From the September 21, 1962 issue of Commonweal, a followup to the announcement by the archbishop of New Orleans that all the parochial schools of the archdiocese would be desegregated for the 1962-1963 academic year.
When Archbishop Joseph F. Rummel announced last spring that segregation of parochial schools in New Orleans would end with the opening of school this fall, he laid to rest some lingering doubts about the effective meaning of the Church’s condemnation of segregation. He certainly knew, as did his coadjutor, Archbishop John P. Cody, that trouble could be expected.
Now, with more than a week of desegregation behind them, the Catholics of New Orleans have good, reason to take pride in their response to the Archbishop’s decision. To be sure, there were many instances of white parents’ boycotting the integrated parochial schools. And there were as well some nasty scenes of white and Negro parents’ being jeered and harassed. Yet, by and large, the opening week went off very well indeed. The only real trouble came in some of the outlying areas of the Archdiocese. In Buras, deep in the heart of Leander Perez’ domain, Our Lady of Good Harbor School lost all of its white pupils through parental boycott. As for the five Negro children who entered the school on the opening day, they did not return on the next.
Yet the real significance of the success of the parochial school integration in the city itself does not necessarily lie in the acceptance of the Archbishop’s decision. In itself, of course, the acceptance was a triumph of the power of moral persuasion. Yet it may be doubted that it would have been as possible if the public schools had not, at the same time, widened the scope of their own desegregation. For as it turned out, the fact of widespread and simultaneous desegregation made the move easier for both parochial and public schools.
In an important sense, the New Orleans experience would seem to show that the answer to massive resistance is massive desegregation. As the situation in Buras would suggest, it is the isolated school which has the most difficulty: all the forces of opposition can be heavily concentrated in one place and on one group of parents. In New Orleans this kind of concentration was simply not possible. Of equal importance, the New Orleans success shows how powerful the impact of parochial school desegregation can be on the community as a whole.