In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the call to support and maintain free public education seems louder than ever. This call is similar to one that was adopted in a movement nearly fifty years ago that helped to shape the face of public education in New Orleans. Save Our Schools (SOS), a nonprofit organization incorporated in New Orleans in 1960, sought to ensure that all children would be given a free public education during the integration of the public school system. The membership of SOS was all-white and consisted of the city’s liberal elite community. Prominent New Orleans women, Mary Sand, Kit Senter, Betty Wisdom, Ann Dlugos, Peggy Murison, and Helen Mervis founded SOS because they feared public schools would be closed if faced with a federal court order to desegregate. SOS deployed a number of creative tactics to offset the repercussions of the integration movement. They used diverse methods including carpools to transport parents and students to desegregated schools, and provided support during times of verbal and physical intimidation. Recognizing the inherent benefits of diversity in any education system, the SOS members also worked in an unprecedented move across color lines to encourage white New Orleans families to send their children to integrated schools.
The records of SOS were donated to the Amistad Research Center in 1978 by SOS member Anne Dlugos. The records serve as a rich source of information on public education in New Orleans at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. The majority of the materials in the collection span from 1957 to 1962, and feature correspondence with influential Louisiana residents, businessmen, and politicians. There are documents and materials related to the 1960 court case, Lawrence Hall, et al v. St. Helena Paris School Board and J. L. Meadow, regarding segregation in Louisiana. Also of note in the records is a television script, Our Schools at the Crossroads, as well as a series of publications published by SOS entitled, Crisis in the Schools, If the Schools are Closed, and Why Segregation. Despite reaching nearly 1,500 members, SOS did not survive beyond the 1960s due to misperceptions about its mission and due to intimidation from the Citizens Council, a white supremacist organization.
The finding aid for the Save Our School records can be found here.
Image from the Save Our Schools records. Images from the Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.