He’s 75 now. When he started teaching at the University of New Orleans students walked out on his class.Historians in the News
tags: Raphael Cassimere, University of New Orleans
Dr. Raphael Cassimere Jr. spent nearly 40 years in the classrooms of the University of New Orleans, teaching American colonial history, American constitutional history and African-American history.
But the historian also made history. He led the city’s NAACP Youth Council during crucial years of the civil rights movement. And in 1971, he became the first black instructor at the school, then called Louisiana State University in New Orleans.
Last month, Cassimere, 75, sat down and talked about the history he’s seen and made for a new civil rights oral-history project launched by the Historic New Orleans Collection.
In the interview, Cassimere told curator Mark Cave that for a long time he was bothered that two (out of 37) students walked out of his class the first day and told the department chairman that they were transferring “for obvious reasons.” But another memory from that time also stuck with him:
“I was walking to class later in the semester and there were two maintenance people, and they had been watching. Nobody had announced that I’d be teaching. One man said, ‘I told you that he was teaching that class.’”
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m teaching the class.’ ”
To Cassimere, that incident told him that his professorship was important not only for him and for students but also for the college’s other black employees.
The following year, the university hired several other black instructors, he told Cave. “I know there was somebody in biology, a couple of people in education and other fields. It was a very exciting period. ... I was very optimistic about race relations at UNO.” ...
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