of the original
New Orleans Tribune
By Keith Weldon Medley
Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez was a remarkable and venerated figure in New Orleans history. Born in Saint James Parish in 1823, he published pro-Union newspapers amidst the tumult of the civil war. Educated in France, he held medical degrees from the University of Paris and in the United States from Dartmouth University. Following the Reconstruction period, he became a chairperson of the Unification Movement which offered an attempt to bring racial unity to Louisiana.
Charles Barthelemy Rousseve wrote of Louis Charles Roudenez stating, “Dr. Roudanez, though born in Saint James Parish, had been raised from childhood in New Orleans, had completed with honors his medical training in Paris, and despite the advice of his teachers in France, had returned to New Orleans, where he soon developed a wide and substantial practice. In addition to his labors as a physician, Roudanez vigorously championed the interests of his people.”
The first New Orleans Tribune was a tri-weekly newspaper. Paul Trevigne Sr. was the associate editor. Its editorials were hard hitting. The newspaper boldly called for suffrage, voting rights and access to public accommodations. It demanded integrated schools and restaurants. As a successor to an earlier paper named L’Union, the first issue of the New Orleans Tribune was published on July 21, 1864. It upheld the values of freedom, justice and integrity. In its Volume 1 Number 2 issue, it laid out its mission:
“Under the above title we publish a new paper devoted to the principles heretofore defended by the Union. Convinced that a newspaper, under the present circumstances, representing the principles and interest which we propose to defend and advocate was much needed in New Orleans, we shall spare no means at our command to render the TRIBUNE worthy of public confidence and respect, and these were the reasons which prompted us to its publication.”
Roudanez’s first issue criticized the existence of Black Codes in the United States. It also posted the Proceedings of the National Brotherhood Association that was held in St. James Church (A. M. E.) The newspaper was bilingual with editions in French and English. Throughout that first year, The Tribune featured reports such as the Official Report on the Freedmen, articles on the continuing war effort, and the arrival of guns that were captured by brave Black Union troops. It also published presidential proclamations, advertisements announcing marriages, a Republican coffeehouse, school books, second-hand furniture, and a medical physician. In 1864, it reported that the mule-drawn street cars would be integrated. Other articles railed against the slave labor system in Louisiana.
In the September 24, 1864, issue, it announced that the first daily publication of the New Orleans Tribune would begin on the first Tuesday of October. The following year, on April 20th, 1865, the New Orleans Tribune reported on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the announcement of the many activities that mourned his passing. Roudanez’s newspaper advocated the unconditional acceptance of people of color into nation. In 1868, Roudanez and his band of Radical Republicans crafted a state constitution that gave recognition to political and social equality for all.
With the end of Reconstruction, in 1873, Dr. Roudanez became a chairperson for the Unification Movement, a campaign by a multiracial group of post-civil war New Orleanians to rise above the ancient hatreds and prejudices of the antebellum Deep South. Though short lived and often derided, the Unification Movement projected a singular vision for Louisiana citizens. More than 1,800 prominent Louisianans of all colors and creeds stepped forward to affix their signature to the Unification Movement’s recorded principles. In their document titled, “An Appeal for the Unification of the People of Louisiana,” its five principles called for a statewide commitment to civil rights:
“First-That henceforward we dedicate ourselves to the unification of our people.
Second-That by “our people”, we mean all men, of whatever race, color or religion, who are citizens of Louisiana, and who are willing to work for her prosperity.
Third-That we shall advocate by speech, and pen, and deed, the equal and impartial exercise by every citizen of Louisiana of every civil and political right guaranteed by the constitution and laws of the United States, and by the laws of honor, brotherhood, and fair dealing.
Fourth-That we shall maintain and advocate the right of every citizen of Louisiana to frequent at will all places of public resort, and to travel at will on all vehicles of public conveyances upon terms of perfect equality with any and every other citizen.
Fifth-That we pledge our honor and good faith to exercise our moral influence to bring about the rapid removal of all prejudices heretofore existing against the colored citizens of Louisiana.”
Other recommendations included a commitment to non-violence and the removal of racial barriers to public education, public conveyances, banks, employment, and the “cultivation of a broad sentiment of nationality which shall embrace the whole country and uphold the flag of the Union.” The document further called upon the news media to join in “erecting this monument to unity, accord, and justice, and like ourselves to forever bury beneath it all party prejudices”.
Unfortunately, the Unification Movement failed as White supremacists filled the void left by the removal of Federal troops. The white supremacists lacked lofty goals, but had no qualms about using violence to obtain political ends. The next year in 1874, members of the White League ambushed and killed eleven members of the city’s integrated metropolitan police force. Later that year, an emboldened White League urged White students to forcibly remove their Black classmates from the schools. From Dec.16 -19, 1874, hundreds of white youths roamed the schools attempting to forcibly expel Black students. Similarly, in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the gains of reconstruction were set aside after the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of separate-but-equal. Roudanez died on March 11, 1890, the year the Louisiana Legislature passed the Separate Car Act of 1890 segregating rail road trains.
Paul Trevigne wrote of Roudanez: “His name will be added to the galaxy of that brilliant constellation of Louisianans who have, here and abroad, honored their state and their race by their talents and their worth.”