Seymour Straight

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Catalogue Of Straight University for The Years 1870-1871. New Orleans, LA. Pelican Print, 1871, p.2.

Photo Credit: Accessed Ap 3, 2014, Located at https://archive.org. Permission to reproduce granted under CC.

Contributors

Seymour Straight stands out in Southern history as a civil rights activist against a backdrop of racial hatred and violence. Seymour Straight was dedicated to helping African Americans gain access to education, and fought to achieve his goals politically and privately. Seymour Straight is remembered by those he impacted as a true defender against racial injustice and promoter of equality in New Orleans.

Early Life

Seymour Straight was born on February 4th 1816 in Charlotte Vermont. Soon after, Straight moved with his gamily to rural New York where his family worked on a farm. From a young age, Straight sought more education than was available to him, and began to acquire books which he would study after working on his family farm. The Straight family moved to Ohio in 1836, and Seymour became a public school teacher. In 1845, he moved to Cinncinatti Ohio and began studying business. [1]

Business and Political Career

Straight went on to co-found Straight, Deming & Co, a cheese distributing firm, with Judge William Deming in October of 1852. Straight opened a branch of his business in New Orleans, Louisiana, capitalizing on new trade opportunities between Northern and Southern markets. Living New Orleans, Straight struggled to find his place politically. Straight was an abolitionist, and fiercely opposed traditional Southern attitude on race, yet he did not identify with the Republican leaders in New Orleans either. Straight was nominated to the City Council of New Orleans, where he developed connections with politicans and business leaders. After declining the offer to be Mayor, Straight was nominated by the Republican “bolters” for Congress. [2]

Straight For Congress

After becoming involved in New Orleans politics as a result of his business growth, Seymour Straight was convinced to run for congress. Straight’s congressional platform reflected his abolitionist spirit. In a pamphlet distributed to voters, Straight appealed to African American voters citing his arrest for providing legal aid to African Americans and his business’s dedication to using only free labor. The pamphlet explained Straight’s firm beliefs that all citizens of Louisiana are entitled to its resources, and criticized the exploitive relationship between freedmen and their employers for denying freedmen those opportunities. [3]

Election of 1868

The period leading up to the elections of 1868 was extremely violent. In New Orleans, many riots broke out in which mobs targeted African Americans and Republican voters. Militant Democrats throughout Louisiana sought to intimidate Republican politicians and force their removal from Louisiana politics. Many employers forced their employees to vote for the Democratic ticket otherwise they would lose their jobs, and African Americans were regularly threatened with their lives to vote Democratic. Local newspapers encouraged such Democratic intimidation, attempting to create a one-party political environment in New Orleans. [4]

Straight University and Dedication to Education

After losing the 1868 election, Straight stepped out of the political spotlight, and used his wealth to fund the changes he wished to see in New Orleans. In 1868, Straight opened Straight University in coordination with the American Missionary Association. The university was designed to be an educational institution for men and women of all races and ethnicities. Straight University was located on the block between South Tonti and South Rocheblave Street. [5] Straight was appointed to the Board of Trustees of Straight University as well as that of Leland University. [6] In 1935, Straight University merged with Dilliard University. [7]

Philanthropic Legacy

Committed to the welfare of African Americans in New Orleans, Straight became an administrator at the Hathaway House of New Orleans, a shelter for impoverished African Americans. Straight was appointed to become a member of the Board of Control of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Louisiana by the Governor of Louisiana in 1874, and had the honor of being nominated to the International Penitentiary Congress, an elite group of progressive prison reform activists, in 1872. Straight is also remembered as a dedicated patriot as he sent his only son into the army, and worked together with his wife in hospitals to aid soldiers and provide funding for necessary medical supplies. Straight’s legacy is that of charitable giving and true dedication to the education and aid of New Orleans’s African American and other populations in need. [8]

Works Cited

  • Robson, Charles. “Seymour Straight.” In The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Ohio of the Nineteenth Century, Philadelphia and Cincinnati: Galaxy Publishing Company, 1876, 81-82.
  • Robson, Charles. “Seymour Straight.” In The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Ohio of the Nineteenth Century, Philadelphia and Cincinnati: Galaxy Publishing Company, 1876, 81-82.
  • “Seymour Straight for Congress,” Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Cite Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 19, 29.
  • “Supplemental Report of Joint Committee of the General Assembly of Louisiana on the Conduct of the Late Elections and the Condition of Peace and Good Order in the State. A.L. Lee State Printer. New Orleans, 1868. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection Site 230, Box 13, Folder 19, 5-7.
  • Laborde, Peggy Scott., and John T. Magill. Canal Street: New Orleans’ Great Wide Way, Gretna, LA: Pelican Pub., 2006, 193.
  • Robson, Charles. “Seymour Straight.” In The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Ohio of the Nineteenth Century, Philadelphia and Cincinnati: Galaxy Publishing Company, 1876, 81-82.
  • Laborde, Peggy Scott., and John T. Magill. Canal Street: New Orleans’ Great Wide Way. Gretna, LA: Pelican Pub., 2006. 193.
  • Robson, Charles. “Seymour Straight.” In The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Ohio of the Nineteenth Century, Philadelphia and Cincinnati: Galaxy Publishing Company, 1876, 81-82.

This page was last modified on 29 April 2014, at 03:44

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Straight University

Near Cleveland Street between Tonti and Rocheblave Streets, New Orleans, LA

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