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St. Landry educator remembers desegregation of schools

Posted at 6:02 PM, Jan 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-20 20:05:19-05

One of Dr. King's greatest fights was for equal education and while the work continues, over the years, there have been major changes.

"There were three students of African American descent who came to a school that had 1,300 white students," said Park Vista Elementary Principal Ulysee Joubert.

Joubert started teaching at Opelousas High School in 1968, two years before desegregation was enforced by the federal government.

"There were seniors in high school and they had never interacted with somebody of a different race," Joubert said.

In 1969, he was transferred to J.S. Clark High School which at the time was an all black school. Despite other offers to teach outside the city at a majority white school, Joubert baffled his white peers by accepting the position.

"I got the degree to teach...to teach the schools in Opelousas, and you know if the students were going to be all black, that really wasn't going to be in my control. God is the one who made the students, I was only gonna try to help them," Joubert said.

He recalled one particular interaction with one of his students who said she wanted to become a doctor, something that was unheard of back in the early 70s.

"I said 'you may hear some noise, but turn around a couple of times, worry about you. Focus on your work as a doctor...becoming a doctor and you will become a doctor.' By the way, I did ask her to come back and be my doctor and she did," Joubert said.

Schools have since become a lot more integrated, however around half of Louisiana's school districts are still under court desegregation orders including St. Mary, St. Martin and St. Landry Parish. Joubert says the schools are now moving in reverse.

"The rules and the little ideas that you try to work to make sure that you've got some diversity, those have disappeared or real close to it," Joubert said.

He adds that holidays like Martin Luther King day shouldn't just be looked at as a day off of work or school, but rather should be used as a teaching tool to keep making progress.

"I am a history major and one of the things that you are always taught in your history class is that if a people does not know their history, they're doomed to make the same mistakes," Joubert said.