Pamela Foreman Remembers Integration, Her Father and His Legacy

Updated: Nov 16


By James Scott Cullen


November 13, 1960 was Pamela Foreman’s last normal day of kindergarten at the William Frantz School. Located in the Upper 9th Ward on Galvez Street between Pauline Street and Alvar Street, the Frantz School was typical of neighborhood schools in New Orleans at the time: an unassuming three story red-brick building and segregated -- in this case whites only. At five years old, Pamela had just started school. Her father, Lloyd Andrew Foreman -- known to everyone as Andy -- was the pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in the French Quarter. The church provided housing for the family at 1930 Alvar Street, a block and a half from the Frantz School. At one time, the parish had tried to buy property in the Tremé, closer to St. Mark’s, but the deal wasn’t approved (Blue, 161). So the family stayed in the 9th Ward, in a working class neighborhood that itself had only recently begun to integrate in the 1940s and 50s after the Second Great Migration. By 1960, the city was 40 percent Black, and 25 percent of the Black population lived in the 9th Ward (Sokol 127). And tensions were beginning to rise as the white population of Irish, Italians, Spanish and French perceived the growing Black population as a threat (Sokol 128). It was in this climate that Pamela Foreman found herself on November 14, 1960, when all hell broke loose at the William Frantz School. Foreman, now 65, and 60 years removed, shared her memories of those times, as well as of her father. “We were in school and all of a sudden, people started getting real upset,” said Foreman. “Because the little Black girl had come to school. And none of us knew why everybody was so upset. So, the parents started coming and getting the kids and taking everybody home. And the neighbor lady took me home with her kids.” The little Black girl, of course, was Ruby Bridges, who along with Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost and Gail Etienne began the arduous process of school desegregation in New Orleans, with Bridges attending the William Frantz School and Tate, Prevost and Etienne attending McDonogh 19 in the Lower 9th Ward. The little girls were met with an almost unimaginable vitriol. Local police protection had to be augmented by U.S. Marshals. All for the most ordinary of activities -- going to school. And Pamela Foreman, at 5 years old, had a decision to make. “When daddy got home, we talked about it. And he said, ‘Do you want to go to school tomorrow? If you want to go to school tomorrow, I'll take you,” said Foreman. “And I said yes. So, the next day we started going to school, and that's when things really kind of got out of control.” Andy Foreman wasn’t looking to pick a fight. But he wasn’t going to back down from one either. But what happened was a shock to even him. Throngs of white people, some neighbors, some he didn’t recognize, waited outside his door to make the block and a half walk to the Frantz School a crucible. White women with their children in tow yelled invectives that would make the dockworkers who lived in the community blush. These “Cheerleaders,” as they became known, tried to terrorize Foreman and his daughter, and in the absence of that, shame them as race traitors. And the Foremans found no comfort in their community either. “The Cheerleaders, as they called them nasty people, would come up in the yard and throw stuff,” said Foreman. “And the neighbors on each side, they had signs that pointed towards our house because they didn't want to have their house damaged or anything. They wanted everybody to make sure that they got the right house and that it was our house because they didn't agree with what daddy was doing either.” And what exactly was Andy Foreman doing, and why? Integration wasn’t popular among whites throughout the South, and especially the whites in his neighborhood. It wasn’t necessarily even popular among his own congregation. But if Foreman was scared, he didn’t show it. “He was. I'm sure he was (scared),” said Foreman of her father. “But you know, he had his faith in God and his belief that every child had a right to an education, regardless of their race. You know, daddy was an unusual character. I mean, this is just one instance, in his life, but this was not what I would remember my daddy for. But he did believe in God and his beliefs guided him throughout his life in many difficult times to take a stand and do what he felt was the right thing to do.” But the right thing to do is rarely the easy thing to do, and Andy Foreman recognized that he might not be able to protect his family. But he continued to walk Pamela to school. First alone. Then accompanied by Father Jerome Drolet, a Roman Catholic priest and activist (Blue 163). But the Cheerleaders and their ilk, stoked by noted segregationist Leander Perez, the boss of Plaquemines Parish, only got bolder. So bold that the American novelist John Steinbeck, who was on the road working on his book Travels with Charley, diverted to New Orleans to witness the spectacle for himself. And Steinbeck was repulsed by what he saw. And Steinbeck, acknowledged that while “the jibes and jeers” for Bridges “were cruel and sometimes obscene,” that this was not in fact “the big show.” That was reserved for the Foremans. Wrote Steinbeck: The crowd was waiting for the white man who dared to bring his white child to school. And here he came along the guarded walk, a tall man, dressed in light gray, leading his frightened child by the hand… A shrill, grating voice rang out. The yelling was not in chorus. Each took a turn and at the end of each the crowd broke into howls and roars and whistles of applause. This is what they had come to see and hear (Steinbeck 257). For white, 9th Ward New Orleanians, their race was the one thing they felt gave them superiority over their Black neighbors. But integration threatened to erase even that (Sokol 128). And they were determined to fight it at any cost. “It was our own race,” said Foreman. “And that's why I said our story was a different story. Because it was the white race that was completely against us. And they would have done anything to stop us because as long as they didn't have a white person in the school integration, desegregation wouldn't have been successful. So, they would have done anything to stop us from going.” But the Foremans continued to go. Even after it became too dangerous to walk. Even after a brick was thrown through the window of their car. Even after their house was vandalized. Even after the crowd stoned their black and white puppy, jeering "even their dog is integrated." Even after they had to travel under the protection of police and U.S. Marshals, they continued to go to the William Frantz School. Even after the majority of her classmates had been pulled out of school, and there were only two little girls, a white kindergartener and a black first grader, separated only by a single floor and the Jim Crow South. “I don't think she knew that I was there,” said Foreman of Bridges. “And the only way I knew she was there still was because I went to the bathroom one day. And as I snuck upstairs -- she was upstairs and I was downstairs -- I snuck upstairs and I peeked in the window. And I saw her and her teacher in the room and then I got in trouble when I got back downstairs and told the teacher because I didn't understand why we couldn't play together.” Whereas Foreman and Bridges were only marginally aware of each other’s presence, everyone in the city seemed aware of where the Reverend Andy Foreman was. St. Mark’s Church itself became a target. The Church began receiving volumes of hate mail, and one night, was desecrated by vandals who poured creosote on the exterior of the sanctuary (Blue 165). Yet Foreman persisted. et Foreman persisted. His strength and quiet resolve kept him at the helm of St. Mark’s until 1965. And to Foreman, his stand was not particularly high-minded, or even progressive, but a matter of basic right and wrong. “He just did whatever he thought needed to be done,” said Foreman. “But he was a good Christian man. And the thing I respect most about him is he always stood up for his beliefs. And it didn't matter whether it was something as big as this or something else. He stood up for what he believed in, and mostly his faith in God. I hope I got a little bit of that.” Works Cited: Blue, Ellen. St Mark’s and the Social Gosepl. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2011. Sokol, Jason. There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Steinbeck, John. Travels with Charley. New York: Penguin Books, 1961.

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