There was a miseducation among African Americans. We were trained, not educated, trained to believe that this is the way, this is the, this is the way things are and there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it …
When I went into the army, I never dreamed … that I would become a lawyer. … I went home one of those nights and wrote my mother a letter and said, “If I get out of this army alive, I’m gonna become a lawyer.”LOLIS EDWARD ELIE
Lolis Edward Elie was a lawyer whose work in civil rights was integral to the protection of institutions— such as The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the NAACP —that would be necessary to the racial desegregation and re-education of the African American cultural consciousness in New Orleans. From early on in his career, he’d taken it upon himself to represent young activists who fought to for equal rights, whether they be protesters, sit-in demonstrators, or grassroot community organizations fighting for equal opportunities in the workforce.
Lolis Elie was initially inspired to become a lawyer by his friend Frank D’amico while he was in the Army in the early 50’s. He would go on to become one of the first African American graduates of the Law School at Loyola University of New Orleans, as it had only been desegregated a few years prior. His status of being one of the few African American lawyers in New Orleans led to him opening his own offices in the absence of any available jobs and immediately making connections with community organizations such as the YMCA and local churches. Activists, such as the organizers of the Boycott movement on Dryades Street in the 60’s, were directed his way, and his representation of these individuals would lead to advocacy for CORE, the Freedom Riders, and the Black Panthers, whie also creating a foundation for his eventual involvement with municipal government. He would advocate for the election of Mitch Moon Landrieu and would serve as Ernest “Dutch” Morial defense attorney after his election (as the first Black mayor of New Orleans in 1978)— two individuals that were key in the desegregation and the redevelopment of race relations in New Orleans.
This interview highlights Elie’s involvement in and personal journey through the most impactful civil rights events in New Orleans during the 1960’s and 1970’s, alongside detailing how African American culture became an integrated and now key staple of New Orleans society and culture. Discussions of the Dryades Street boycotts, the election of Ernest “Dutch” Morial, the Landrieu Administration, the emergence of the Jazz and Heritage Festival, and the affects of Armstrong Park and the bisecting of Tremé on the African American community are included within.
Elie, Lolis. Lolis Elie Interview. Interview by Jack E. Davis and Justin A. Nystrom. Videorecording, transcript, November 16, 2012. Making Modern New Orleans Collection. Documentary and Oral History Studio, Loyola University New Orleans.
For more information about the Digital Humanities Studio’s interview collections and their use, please contact studio director Justin A. Nystrom. This interview and all related material including text and images are © 2023 Digital Humanities Studio, Loyola University New Orleans.