The Connie Harse papers at the Amistad Research Center provides a pictorial history of the Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans during the 1960s. The collection, donated by Harse in 1999, contains some of the Center’s most widely circulated photographs that depict lunch counter protests at McCrory’s and Woolworths on Canal Street in 1961. The photographs have been used in our physical and digital exhibitions on civil rights print culture and in publicity materials for the Center. One photograph from the collection is currently on display in an exhibition at the Historic New Orleans Collection focusing on women’s history in New Orleans.
Harse participated in protests at McCrory’s and Woolworth’s as a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Her presence on the picket lines as a white woman, laboring besides African Americans in the fight for equality, drew the ire and sometimes violent reactions of white Southerners. In a testimony published in CORE’s publication, the CORE-lator, in April of 1961, Harse explained one situation where she was physically assaulted:
“…..I was picketing close to the outside edge of the sidewalk in front of McCrory’s on Canal Street when a white lady, about 50 years of age, stopped and asked me if I was a member of “that nigger” organization (i.e. CORE). I answered, “Yes, ma’am” and continued walking. She walked close beside and at times behind me for about three lengths of the store, shouting questions and accusations at me. I remember her asking me if I knew what I was doing, and if I knew what Japan, China, Russia, and Cuba were doing. My refusal to answer must have annoyed her because she began shoving and pushing me. She tried to knock my sign down, but I lifted it up again…..then she pushed me against a parked car, kicked me, and hit me around the shoulders and body with her purse and her hands.”
Harse’s photographs are also significant because they provide documentation of New Orleans’ most prominent CORE activists such as Jerome Smith, Dave Dennis, and Doris Jean Castle. There were additional CORE related items donated with Harse’s photographs including an April 1961 issue of the CORE-lator, an invitation to a CORE-sponsored banquet for the Freedom Riders held at the Dooky Chase restaurant in New Orleans, and political buttons for CORE.
Constance "Connie" Harse (nee Bradford) was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1941. She was a graduate of Tulane University's Newcomb College for Women. In late 1960, Harse attended a CORE meeting in New Orleans, not as a supporter of the organization, but as a proponent of segregation. Her experience at the meeting led her to change her views on the topic and she joined CORE. She took part in CORE-sponsored demonstrations and served as photographer for the organization, documenting CORE's activities and harassment toward members. Her support of civil rights and CORE led to hardships between her and her family and, at one point, her family tried to institutionalize her. Despite this, she remained active in CORE through her junior year in college before studying in Europe. Upon her return to New Orleans, Harse became less active in the local branch of CORE following the purge of white membership in 1962. She died on April 7, 2013.
The finding aid for the Connie Harse papers can be found here.
Images from the Connie Harse papers. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.