WHERE: New Orleans
Historic New Orleans Williams Research Center
410 Chartres St.
CONTACT: Jeanne and Jeff Geoffray (214) 850-4584
MEDIA: Heather Harper/the Brylski Company (504) 897-6110 or
(504) 289-0499; email@example.com
In December, 1965, a small vocational school known as the Adult Education Centerwelcomed an integrated class of mostly black underemployed women to begin training to become the first secretaries who would integrate the all-white businesses of New Orleans.
The effort caused an uproar at the time. The first pilot program was shut down after neighbors in uptown New Orleans objected to the school’s integrated student population. After the pilot program closed, the founders went looking for a new home. In the process, 60 landlords turned them down. Finally, one brave landlord, James J. Coleman, agreed to rent them a space in a series of converted bars on Exchange Place in the French Quarter.
During its period of operation from 1965 to 1972, the school placed 94 percent of its 431 graduates in jobs with salaries above the national average, thus making it one of the most successful programs of its kind in the War on Poverty.
The program was not without controversy for teaching English as a second language and for teaching African-American history and culture. The school published the first textbook on teaching English as a second language to native English speakers. It also pioneered teaching African-American makeup and hairstyles to help prepare its students for working in some of the city’s most high profile offices. Last, but not least, the school was a champion of taking a humanistic approach to vocational education. So, in addition to typing and shorthand, the students worked on writing, speaking and communication skills to help strengthen their critical powers and self-image.
The school was shut down a second time in 1967 for political reasons. But a group of New Orleans businessmen and leaders rallied to keep the school alive. The school was brought back to life in 1968 as a private / government partnership that was unique in its day and became a model for other such partnerships around the country. The story of the school closing and reopening was the subject of an Emmy Award winning documentary entitled, “The School That Would Not Die” written and narrated by Mel Leavitt. Eventually, the program’s success gained recognition from President Lyndon B. Johnson and a U.S. Senate committee welcomed Dr. Alice Geoffray, the school’s director, and three students to testify in Washington about the reasons why the school was so successful when so many other jobs programs in the War on Poverty failed. The late Congressman Hale Boggs, the father of Cokie Roberts, who recently passed away, was a great supporter of the school.
Dr. Geoffray documented the successes of her students, many who went on to earn advanced degrees and become prominent New Orleans change agents. These stories are celebrated at the reunion by survivors and their families, as well as used to encourage new generations of success by the award of scholarships to local students.
See student biographies here: https://www.431exchange.com/our-stories
Read about the center here: https://www.431exchange.com/history