About A.P. Tureaud

Portrait of Attorney A. P. Tureaud in New Orleans, circa 1930. (Credit: Tureaud Family)

Alexander Pierre “A.P.” Tureaud, Sr. was born less than 40 years after the end of slavery and just three years after the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court established the “separate but equal” doctrine of legalized racial segregation. Tureaud lived under Jim Crow laws, the most severe implementation of racial separateness, and worked to see these laws abolished.

A 1925 graduate of the Howard University Law School, Tureaud was admitted to the Louisiana Bar in 1927 and admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States in 1935.

As the local attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., and comrade of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Tureaud handled practically all the desegregation and other civil rights cases filed in Louisiana from the early 1940s through the 1960s. Among the many civil rights cases, Tureaud successfully obtained equal pay for Louisiana’s black teachers and the admission of qualified students — regardless of color — to state-supported professional, graduate and undergraduate schools. He fought to end segregation on city buses in Louisiana, and he successfully defended one of the first sit-in cases to go before the Supreme Court of the United States.

Tureaud died January 22, 1972, after a lengthy battle with cancer.


Tureaud’s Early Years

During Reconstruction, all of the public high schools in New Orleans enrolled black students, but between 1879 and 1917 no city-run high school was available for black students in the city.

In Plessy v. Ferguson the U.S. Supreme Court sanctions legalized racial segregation. “Separate but Equal” becomes the law of the land.

Alexander Pierre Tureaud is born in New Orleans. He grows up at 907 Kerlerac Street, one block below Esplanade, at the bend of Dauphine.

A.P. Tureaud, Sr. (second from left) pictured with family members. (Credit: Tureaud Family)

His father, Louis Tureaud, is a carpenter/contractor and his mother Eugenia is a housewife and part-time domestic. There are eleven children, six boys and five girls. The Tureauds attend St. Augustine Catholic Church.

Theodore Roosevelt is elected President of the United States.

A.P. is educated in New Orleans’ parochial and public schools.

Louisiana Legislative Act 87 decrees that “concubinage between a white person and black person is a felony.”

Louis Tureaud leaves his family and moves to New York. The Tureaud children are left to support themselves and their mother.

Creoles are defined as Louisiana-born descendants of the original French and Spanish settlers. The term once applied to Negroes born in America rather than Africa.

At 17, Tureaud responds to a newspaper advertisement and gets a free train ticket to Chicago for a job working in the rail yards. He makes $1 an hour, and finds himself in the middle of a labor/management dispute.
Tureaud applies for a civil service job with the U.S. Justice Department.

Before receiving an answer on employment opportunity in Washington, Tureaud goes to New York to stay with his brother, and his uncle, James Slater, who is involved in Republican politics.

Tureaud and his brother work during the day washing dishes in a restaurant and perform small parts in Harlem theatres at night.

In New York, Tureaud witnesses Marcus Garvey leading a crowd of thousands in a parade through Harlem. Garvey proclaims that black people must return to Africa to form a proud new nation.

While in New York, Tureaud is offered the job at the Justice Department. He moves to Washington and becomes a junior clerk in the Justice Department’s library. The library serves the U.S. Supreme Court where such luminaries as Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis sit on the bench. He also meets U.S. Attorney General Thomas Ralph Gregory. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is a former New Orleans neighbor, Edward Douglas White.

Tureaud attends night school at St. John’s College.

Tureaud at Fourth of July celebration in Virginia, 1921. (Credit: Tureaud Family)

Tureaud is promoted to first-grade clerk at the library. He meets J. Edgar Hoover studying Russian in the library.
The Harding administration is involved in the Teapot Dome scandal.

Chief Justice White dies and is replaced by William H. Taft.

Tureaud enrolls in Howard University Law School.

Tureaud boards at the home of Shelby Davidson, an NAACP activist. Shelby’s son, Gene, one of Tureaud’s classmates at Howard, is also editor of the Washington Daily American, a small weekly. A.P. writes for the paper.

Tureaud joins the NAACP after a rousing speech by James Weldon Johnson at a meeting held in Howard University’s theater.

Passing for white, Tureaud infiltrates a segregationist meeting in the basement of a Catholic church, and reports in the Washington Daily American their secret pledge not to allow Negroes to buy homes in their neighborhood.

The Louisiana Legislature grants cities with populations of 25,000 or more the power to mandate residential segregation.

The Louisiana Weekly newspaper is established by the C.C. Dejoie family.

A myriad of social clubs, including the Autocrat club, are formed in the Seventh Ward community to encourage community activism to help solve the economic and political problems of black residents.

Tureaud’s Early Career and Family Life

Tureaud during his Howard University Law School days, 1924. (Credit: Tureaud Family)

Tureaud graduates from Howard University Law School at age 27 and returns to New Orleans. Instead of establishing a full-time legal practice, he takes a job with the Comptroller of Customs, headed by black Creole Republican Walter Cohen.

Tureaud becomes a board member of the New Orleans chapter of the NAACP. He serves as chairman of the Committee on Publicity.

The U.S. Supreme Court declares the 1924 Louisiana mandate for residential segregation unconstitutional.

The Seventh Ward Civic League is formed out of the Autocrat Club. The league focuses on education, support for black businesses, and promoting interracial cooperation.

Ernest “Dutch” Morial, later to become Tureaud’s protégé and New Orleans’ first black mayor, is born.

Martin Luther King, Jr., is born in Montgomery, Alabama.

The white Democratic primary (instituted in Louisiana in 1906) supplements the poll tax.

Huey P. Long is governor of Louisiana.

Tureaud becomes president of the Autocrat Club.

At 32, Tureaud marries Lucille Dejoie, a pharmacist whose father owns a drugstore. She is also a cousin of C.C. Dejoie, Sr., who owns a prosperous insurance agency and publishes the Louisiana Weekly, Louisiana’s largest black newspaper.

The NAACP challenges Louisiana’s discriminatory voter registration procedures in court. Although the courts ruled against the plaintiffs in Trudeau v. Barnes, the black community felt the effort addresses “the problem of awakening or instilling race pride in Negroes themselves.”

Tureaud is angered by the NAACP’s use of white lawyers to handle its cases (even Trudeau v. Barnes) for the past three years.

Tureaud appeals to the national NAACP office to invalidate George Labat’s irregular elevation to local branch president or, failing that, to approve the creation of a second New Orleans chapter. The national office turns Tureaud down.

Following the death of Walter Cohen and George Lucas, the fragmentation of the black leadership, the defeat in the Trudeau case, and the onset of the Great Depression, local civil rights efforts decline.

Tureaud becomes a national advocate for the Knights of Peter Claver, a black Catholic organization.

Franklin Roosevelt is President of the United States.

W.E.B. Dubois visits New Orleans to do research on his book, Black Reconstruction in America. He meets with Tureaud who shows him around the city.

The New Orleans NAACP files and loses a suit to desegregate the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans; members believe the inexperienced white attorney mishandles the case.

Tureaud’s Legal Career

Tureaud and other key leaders establish the New Orleans Sentinel to advance their efforts to take over the NAACP New Orleans branch. Tureaud’s colleague Dan Byrd assumes the presidency of the local branch and its membership grows into the thousands. The New Orleans’ NAACP contacts Thurgood Marshall to pursue school teacher salary equalization cases. Marshall requests that A P. Tureaud be retained as local counsel on the cases.

Tureaud files his first teacher salary equalization case, Joseph P. McKelpin v. Orleans Parish School Board, in conjunction with Thurgood Marshall. They win, but the client, the New Orleans Citizens Committee in the person of its chairman, Donald Jones, refuses to pay Tureaud. Ignoring his bill of $3,500, they give a watch worth $200. He writes back, “It is surprising to learn that those for whom I worked would now consider me an object of charity.”

For two weeks in a row, Tureaud is excoriated in editorials in the Sepia Socialite for billing for his work. He threatens to sue for defamation and draws up the papers. Two months later, the Socialite lauds Tureaud in an editorial and asks that he be paid. The New Orleans Citizens Committee sends a check for $2,000.

Tureaud files Willie Robinson v. LSU Board of Supervisors, et al, to force desegregation of LSU.

Tureaud files Bush v. Orleans Parish Schools to force desegregation of the schools in the parish, along with Louis Berry, and Thurgood Marshall.

Fifteen years after returning to New Orleans, Tureaud quits his job at the Custom House and goes into private practice. Presumably, Thurgood Marshall is instrumental in helping him make this decision. Louis Berry said the Customs office forced him to make a decision to quit civil rights litigation and keep his job or leave.

Tureaud files Edward Hall v. T. J. Nagel, Registrar of Voters, to press for voting rights. His victory loosens Louisiana registration procedures. Only 400 black New Orleanians were registered voters in 1940. More than 28,000 could be counted by 1952.

Tureaud leaves the Republican Party and registers as a Democrat.

Tureaud organizes the black lawyers’ group, the Louis A. Martinet Society.

Tureaud leads a three-man team to investigate the lynching of a black Army veteran in Minden, Louisiana. The three find out the names of the lynchers and send the information to the U.S Department of Justice, but nothing is done about it.

Tureaud files his first equal public school facility case, Clayton Guillory v. St. Landry Parish School Board.

Tureaud files four equal public school facility cases in Iberville, Jefferson, St. Charles, and Orleans parishes.

Tureaud lodges a formal complaint with Mayor DeLesseps Morrison about the segregation of City Park golf course. The mayor answers evasively, pretending that he has no control over the City Park Commission, which is a “self-appointive commission.”

Morrison establishes a personal connection to mobilize the black community through the Rev. A. L. Davis and the Orleans Parish Progressive Voters’ League, founded in March 1949. Tureaud is on the OPPVL board.

Tureaud opposes a new segregated housing development of the Pontchartrain Park subdivision for middle-class blacks, financed by white entrepreneurs Rosa and Charles Keller, Edgar and Edith Stern, and supported by the New Orleans Urban League.

Segregationist groups called the White Citizens’ Councils are established (New Orleans provided over half of the state’s total membership).

Tureaud tires of waiting for Mayor Morrison to act and files a federal suit to permit blacks on the municipal golf course. Soon after, the NAACP files a second federal suit for the desegregation of Audubon Park.

Tureaud becomes president of the NAACP New Orleans chapter.

The U.S. Supreme Court decides two important cases. Sweatt v. Paine clearly defines an “equal” educational facility and McLaurin v. Oklahoma says that, if there is no equal facility, then the white facilities must be opened to black students.

Within three months, Tureaud and Thurgood Marshall draft two suits against LSU (Daryle Foster v. Board of Supervisors of LSU and Roy Wilson v. Board of Supervisors of LSU) after the university denies admission to 12 blacks. Marshall apparently argues the cases in court.

On November 4, Roy Wilson enters the LSU Law School. Tureaud is mobbed by photographers at the Baton Rouge airport. He personally hands law dean Henry G. McMahon a copy of the Court decree forcing him to accept Wilson, (All across the South, some 200 black students enter 21 formerly all-white colleges and universities that same week.)

Off the record, Tureaud lets slip the fact that the New Orleans Police Department will be hiring its first black officers. That afternoon, it is splashed all over the front page of the States Item. Supt. of Police A. Adair Watters and Mayor Morrison are embarrassed and furious. The two black officers were to be assigned to a black neighborhood as plainclothes juvenile officers.

Tureaud is named executor over the estate of black insurance businessman John Lewis. It is reported that Tureaud receives his largest attorney’s fee ever on this case.

LSU discovers that Roy Wilson was discharged from the Army with a Section 8 (insubordination) and that he had other misdemeanors in his past. The board kicks him out of law school as “not morally qualified.”

In October, Tureaud works out an agreement with nursing school officials to admit Daryle Foister, but the LSU board later refuses to admit her without a court order. Tureaud goes to federal court within days and the same federal judge once again orders LSU to accept a black student.

In June, Tureaud files a federal suit, Payne v. LSU, and wins instantly. Payne is admitted to graduate school.

In April, A.P. is honored by the NAACP New Orleans branch.

Tureaud’s son A.P. Tureaud, Jr. applies as a freshman to LSU, but is rejected. Tureaud files suit. The district court finds for the plaintiff. Twenty-one lawyers for LSU go over the case and file an appeal. The Appeals Court overturns the lower court on the technicality that only one judge heard the case. LSU promptly kicks Tureaud, Jr., out of school.

Tureaud requests that the Supreme Court enjoin LSU from acting until it can hear the case, and the court does so. But now his son refuses to return to LSU and continues study at Xavier University.

The Louisiana Supreme Court prohibits the state’s NAACP branches from holding meetings or conducting regular business. The state applies a 1924 law designed to reveal the identities of members of the Ku Klux Klan when it asked the NAACP to surrender its membership list.

NAACP secretary Roy Wilkins subsequently suspends the organization’s operations in Louisiana, and normal activity did not resume until the early 1960s, when the federal Courts overturned the legislative directives.

Attorney Tureaud, circa late 1960s. (Credit: Tureaud Family)

Tureaud runs for U.S. Congress but fails to be elected.

New Orleans public schools begin desegregating. Around this time Tureaud’s home is under FBI surveillance.

The NAACP’s Youth Council is organized in Tureaud’s law office.

Tureaud voices opposition to the establishment of federally funded free legal aid firms in New Orleans. He felt that black lawyers in private practice needed the tees paid to them by people who would have been entitled to this free legal service.

The Louisiana Legislature requires a public school curriculum that includes a course on the superiority of the white race.

Tureaud successfully handles Garner v. Louisiana, in which the Supreme Court declares unanimously that students had a right to sit-in as a protest.

Victor Schiro, who was very critical of the NAACP, succeeds Morrison as mayor of New Orleans (1961 -70). He refuses a black group’s use of the Municipal Auditorium in which Martin Luther King was to speak, but allows the White Citizens’ Council to use it.

A massive march is conducted on New Orleans’ City Hall, when Mayor Schiro continues excluding black residents from using public facilities.

Tureaud and his wife, Lucille, at an audience with Pope Paul VI at Castel Gandolfo, 1964. (Credit: Tureaud Family)

Civil Rights Act passed into law.

Total Community Action Agency, Inc. is created as an initial conduit for federal poverty program money in New Orleans. Tureaud and other black leaders support Schiro for mayor, despite his previous record.

Ernest Morial is elected first black member of the Louisiana House of Representatives in the modern era.

Tureaud is appointed an ad hoc judge of the traffic courts on four occasions by Mayor Schiro, “Moon” Landrieu (acting mayor), and John Petre (acting mayor).

In Linda Williams v. George Kimbrough, Tureaud contests Madison Parish’s firing of black teachers and their replacement by whites.

The Louisiana Legislature forces the public schools to buy textbooks and materials that include African-American history.

Tureaud’s Retirement and Death

Lucille Tureaud (in wheelchair), Tureaud daughters, grandchildren, and other participants at the unveiling of his name on the LSU classroom building, A. P. Tureaud Hall, March 23, 1990. (Credit: LSU University Relations)

1971: Edwin Edwards is elected governor of Louisiana.

Tureaud retires.

Tureaud is inducted into the Tulane University Law School Order of Coif, the most exclusive academic society of legal education in the country.

1972: On January 22, A.P. Tureaud, Sr. dies of cancer.