Mishio Yamanaka – Black Community Conference

The Fillmore Boys School in 1877 is a digital mapping project that visualizes the public school segregation process at the end of Reconstruction in New Orleans, Louisiana. Using the Fillmore School register from 1877, the project traces how African American communities resisted segregation.

The Fillmore School Building ca. 1900s (renamed as McDonogh No.16 in 1884)
Courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library

The New Orleans public schools, which began in the 1840s as an education system exclusive to white children, has been an ongoing testing ground for civil equality for African Americans in the city. The Fillmore School, originally established as a white school in New Marigny, a Creole neighborhood, was one of the schools to which African Americans demanded admission after the Civil War. From 1871 to 1877, thanks to their persistent political, legal and grassroots campaigns, black New Orleanians succeeded in attending Fillmore as well as many other former white schools. However, in 1877, the city school board re-segregated Fillmore as white-only. Black schools were intentionally designed to be inferior to white schools.

The Fillmore School Register, OPSB Collection (MSS147), Louisiana and Special Collection Department, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans

The 1877 Fillmore School Register reveals a strong communal effort to secure access to education. Because of the location, many students of color were Creoles, francophone Catholics of interracial descent. While the register does not list racial classification for each student, some students were noted as “transferred to colored school.” After surveying the 1870 and 1880 censuses and city directories, I estimated that at least 35 Creole students of color requested admission to Fillmore. Furthermore, some families sued the city school board to stop resegregation. While none of the cases succeeded, this struggle led to larger anti-segregation campaigns later in the century, including the Plessy v. Ferguson lawsuit in which Homer A. Plessy attempted to overturn railroad segregation.

Fillmore School Student Map (1877)

The register also raises some questions. Some Creole children of color stayed at Fillmore perhaps because of their light skin color. How might this fact have impacted other community members? My research about students’ addresses also shows the interracial, multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan neighborhood around the school. How would public education have contributed to the rise of the Jim Crow system in the neighborhood? What can we learn from this story in light of the contemporary charter school debate? I am still thinking about how to answer these questions, but the Fillmore School register demonstrates that educational struggles were indeed communal and each member of African American community shaped the school history in New Orleans.

To learn more about Fillmore Boys School students, visit my project website.

Mishio Yamanaka








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