A Short History of Race Laws in Louisiana

Although the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education had already outlawed school segregation by the time Charles Blow was born, he has described the Louisiana of his childhood as existing in a state of “de facto” segregation. Here is a brief overview of Louisiana’s racial laws, from the end of the Civil War through the early 1970s.

The 13th Amendment is passed following the end of the American Civil War, outlawing slavery in the United States.

After seceding in 1861, Louisiana is readmitted to the Union as part of the Reconstruction Acts.

The Separate Car Act (Act 111) requires “separate but equal” train cars for Black and white passengers.

Interracial marriage is prohibited in Louisiana.

In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court declares that racial segregation laws do not violate the Constitution as long as public facilities (including schools) are “separate but equal.” The “Plessy” of the decision’s name is one Homer Plessy, a New Orleans resident whose violation of the Louisiana Separate Car Act sparked the litigation that would later bear his name.

State law prohibits cohabitation (“miscegenation”) between Blacks and whites.

The Ku Klux Klan emerges in Louisiana.

New Orleans passes racial zoning laws in direct violation of the 1917 Supreme Court decision Buchanan v. Warley, which deemed such laws unconstitutional.

The first Federal Housing Administration Underwriting Manual, published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, explicitly favors racially segregated communities and supports mortgages that are subject to enforceable racial ownership restrictions.

The court case of Joseph P. McKelpin v. Orleans Parish School Board requires equal pay among all public-school teachers, regardless of race.

Interracial adoption is forbidden.

Following the abolition of segregation at Louisiana State University, the first Black undergraduate student enrolls at the university.

In response to the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned the “separate but equal” statute of Plessy v. Ferguson, Louisiana amends its Constitution to state that all schools will be operated separately for white and Black children.

Despite six years of resisting, postponing, and defying Brown v. Board of Education, Louisiana is finally forced to integrate its schools. Ruby Bridges becomes the first Black student to integrate an elementary school in the South, attending William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. She is escorted to school by four federal marshals every day for a year.

An executive order is issued at the national level prohibiting the ongoing practice of racially restrictive housing covenants.

The Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia overturns anti-miscegenation laws in Louisiana and 15 other states.

The Compos v. McKeithen case, brought to U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, overturns the prohibition of transracial adoption.

Critical Inquiry
Spend some time researching race laws in your own state. Are you surprised by any of the laws you find? Did your state have laws supporting or opposing segregation? When did your state first integrate its schools? Present your findings to your classmates.


Timeline by Leah Batstone, a musicologist and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Vienna.