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William Frantz Public School

A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans

Series:

Connie L. Schaffer, Meg White and Martha Graham Viator

Why should you care about what happened to William Frantz Public School? Yes, Ruby Bridges entered the iconic doors of William Frantz in 1960, but the building’s unique role in New Orleans school desegregation is only one part of the important history of this school. Many additional and equally important stories have unfolded within its walls and the neighborhoods surrounding it. These stories matter.

It matters that society has historically marginalized Black students and continues to do so. It matters that attempts to dismantle systemic racism in schools and other institutions still face strong resistance, and these issues continue to deeply divide the United States. It matters that the building remains standing as an indomitable symbol of the resiliency of public education despite decades of waning support, misguided accountability, and a city devasted by Hurricane Katrina. It matters that opportunism, under the guise of recovery, reshaped public education in New Orleans.

William Frantz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans provides more than an examination of education in one school and one city. It recounts a story that matters to anyone who cares about public education.

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1. A Fortress at 3811 North Galvez

Extract

CHAPTER ONE

A Fortress at 3811 North Galvez

William Frantz Public School: a “protection for democracy” and a “fortification against encroachment of those terrible ‘isms.’ ” Speakers proclaimed these exact words at the school’s dedication ceremony in September 1938, and the Orleans Parish School Board president predicted the school would be a kingdom of learning in which children would be taught right from wrong. To describe these words as foretelling is an understatement. What happened to William Frantz Public School over the next 80 years challenged the idyllic notions of the speakers.1 Given the national political climate of the time, the “isms” the speaker was likely referencing were communism, socialism, and fascism. Little did anyone know it would be racism and opportunism that would be the threatening “isms.” Racism embedded in the fabric of the neighborhood, Orleans Parish school district, New Orleans, and the State of Louisiana threatened the school in 1960, and 45 years later opportunism extended the threat and made an onslaught against the traditions of public education. Nor could they foresee William Frantz Public School as the stage on which citizens of New Orleans, Louisiana, and the United States would fiercely debate how to best protect democracy, what would be considered right and wrong, and how to sustain public education.

As with so many stories in the U.S. South, slavery played an inescapable role in the prologue of William Frantz Public School (WFPS). At the outset of public education in New Orleans,...

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