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Harry Kelleher interview
Rogers, Kim Lacy
Rogers asks Harry Kelleher about his awareness of segregation growing up but also his first involvement directly with African Americans. Kelleher discusses growing up around African American domestic servants in his own household and how this may have fostered an interest in Race relations. He contextualizes school desegregation in New Orleans by discussing the stronghold of segregations represented in the Louisiana state legislature particularly during the administration of Governor Jimmie Davis which resulted in the ratification of a considerable amount of segregationist legislation. He attributes this dynamic to a "lobby" for the White Citizens' Council. He includes the far-ranging progressive social programs implemented by Populists under Huey Long's administration for all Louisianans, including the creation of employment opportunities for African Americans for jobs like road construction, attracted workers from neighboring states: "Segregation became a symbol that was adopted by people of the segregationist persuasion in many cases in an effort to protect what they perceived to be their own job opportunities"u2026 the Black man, who earned his living by the sweat of his brow and the strength of his muscles became a competitor for the marginal White, and it was the marginal White who'd flocked in droves to the banners of the White Citizens' Council and who became the most militant and aggressive segregationists." He applauds the bravery of Judge Skelly Wright and the role of judicial activism to prod local officials into the desegregation of schools. He overviews harassment campaigns of members of the White Citizens' Council. Kelleher explains that Tulane University professors approached Kelleher to take more public stance vocalizing support for the peaceful desegregation of local schools. He describes an event where Kelleher addressed an overflow crowd of 1800 people to advocate for the School Board's position that strong local opposition to the desegregation of public schools will cause irreparable harm to the city's reputation. He cites this public address as the beginning of his involvement. He describes the preliminary discussions and planning as being spearheaded by a group of approximately fifteen White and Black community leaders engaged in "a long series of regular consultations and conferences." He details the prestige of the group, which he describes as a "very formidable group in terms of community leverage." He continues that "the collective power of such a group that nobody but a rabid segregationist "u2026 had the temerity to challenge that group." He describes these two alliances as having similar objectives, "the orderly desegregation of the community as a whole." He continues that this alliance culminated in approaching Canal Street merchants to provide non-menial employment opportunities for African Americans. He describes the desegregation of public facilities, particularly the cafeteria at City Hall. He mentions the protest of Avery Alexander which resulted in him being dragged down the steps of City Hall by policemen: "As I remember it, it was the only breach that ever occurred of any commitment between the White leadership and the Black leadership"u2026 due to a breakdown in communications between these two sets of leaders and City Hall." He describes his mortification of this "unpardonable breach of the understanding we had." He describes the most ardent segregationists in New Orleans as the "lunatic" fringe and details the historical and cultural framework of New Orleans which yields a wholly different environment than other Southern cities such as Birmingham. Kelleher then continues to discuss the protest march on City Hall in response to the incident involving Reverend Alexander. He describes extraordinary security measures that were made to protect protesters in response to threats from the White Citizens' Council. Rogers asks Kelleher about his upbringing and family dynamics growing up. He continues to detail the beginnings of his legal career.
Amistad Research Center
Box 6, Item 5, Side A, Kim Lacy Rogers collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U. S. Copyright laws.