The Vault

This Pay Chart Shows Exactly How Louisiana Used To Discriminate Against Black Teachers

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This chart was enclosed in a letter from then-NAACP Special Counsel Thurgood Marshall to New Orleans attorney Alexander Pierre Tureaud. The two civil rights lawyers were collaborating on a pay discrimination case, Joseph P. McKelpin v. Orleans Parish School Board (1941), which they filed more than 20 years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the creation of the EEOC.

The document shows that before the settlement of this case, even the most educated and experienced African-American teachers and principals in this Louisiana school district couldn’t hope to earn the same salaries as their white counterparts. A black teacher with a B.A. degree and five years experience earned $1,356 annually; a white teacher with the same qualifications earned $1,512. A black teacher with a master’s degree and 11 years experience earned $2,056. A white teacher with identical qualifications earned $2,552—about 20 percent more. The chart is a stark reminder that segregation in the schools affected teachers’ working conditions, as well as students’ educational experiences.

After this case settled out of court by federal Judge Wayne Borah in 1942, black teachers’ pay rose over the next two years. (The line on this chart promising equal pay by 1943 seems to have been a promise that went unfulfilled.) In 1948, the legislature adopted a nondiscriminatory salary schedule.

Tureaud eventually filed similar cases addressing inequality in teacher salaries in 16 parishes across Louisiana. He also successfully fought to gain nonwhite students the right to enroll at Louisiana State University, represented a white student hoping to enter a historically black college, and defended sit-in protesters in the height of the civil rights movement.

Thanks to Andrew Salinas of the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University.

Teacher Pay Chart, 1942