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Educator, civil rights trailblazer Juanita Thibeaux has died

Posted at 11:54 AM, Feb 24, 2021

Funeral services will be held on Friday, February 26 for Juanita Jackson Thibdeaux, a well-known Lafayette educator and civil rights trailblazer.

The service will be at 11:00 a.m. at Mount Calvary Baptist Church located at 414 South Weeks Street, New Iberia. For those who cannot attend in person, the funeral may be viewed online on the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church-New Iberia Facebook Page.

Services will be conducted by Reverend Mark Lewis, Pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church.

Thibeaux was a long-time educator in Lafayette parish, but before she was a teacher she helped integrate Lafayette's education systems. As a high school student, she led a strike that ended with black children allowed to ride parish school buses. After graduation, she was one of 80 black students who desegregated what is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Here is her obitutary, from the Syrie Funeral Home website. You can view it here.

Thibeaux, affectionately known as “Mama Nita,” passed away peacefully at Lafayette General Medical Center on February 20, 2021 at the age of 86. She was a life-long resident of Lafayette, Louisiana. Mama Nita was full of life and always looked for opportunities to inspire and encourage others. Her philosophy of life was one of firmness, fairness and empathy. She was a life-long learner and loved sharing with others what God has done for her and with her. Mama Nita loved crossword puzzles, Pokeno, writing and studying the Bible for her Sunday School lessons.

Juanita, the oldest of three children, was born in Lafayette, LA on September 30, 1934 to the late Mary Ellen Phillips Jackson and Roosevelt Jackson. Early in life, she accepted Jesus as her personal savior and was baptized at Progressive Baptist Church in Lafayette, LA. She was a life-long active member of Progressive Baptist Church and served faithfully in various capacities - General Church Financial Secretary, member and treasurer of the Trustee Board, Sunday School Teacher, Vacation Bible School Director, Co-leader, Secretary, and Assistant Secretary of the Deborah Mission Circle, and a member of the original Progressive Inspirational Choir.

She was married to the late Lloyd Thibeaux for 50 years before his death in 2005. From this union, three children were born: Regina Gail Thibeaux of Lafayette, LA; Randy Thibeaux of Newport News, VA; and Michael Thibeaux of Baton Rouge, LA.

Juanita Thibeaux was bold, brave, outspoken and never afraid to speak her mind and fight for a worthy cause, especially issues around educational equity. Juanita Thibeaux attended Paul Breaux for elementary and high school and graduated in May 1953 as the valedictorian. In 1953, her class held a strike against the Lafayette Parish School Board. As a result of the strike, black students were permitted to ride a school bus to school for the first time.

She was a trailblazer in education and known for her courageous and pivotal role as one of the first 80 black students to integrate Southwest Louisiana Institute (SLI), now named the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, in 1954. She graduated from SLI in 1959 with a Bachelor of Science degree in English and a minor in science. She later received a Master of Education from Southern University in 1966 and also a Master’s Plus 30 from University of Southwestern Louisiana in 1981, now named University of Louisiana at Lafayette. As a trailblazer and education advocate, she was selected as a “Women Who Mean Business Honoree” in 2010 and also received the “Outstanding Graduate Award” in 2012 from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Christiana Smith African American Alumni Chapter.

Throughout her professional career and throughout the community, she was known as Mrs. Thibeaux. She was a veteran educator of 60 years of service in Lafayette Parish Public School System. She held positions as an English Teacher at Paul Breaux High School, Acadiana High School, and Comeaux High School as well as the Supervisor of Student Teachers in English for the University of Southwestern Louisiana; Dean of Girls at Acadiana High School; Assistant Principal at Northside High School; and Principal at St. Antoine Elementary. Under her leadership, St. Antoine Elementary became the first and only Special Program Upgrading Reading (SPUR) school in Lafayette Parish. Because of her work with the SPUR program, she became a State Regional Finalist for Principal of the Year in 1980. After her retirement in June 1988 from Lafayette Parish School System, she became the principal of Holy Rosary Catholic High School for two years, and then returned to Lafayette Parish Schools System as a substitute administrator and teacher until 2019.

She is survived by her three children: Regina Gail Thibeaux of Lafayette, LA, Randy Thibeaux of Newport News, VA, Michael Thibeaux of Baton Rouge, LA; two granddaughters: Roxanne (La’Troy) Sullivan of Dallas, TX, Raven Dugas of Dallas, TX; four great-granddaughters from Dallas, TX: Jurnee Sullivan, Lailah Sullivan, Justice Sullivan, and Troi Sullivan; her sister, Dorothy Jackson Lewis (Lionel) of Lafayette, LA and a host of nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Lloyd Thibeaux; parents, Mary Ellen and Roosevelt Jackson; sister, Nellie Mae Montgomery; brother-in-law, Alex Montgomery, Jr.; and step-brother, Lucius Jackson.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all attendees must wear masks or face coverings.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a gift in Juanita Thibeaux’s name to the UL Lafayette Christiana Smith Alumni Scholarship Fund.

ONLINE: When making a gift, under the Alumni Association header, please select UL Lafayette Alumni Scholarships and Juanita Thibeaux as the tribute name.

MAIL Donations can be made to:
UL Foundation
P.O Box 44290
Lafayette, LA 70504
*Please make check payable to the UL Foundation and in the memo section, put “In Memory of Juanita Thibeaux”.

PHONE: One can call the UL Foundation directly at 337.482.0700. When speaking to a Foundation representative, please tell them your donation is in memory of Juanita Thibeaux.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette released a statement Wednesday night on the death of Juanita Thibeaux:

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette family is saddened by the death of Juanita Thibeaux, who was among the first 80 Black students to enroll here in 1954. The bravery of these trailblazing students pushed our University toward a better future, and Ms. Thibeaux’s long career as an educator in Lafayette Parish schools made this community a better place, too. Her commitment to learning, her advocacy for students, her spirit of service to others – all of these are hallmarks of a purposeful, consequential life that was well lived and that will be long remembered.