Sunday, March 20, 2022

Geraldine Vaucresson in 1961 integrated the staff at the New Orleans Public Library

The New Orleans Public Library officially desegregated in 1954, making it one of the first institutions in the city to reject Jim Crow laws. However, while the move integrated libraries on paper, it took many years of strategic initiatives to truly desegregate the system. Geraldine Vaucresson became an important player in that process when she was hired to work at the Napoleon Branch in 1961. Geraldine was a Black woman, and the Napoleon Branch –– now called the Children’s Resource Center Library –– was not a Black library. By integrating their staff, Library officials hoped Black residents would be empowered to go into Library locations where they had previously been unwelcomed, including the one where Geraldine was employed. Geraldine was the first hire in this plan, cementing her as a key figure on the road to true integration. Her son, Vance Vaucresson, was born after Geraldine left the Library, but he said she was always very proud of her work there. He grew up hearing stories about his mother’s time at the Napoleon Branch, including the backlash she faced early on.
“Today, we look back at it, and see it as this huge thing. My mother integrated the New Orleans Public Library. That’s amazing, and it’s a story that I am happy to tell, and I’m proud that it’s part of my family history,” Vance explains. “But, she just kind of took as is what she was supposed to do, as a Black person and as a Black librarian during the civil rights movement.”