An institution such as the Amistad Research Center is comprised of many collections. Yet, as is often the case, particular collections become cornerstones of interest by a wide variety of researchers. Such is the case with the personal papers of civil rights attorney Alexander Pierre (A.P.) Tureaud. In the 42 years since their donation to Amistad, the A.P. Tureaud papers have remained one of the most frequently consulted collections at the Center. As part of our 50 Years/50 Collections blog series, we are pleased to highlight this important collection that documents not only the life of one man, but of an entire era of U.S. history and the struggle for equality.
The A.P. Tureaud papers occupy 31 linear feet, and while the materials in the collection range from 1798-1977, the majority document Tureaud’s work in civil rights law from the 1930s-1960s. Among the largest groups of papers are records of civil rights cases, correspondence, and reports across Louisiana, concerning school desegregation, teacher salary equalization, transportation, and public accommodations. There are also records of cases concerning colleges and trade schools. Also documented is Tureaud’s work with organizations such as the NAACP, the Knights of Peter Claver, and the Louisiana Education Association, as well as historical material collected by Tureaud as co-founder and president of the local Archives of Negro History.
Having practiced law in Louisiana for almost half a century, Tureaud led a varied life as reflected in the scope and size of the collection. The collection is divided into different series, each one revealing various aspects of the man who was a dominant leader in the Civil Rights Movement in Louisiana.
In preparing this blog post, Amistad was fortunate to receive the following from A.P. Tureaud Jr., who provides his remembrances of the Tureaud family’s decision to donate the collection to the Center:
On January 22, 1972, my father died at home after a long and painful battle with prostate cancer. While bedridden, Dr. Joseph Logsdon, historian and professor at the University of New Orleans, recorded the oral history of his life. Realizing that his death was imminent, my father harnessed his diminished strength to complete his story, which consumed more than 30 hours of interviews. A vigilant nurse, my mother was not always pleased with the lengthy interview schedule. However, my dad and Logsdon forged ahead and completed the task. Not long after the interviews ended, death claimed his withered body.
Weary from the extended period of home care and the funeral, my mother knew that she had the singular task of overseeing the closing of the law office and making important decisions regarding the monumental collection of historically relevant material that was contained in his office. During the last year of his life when he was too ill to work, the office remained open for clients and lawyers to have access to personal files.
As a young child and the only boy, I grew up in my dad's office and often travelled with him to meetings and conferences. As I grew older, I would answer phones, type, file, and deliver papers and documents. I realized he was very organized and had a very keen mind. Often when given a large number of papers, notes, and personal letters to file, I questioned the value in keeping them. He patiently reminded me of the importance of preserving and documenting our lives, contributions, and culture. My father even kept the letters that I sent as a child from Camp Emlen, in Pennsylvania.
With assistance from family members, friends, historians and lawyers, the job of sorting and identifying all of his files was a gigantic and time-consuming task. Nothing was to be discarded and every item had to be read and assigned to a specific storage container. My mother, a well-organized business woman and civil rights activist, also knew the importance of deciding which organization would provide a safe haven, preservation and accessibility. Numerous institutions asked to be considered. However, in conversations we had, she was partial to the Amistad Research Center and the vibrant personality of Dr. Clifton Johnson and the work that Sybil Morial was doing in the community to help Amistad prosper. A serious issue for our family was that the organization did not have its own building and a well-established funding source.
Realizing a decision had to be made and that numerous files were in our basement, my mom asked me to meet with Dr. Johnson before she decided. I was anxious for my mother to decide because many valuable collections have been lost or destroyed as they lingered in private homes. I knew Dr. Johnson, and, of course, Sybil Morial was a close family friend, so the decision was not difficult or complex for me to share my reaction and support Amistad. I could see the sense of relief as we agreed and my mother finalized the gift of my father's papers.
The A.P. Tureaud papers were donated to the Amistad Research Center in 1974. A formal presentation was held in the Lawless Memorial Chapel at Dillard University in May 1975. As A.P. Tureaud Jr. adds, “My mother beamed with unabashed pride and contentment as she released the history of her husband’s life to the Amistad Research Center.” The Center has long been honored with the presence of the A.P. Tureaud papers. The finding aid to the collection is available here. To learn more about the life and work of Tureaud, you can read the 2011 biography, A More Noble Cause: A.P. Tureaud and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Louisiana, authored by A.P. Tureaud Jr. and Rachel Emanuel.
Images from the A.P. Tureaud papers. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.