used his legal training to coordinate test cases that a committee of African Americans in New Orleans hoped to bring before the Supreme Court to challenge the growing Jim Crow laws.
To help with this drive for equal treatment, he also published and edited The Daily Crusader, a newspaper published right here in New Orleans in the 1890's. Here he wrote commentaries warning of the dangers of the separate car act. His newspaper helped with the mass people movement part that was important to this legal struggle. His commentaries urged readers to boycott the rails as long as they kept separate places for black and white.
Nowadays Frederick A. Douglass's school newspaper is entitled The North Star Crusader. The name honors the newspaper that Frederick A. Douglass published and edited to combat slavery and Martinet's paper used to fight racism in his time. The student staff of this newspaper hopes to carry on the legacy of Douglass, Martinet, and other freedom fighters with its publication.
© 2005 Students at the Center.