Sunday, February 7, 2010

Saints, Race, and Moon

One of the hardest things to do when going through history is coming up with a complete, accurate portrayal of relatively recent history. History that's too old to easily get newspaper articles, TV reports, and your own memory, but not old enough for good history books to be published. James Lowen referred to this as the "disappearance of the recent past."

During the Rachael "Madeaux" Show, she interviewed Dr. Norman Francis.

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Dr. Francis talking about the founding of the Saints, which he was a party to.

Throughout the 50's and 60's, many in the New Orleans business community desperately wanted an NFL franchise to prove that New Orleans was a big city that could rank beside Houston and Atlanta. Momentum slowly built, but there were constant threats to derail the efforts.

One of the worst incidents happened after New Orleans hosted a Pro-Bowl. There's a brief mention at the end of this Google Timeline article from the St. Petersburg Times.
"The American League would love to have New Orleans, but the city does not want A.F.L. resentment over the walkout staged by some of the league's Negro players prior to the All Star Game held here last January. Their grievances were slight, but the league moved the game to Houston, causing a furor in the rejected city.

I've never heard a really thorough explanation of what happened, but it's something along the lines of what happened when Louis Armstrong was king of Zulu. Out of town black football players, used to at least some level of equal service and integrated facilities, were horribly offended by segregated public spaces, especially the hotels and bars. If anyone knows of a good account of what happened, I'd love to read it.

Keep in mind, other cities were struggling with what to do with the "Integration Question." New Orleans was way behind the curve. Atlanta was selling itself as "The City too Busy to Hate" (aside- if you weren't so greedy, you'd love to hate? Is that it?). New Orleans businesses were being hit due to the city's "racist" reputation.

It took some locals sticking their neck out to placate the players union enough for the league to give the OK for a New Orleans franchise. For example, Moon Landrieu battled as one of the only members of the Louisiana Legislature to vote against the infamous "hate laws" of the early 60's. During the LEH lecture series, one person said that Moon, at the time, "looked into his political grave every time he voted against those measures."* He was reviled by whites at the time for being a traitor to his race. As a city councilman, he fought to remove the Confederate flag from Council Chambers (put there as a symbol against integration, not any Grandiose delusions of history). He also passed the "Public Accommodations Act" in 1965, referred to by Dr. Francis in the interview as one of the keys to bringing the franchise to the city.

Finally, New Orleans got the nod. Here's the Google Timeline article of New Orleans being awarded the franchise that would soon be known as the Saints on Halloween.

New Orleanians have every right to enjoy this game without intrusion of politics, but before the game, let's recognize the political history of franchise. Without integration and the heroes that championed it (like Moon Landrieu, but he was only one of many), there would be no New Orleans Saints. Thank God for them and thank God for our New Orleans Saints.

* Video here. I highly recommend all of the LEH lectures. All are biased towards the mayors, but do a good job of filling in the "memory hole" of the recent past.


Clay said...

One little side note: I'm not very good at these intersection of sports, politics, and culture articles. People like Dave Zirin are much better. I just wanted to post something because I thought it was an important historical footnote.

Clay said...

Here's Zirin: