Today in New Orleans History

March 5

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Reverend Avery Caesar Alexander
June 29, 1910 - March 5, 1999

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/AveryAlexanderPicketsCanalStreet.jpgReverend Avery C. Alexander was an important leader in the struggle for civil rights for black Louisianians. He was born Avery Caesar Alexander on June 29, 1910 in Terrebone Parish, LA. By 1927, seven years after his father's death, the family relocated to New Orleans. He gained his high school diploma in 1939 from Gilbert Academy where he had taken night classes. He studied at several universities and graduated from Union Baptist Theological Seminary. He was ordained into the ministry in 1944.

A member of the NAACP, Rev. Alexander traveled statewide participating in voter registration drives in the years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. In New Orleans, he helped to organize several boycotts against white businesses to hire blacks for jobs above the "broom and mop" level. He also led a successful boycott against New Orleans Public Service, Inc. to hire the first black bus drivers.

Rev. Alexander participated in marches with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., including the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and the first and second marches on Washington. He also was involved in sit-ins to integrate lunch counters all over New Orleans. In one incident, during a sit-in being held at the eating facilities at City Hall, he was arrested and dragged by the heels up the steps from the basement of that building. Films of that event became the story of the day nationwide.

In 1975, Rev. Alexander was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives (Democrat, District 93) holding that office until his death. During his life he was also a real estate broker, insurance agent and longshoreman, becoming the manager of the longshoreman's welfare system from 1958-1962. In 1990, he established the Church of All People, a non-denominational ministry. He continued his fight for civil rights until his death at the age of 89 on March 5, 1999.

The photograph by Marion James Porter shows Reverend Alexander leading the protest against Woolworth on Canal Street in September. 1960. Beside him is Sandra Nixon and, behind her, Thomas Valentine. (Text and photo from the New Orleans Public Library.)

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Carnival Day was celebrated on March 5 in 1957 and 1935.  Sketches of floats from the 1935 Rex parade themed "Nature's Workshop".

On Mar 5, 1909, the Christian Science Monitor reported "Miss Sophie Wright has long been called "the best citizen of New Orleans." where she is commonly and lovingly referred to as "Saint Sophie."  Photo:

An interior view of Horticultural Hall from a post card dated March 5, 1908.

The Mayor's duties, as listed in the 1857 City Charter, included appointing police officers, policemen, and watchmen, as well as the ability to dismiss said positions. The Metropolitan Police act, approved March 5, 1869, however, prohibited the mayor from selecting members of the police force or from disbanding them. (NOPL)

On March 5, 1837, The Picayune described "dead rats, dogs horses, etc, etc, etc, with which our city abounds".

On March 5, 1835, the Conseil de Ville (City Counsel) passed an ordinance closing the existing cemeteries in the city to new burials except in tombs or vaults already standing. The ordinance also provided that all persons dying in the city, "or in the vicinity thereof," were to be buried "in the cemetery established on the land purchased from Mr. Evariste Blanc, at the bayou St. John." Evidence in the records themselves, however, suggests that the cemetery began operation at the beginning of 1835, when the first burial is recorded. (NOPL)

On March 5, 1831, theNew Orleans Canal & Banking Companywas chartered by Act 18 of the Louisiana Legislature for the purpose of financing and digging the New Basin Canal.  More information and photographs of 15 of the Canal Bank's branch properties.

On March 5, 1766 Antonio de Ulloa, the first Spanish governor of Louisiana, arrived in New Orleans arrived to take possession of the Louisiana Territory from the French.

Baseball's Forgotten Man
New Orleans' Own Johnny Wright

On March 5, 1946, on page 9, a two paragraph Associated Press article appeared on the Times-Picyaune sports page.  It read:

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/1946JohnnyWrightDodgersClubHouse.gifRobinson, Wright Have First Spring Workouts

Sanford, Fla., March 4. --  Baseball broke a precedent of long standing today when Shortstop Jackie Robinson and Pitcher John Wright, two Negro athletes, reported for spring training with the Montreal Royals, Brooklyn's farm club in the International League.

Before an uninterested gathering of seven spectators, Robinson and Wright went through the routine practice motions in a drill that failed to create as much excitement as a daily battle between the "Blues" and the "Greens" at Rickey University."

Robinson went on to earn great fame.  Wright has been mostly forgotten.  And the introduction of black players to major league baseball was anything but "routine" (the word used to describe their first practice together in the above article).

Born in New Orleans on November 28, 1916, John Richard "Johnny" Wright graduated from McDonough 35 in 1935 and pitched for the New Orleans Zulus at age 17 in 1936.  The Zulus were a local professional team which provided entertainment with high-jinks which have been compared to the Harlem Globe Trotters. In 1937 played professionally in the Negro League for the Newark Eagles, the Atlanta Black Crackers (1938), the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1938), Toledo/Indianapolis Crawfords (1939-40) and twice with the Homestead Grays (1941-43, 1945).  With the Grays, Wright pitched in the Negro Leagues World Series of 1942, '43, and '45. In 1943.  Wright had a 25-4 record before entering the Navy during World War II where he played on the the Great Lakes Naval Station and the Floyd Bennett Air Field teams.

On October 23, 1945, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey made the announcement of Jackie Robinson's signing and on January 29, 1946 he announced the signing of Wright, making him the second officially recognized African-American to sign a contract with major league baseball as well as the first black pitcher.  Wright's contract had actually been signed on November 20, 1945, less than a month after Robinson signed.  Wright was 27 years old, Robinson was 28. 
Bill Mardo of the Cleveland Call and Post wrote from the Dodgers spring training camp in Daytona Beach, “Actually Wright stands a far better chance than Robinson to make the jump into big league baseball. The Dodgers are terribly low on good pitchers, and by gosh that Wright is one helluva moundsman."
In Florida, Robinson and Wright were allowed to stay with the white players at the team hotel -- They were instead housed with families in the African-American community. The Sanford police chief  threatened to cancel games if Robinson and Wright did not cease training activities there. In Jacksonville, the stadium was padlocked without warning on game day, by order of the city's Parks and Public Property director. Also in Jacksonville, Wright and Robinson were prohibited from playing after the Playground and Recreation Board noted that the rules barred “mixed contestants in athletic contests” at their facilities. In DeLand, a scheduled day game was called off, reportedly because of faulty electrical lighting.

Wright was on the roster on March 17, 1946, when Robinson started at shortstop for the Royals in an exhibition game against their parent club the Dodgers, the first step in breaking baseball's color barrier.  While Robinso was able to channel any adversity into a drive to achieve excellence, Wright began faltering.  In his first appearance, against Syracuse, Wright entered in relief. He gave up 4 runs and 5 hits over 3.1 innings. The next time on the mound Wright pitched in Baltimore, the southern-most city in the International League, and a hostile environment for black players. He entered in the sixth inning behind by five. He retired the side and finished the game without giving up a hit. In general, however, during his six weeks with the club, he was used sporadically and often suffered from control problems. On May 14, he was demoted to the Class-C Trois Rivieres (Quebec) Royals of the Canadian-American League.  The Dodgers immediately replaced Wright on the Montreal roster with Roy Partlow, another black pitcher.  Wright went 12-8 with Trois Rivieres, plus winning the deciding game of the championship series. At the end of the season, Wright barnstormed with Robinson's "All-Star" squad. 

Wright rejoined the Grays for 1947, making the All-Star team and winning eight games. He retired after the 1948 season, moved back home, and spent the rest of his working life at the National Gypsum Company.  "I'm sure most of his co-workers at the gypsum plant never even knew he was a ballplayer," said Walter Wright (no relation), president of the Old-Timers Club who played and followed baseball for most of his 84 years. Wilmer Fields, a teammate with the Grays, said: "John never talked much about his experience with the Dodgers. He was a happy-go-lucky person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Jackie Robinson's temperament was better suited to handle the cruelties and indignities suffered by the first black men to play in the big leagues. He wrote in his  autobiography, "Shortly after Branch Rickey had signed me for Montreal, he had signed John Wright, a black pitcher, for the farm club. Johnny was a good pitcher, but I feel he didn't have the right kind of temperament to make it with the International League in those days. He couldn't withstand the pressure of taking insult after insult without being able to retaliate. It affected his pitching that he had to keep his temper under control all the time. Later I was very sad because he didn't make the Montreal team.

Johnny Wright died in Jackson, Mississippi on May 17, 1990 at the age of 72.

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Abreviations used on this site: NOPL (New Orleans Public Library), LOC (Library of Congress), LDL (Lousiana Digital Library), HNOC (Historic New Orleans Collection), WIKI (Wikipedia).

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