Friday, Dec. 20, 2013

University of New Orleans Honors Louise Williams Arnolie


Fifty-five brave African-American students helped the University of New Orleans to open as an integrated institution in 1958, paving the way for thousands of others to follow in their footsteps. Louise Williams Arnolie was among those trailblazing students — and today the University named a special room in her honor.

"What I went through, I did not go through alone," Arnolie humbly said, calling out the names of fellow classmates. "What we went through, we went through as a team."

As a student, Arnolie helped lead a successful effort to end segregation in the original school cafeteria, which was owned by a private contractor. She persevered in her studies throughout a difficult period and was the first African- American student who enrolled in 1958 to graduate from UNO, which was then known as Louisiana State University in New Orleans, or LSUNO.

Through their perseverance and their dignity, Arnolie and her classmates paved the way for thousands of others, said President Peter J. Fos. Their bravery helped the University of New Orleans to enjoy the diverse campus that it does today. Newsweek has honored UNO as one of the state's most diverse universities and today around campus numerous cultures, races, languages and creeds are represented.

"One of our greatest strengths is our diversity," said President Fos, adding that two key principles have always driven the University. "One is academic excellence, which we still have today. The second is access to all."

At today's naming ceremony, President Fos unveiled two plaques, one bearing Arnolie's likeness and another bearing the names of her classmates. The plaques will forever hang on the wall in the Louise Williams Arnolie deck, President Fos said, reminding all who enter that Arnolie and her fellow "55" once helped to change the world here.

More than 200 friends, family, UNO community members, members of the media and city officials attended the emotional event, including La. State Rep. Jared Brossett (D-Dist. 97) and New Orleans City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson. U.S. Senator Mary D. Landrieu (D-La.) and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu sent letters thanking Arnolie for her leadership in breaking down color barriers and pursuing equality and justice.

The event was hosted by President Fos, the University's Office of Diversity Affairs and the Diversity Cabinet, a student organization made of student leaders from across the university who aim to promote diversity on campus. 

"It wasn't easy and we thank all of you who went through those difficult and challenging times to get us to where we are today," said Brossett, presenting a state resolution in Arnolie's honor that states that one of the University's greatest strengths today is its diversity. "We should never forget that the diversity that characterizes UNO today did not come easily and I will never forget those who paved the way."

President Fos underscored the leadership that Arnolie has shown all her life, from her days as young LSUNO student fresh out of Booker T. Washington High School until now.

After graduating from the University in 1963 with a bachelor's degree in business education, Arnolie went on to a successful 32-year career with the New Orleans District Office of the Food and Drug Administration, the president said. For her pioneering role during her college years, she earned the NAACP Trailblazer Award. Arnolie's efforts were also recognized by the Louisiana State Senate in 2005 with State Resolution 116.

In Washington, D.C. today, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (R-La., Dist. 2) entered a statement into the Congressional Record honoring the 55 African-American students "whose bravery and determination resulted in the University of New Orleans being the first university in the American South to open as a fully integrated institution of higher education. This year is the 55th anniversary of that historic moment in my district."

In his statement, Richmond honored the history created when civil rights activists led by Alexander Pierre Tureaud, an attorney for the New Orleans chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) during the civil rights movement, and Ernest V. "Dutch'' Morial, who later became a two-term New Orleans mayor, brought suit in federal court to allow black students to attend LSUNO, a new University.

Arnolie, he said, managed to graduate within four years, despite all challenges and harassment. She led a noble fight that led to the desegregation of the privately owned and managed cafeteria.

All of the "55" present today received leather-bound copies and applauded as Arnolie was honored with city, state and federal proclamations. Student Government President Brandan Bonds moved crowds with an emotional speech in which he thanked his predecessors, saying that without their sacrifice, he and other UNO students today may not have been afforded the opportunities they have today.

As student body president, Bonds led discussions and a student vote earlier this year determining the renaming of the Deck in Arnolie's honor, President Fos said.

"This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in him," Arnolie said, when she stood to speak. "I am appreciative, I am humbled and I am honored."

 

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