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Statutes Still Tell Story 

A new report finds Jim Crow-era laws on the books in eight states, including Louisiana.

The students and their law professor logged onto computers and did searches for words like "segregation," "integration" and "Negro." They were looking for segregation-era laws that were still in state codes ‹ and they found them in Louisiana and seven other states, says Gabriel "Jack" Chin, a law professor at University at Arizona and the founder of the Jim Crow Study Group. The group published its findings last month in a report called Still on the Books: Jim Crow and Segregation Laws Fifty Years After Brown V. Board of Education.

The report cites two laws that remain in today's Louisiana state code. One promises to pay salaries to teachers who defy federal orders to integrate; the other authorizes the closing of integrated public schools.

These laws demonstrate how, in 1954, many lawmakers viewed the Brown v. Board decision "as a dreadful mistake, to be resisted with all the power of the state," says Chin. He believes the statutes should be repealed.

Chin's previous research has spurred state repeals of laws that barred Asians from owning property and, in March 2003, prompted Ohio to officially ratify the 14th Amendment, which grants equal protection to all, including former slaves. "We can now say that every state in the Union has ratified the 14th Amendment," says Chin. "It shows that these ideas of equality based on race are widely shared."

That wasn't so in the late 1950s, when the Orleans Parish School Board conducted a poll and found that 80 percent of local whites would rather see public schools closed than integrated. Nonetheless, federal judge Skelly White ordered Orleans Parish Schools to begin desegregation on Monday, Nov. 14, 1960. Louisiana Gov. Jimmie Davis responded by naming Nov. 14 a state holiday, thereby excusing any children who skipped school.

Anti-Brown efforts went far beyond Southern statehouses, according to the Jim Crow Group report. In 1956, 101 Southern legislators signed something called the Southern Manifesto, which outlined how the Brown decision was causing problems in the South and concluded that compliance should not be lauded: "We commend the motives of those States which have declared the intention to resist forced integration by any lawful means. Š We pledge ourselves to use all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision."

Some people might consider all of this fodder for history books, given the fact that these laws are no longer enforced and some have been found unconstitutional in the courts. But Chin is still bothered by their presence in state lawbooks. "I think it says something about where our society is today that no one has bothered to go back and repeal these offensive statutes," he says.

Louisiana Senate President Pro-tempore Diana Bajoie (D-New Orleans) looked into the report's findings. She dug up a decade-old opinion about this very issue, which showed that Chin was not the first person to research these laws. In 1995, then-attorney general Richard Ieyoub had rendered the opinion at the behest of then-state Sen. Gregory Tarver (D-Shreveport). Tarver's request was spurred by a constituent named Robert William Green, who had found that 11 former Confederate states had "never properly repealed racist laws, such as those providing for separate schools for whites and blacks." But state law that conflicts the federal Constitution is already moot. "Therefore, a legislative repeal of an existing segregationist statute is not necessary as such statute has no effect," wrote Ieyoub.

But Chin believes that there are still unanswered questions. "How many tax dollars raised from Louisiana people of all races went to segregated schools? How much money was given to private schools for the purpose of maintaining segregation? In some states, public property and buildings were sold for a dollar to educational foundations that educated whites only. Did that happen in Louisiana?"
click to enlarge Former Gov. Jimmie Davis responded to a federal - desegregation order by naming Nov. 14 a state - holiday, thereby excusing children who skipped - school. - LOUISIANA STATE MUSEUM
  • Louisiana State Museum
  • Former Gov. Jimmie Davis responded to a federal desegregation order by naming Nov. 14 a state holiday, thereby excusing children who skipped school.
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