MLK 50: Rudy Lombard and the CORE of New Orleans’ fight for civil rights

NEW ORLEANS -- The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a time when many different groups worked toward a better day.

One of those groups -- the Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE -- doesn't always get the recognition it deserves.

April 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In honor of MLK 50, a yearlong commemoration of Dr. King's life and legacy, News with a Twist is telling local and national stories highlighting the era of the Civil Rights movement.

CORE began in 1942 in Chicago to help steer civil rights. Rudy Lombard, a prominent Civil Rights activist, served as chairman of the New Orleans chapter.

Rudy's younger brother, Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edwin Lombard, remembers the early meetings of CORE at his parents' home in Algiers.

"The only time I got to hear the stories is when they all got together," Judge Lombard recalled.  "They would sit down and talk about some of the things that would happen and then they would make sure mom and dad weren't anywhere within earshot.  We were never a house with guns  so we had to rely on the good Lord, so really, if someone had come to the house, there as no way for me to defend my mother."

Another legendary name in New Orleans civil rights, Oretha Castle Haley, helped Rudy Lombard and others to mobilize volunteers.

CORE member Don Hubbard remembers his fateful ride across the river with Haley.

"Oretha asked me to take a ride with her across the river to Algiers to meet this guy that was talking about changing stuff, and before you know it a lot of things started happening," Hubbard said.

CORE was different than the NAACP. While the NAACP fought for change through the court system, in CORE, the change came from facing the issues head on with sit-ins and other measures.

"I didn't want to go to jail. It wasn't one of my goals to go to jail, but Oretha convinced me one time to sit in at Woolworth's until the relief came," Hubbard said. " We sat in, and this guy walked up to Oretha and cleared his throat to spit in her face.  She stood up and said to him, 'If you do, I'm going to wipe the store with you.. and then we all stood up and he walked away."

It was a tumultuous time for Civil Rights leaders, across the country and here at home. In Plaquemine outside of Baton Rouge, CORE was met by State Police at a voter registration rally.

"Calvin Johnson, he and Rudy were hiding in a fig tree.  They were bitten by a lot of red ants and couldn't make a sound," Hubbard said.

Then, in 1964, three Civil Rights workers went missing in Mississippi.

Edwin Lombard said the Civil Rights movement here at home was a fight against "an artificial prohibition by some man who determined he was better than I."

"You know its wrong.  There's no reason  why I can't drink out that water fountain.  There's something fundamentally wrong with the idea that the only reason why I have to go to this school is because I'm black.  The only reason I have to eat at this restaurant is because I'm black," he said.

Our MLK 50 series is brought to you by The King Firm.