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Merline Pitre

Historian and educator Merline Pitre was born on April 10, 1943 in Opelousas, Louisiana to Robert and Florence Pitre. Pitre graduated from Plaisance School in Plaisance, Louisiana; and went on to earn her B.S. degree in French from Southern University, and her M.A. degree in French from Atlanta University. She also earned her second M.A. degree and Ph.D. degree in history from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1972 and 1976, respectively.

In 1967, Pitre taught French at St. Augustine College in Raleigh, North Carolina before returning to her hometown in 1971 to teach French at Plaisance High School. After receiving her Ph.D. degree, Pitre was hired as an assistant professor of history at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. In 1980, she served as group leader for the Texas Consortium of Black Colleges and Universities trip to Haiti, and then as group leader in 1981 for the Texas Southern University Fulbright Fellows Trip to Haiti and Santo Domingo. From 1983 to 1985, Pitre served as the associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts & Behavioral Sciences at Texas Southern University, later serving as dean of the college from 1990 to 1994 and again from 2000 to 2008.

Pitre released her first book in 1985, Through Many Dangers, Toils and Snares: The Black Leadership of Texas, 1868 to 1898. Pitre’s book In Struggle against Jim Crow: Lulu B. White and the NAACP, 1900-1957, was published in 1999. She also served as co-editor, with Bruce Glasrud, of the 2008 book Black Women in Texas History, and the 2013 book Southern Black Women in the Modern Civil Rights Movement. During her career at Texas Southern University, Pitre served on the boards of several organizations. She was on the 1993 Editorial Advisory Committee of The Griot Journal for the Southern Conference on African American Studies, Inc., and served as president of SCAASI from 2007 to 2008. She also served on the nominating board for the Organization of American Historians, and the advisory committee of the OAH Magazine of History. In 2011, she became the first African American president of the Texas State Historical Association. During that time, she also became the editor of the African American Handbook of Texas. She authored the book Born to Serve: A History of Texas Southern University, published in 2018.

Pitre received numerous awards for her work over the years, including the Liz Carpenter Award from the Texas State Historical Association in 2008 and 2014. She was also named the 1988 Outstanding Black Texan by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, and awarded the Black Caucus Award in 1989. She received the Lorraine Williams Leadership Award from the Association of Black Women Historians in 2014, and Texas Southern University named her the 1987 Scholar of the Year, in addition to awarding her the 2014 President Achievement Award. She received special recognition for her research from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

Merline Pitre was interviewed by The Historymakers on November 28, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.116

Sex

Female

Interview Date

11/28/2016

Last Name

Pitre

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Occupation
Schools

Plaisance High School

Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College

Clark Atlanta University

Temple University

First Name

Merline

Birth City, State, Country

Opelousas

HM ID

PIT34

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Washington, D.C.

Favorite Quote

There Is No Progress Without A Struggle.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Birth Date

4/10/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Houston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ice Cream

Short Description

Historian and educator Merline Pitre (1943 - ) worked as a history professor and administrator at Texas Southern University since 1976, and became the Texas State Historical Association’s first African American president in 2011.

Employment

Texas Southern University

Plaisance High School

St. Augustine's College

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Merline Pitre's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Merline Pitre lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Merline Pitre describes her mother's upbringing and education

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Merline Pitre talks about her father's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Merline Pitre talks about her maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Merline Pitre describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Merline Pitre lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Merline Pitre describes her early experiences of sharecropping

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Merline Pitre describes her education in Opelousas, Louisiana, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Merline Pitre talks about her community in Plaisance, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Merline Pitre describes her early experiences of religion

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Merline Pitre talks about the Creole identity, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Merline Pitre talks about the Creole identity, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Merline Pitre describes her education in Opelousas, Louisiana, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Merline Pitre recalls her decision to attend Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Merline Pitre describes her experiences at Southern University

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Merline Pitre remembers the student demonstrations at Southern University

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Merline Pitre recalls her master's degree program at Atlanta University

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Merline Pitre remembers teaching at Saint Augustine's College in Raleigh, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Merline Pitre describes her family's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Merline Pitre describes her doctoral dissertation, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Merline Pitre describes her doctoral dissertation, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Merline Pitre talks about her academic success

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Merline Pitre describes her academic career at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Merline Pitre describes her research on black legislators in Texas during Reconstruction

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Merline Pitre talks about the challenges faced by African American legislators in Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Merline Pitre remembers her experiences in Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Merline Pitre talks about her article, 'Frederick Douglass and the Annexation of Santo Domingo'

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Merline Pitre remembers founding the women's studies program at Texas Southern University

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Merline Pitre describes her research on civil rights activist Lulu B. White

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Merline Pitre remembers hosting a teacher's workshop on Jim Crow at Texas Southern University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Merline Pitre talks about her experiences of segregation

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Merline Pitre describes her organizational involvement, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Merline Pitre recalls her work with the National Endowment for the Humanities

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Merline Pitre recalls winning the Liz Carpenter Award for Best Book on the History of Women

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Merline Pitre describes her organizational involvement, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Merline Pitre talks about the Handbook of African American Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Merline Pitre describes the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Sweatt v. Painter, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Merline Pitre describes the U.S. Supreme Court case of Sweatt v. Painter, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Merline Pitre recalls the amendments to the social studies curriculum in Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Merline Pitre describes 'Southern Black Women in the Modern Civil Rights Movement'

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Merline Pitre talks about the history of Texas Southern University, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Merline Pitre talks about the history of Texas Southern University, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Merline Pitre remembers her travels to Africa

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Merline Pitre talks about Quintard Taylor's BlackPast.org

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Merline Pitre describes her article, 'Black Houstonians and the Separate but Equal Doctrine'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Merline Pitre describes her scholarship on black historical source material

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Merline Pitre talks about peer reviewing the Journal of American History

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Merline Pitre describes her awards and honors

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Merline Pitre talks about the Association of Black Women Historians

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Merline Pitre talks about her conferences and lectures

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Merline Pitre recalls the police riot at Texas Southern University in 1967

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Merline Pitre talks about her community in Plaisance, Louisiana

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Merline Pitre reflects upon her life

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Merline Pitre talks about her plan to write a history of St. Landry Parish, Louisiana

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Merline Pitre shares her advice to students

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Merline Pitre talks about the importance of The HistoryMakers

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Merline Pitre narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

6$8

DATitle
Merline Pitre remembers founding the women's studies program at Texas Southern University
Merline Pitre describes the U.S. Supreme Court case of Sweatt v. Painter, pt. 2
Transcript
Now, in '83 [1983], you become the associate dean of the liberal arts college [Texas Southern University College of Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences, Houston, Texas].$$Yes.$$Okay.$$I was associate dean of the liberal arts college then (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) All right. All right, so--$$That--that lasts only--we had a change in administration, so that lasts only, what, a year, year and a half, so not very much occurred (laughter).$$Occurred during that time. Okay. So now we're back to '85 [1985] and the--you know, the--your book 'Many Dangers, Toils and Snares' ['Through Many Dangers, Toils and Snares: Black Leadership in Texas, 1868-1898,' Merline Pitre] was written and published on that. And so what happens next after 19--after you write your book? And so, '85 [1985]?$$Yeah, '85 [1985], then I started doing research on the other, the, the next book ['In Struggle Against Jim Crow: Lulu B. White and the NAACP, 1900-1957,' Merline Pitre]. See, after I wrote this book, then the women movement was up and coming, and so I said, now, I have written a book on forty-two men of color and nothing about women, and (laughter) everybody is talking about women. So I, I started doing research, and as I did research, I said, well, I need to look at something here in Houston [Texas] where the sources are close by. As I started looking at the, the papers, the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] papers, I kept seeing this name Lulu White [Lulu B. White] come up, Lulu White. And I said, who is this lady? And she was--she really, as one of her classmates describe her, as someone who didn't take stuff from anyone, and she was cursing and doing--I said, now, I wonder. So as I start--then I started looking at that. At the same time that I started researching on Lulu White, I discovered that we did not have a program on women's studies. Now, I don't know what happened prior to my coming here, but TSU [Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas] used to have in the '50s [1950s] and '60s [1960s], a women, a women's day, where they would recognize women, but somehow, it fell off the radar, and so there was nothing on women, so that's why I decided I would come up with a plan to have a women's studies minor 'cause you got to have something. So at the time I'm doing Lulu White, I came up with the women's student minor. The question was as, as it came to (unclear)--who's gonna take women's history? You know, the men probably won't take it, and so if you put it as a major, you probably won't have anybody majoring in it. And then you have to write some new courses, so what we did, we said, well, I got together with group of women here. "How many of you teach a history--," or, I mean, a course, I'm sorry, "how many of you teach a course that deals with women?" So we got a sociologist. We got social work. We have human services. You have women literature. You have the one in history. So we came up with enough courses to have a minor, and that's how we still have the minor now. And then we started having--during Women's History Month, we'd have a program and a luncheon and invite people to come. And, and what has happened, one of those, we got four women, a black, a Hispanic, a white, and one--and it was really good because then we could collect data from that. So while that was going on, then I wrote the book on Lulu White.$When he took his case to court, the State of Texas decided that they would make Prairie View [Prairie View Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas; Prairie View A&M University, Prairie View, Texas] a university overnight. They would change the sign (laughter). They passed a bill saying--they passed the bill, but they changed the sign overnight. That we're going to make it a university overnight. Sweatt [Heman Marion Sweatt] did not accept the offer. Then they decided that they would tell Sweatt, "Well, if you can come to a building downtown Houston [Texas], we will get some black lawyers to teach you, and that will be a branch or a link to the University of Texas [University of Texas at Austin School of Law, Austin, Texas]." He did not accept this. So then they came up with their final offer to rent a space in a petroleum--a building downtown and let white lawyers from UT, or white professors from UT teach him. He rejected that and took his case to the [U.S.] Supreme Court. When he took his case to the Supreme Court in 1950, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas--there was no comparison between Texas--or but before that, before the ruling of the court, then they decided, after he does not go to the Supreme Court, that this area here, you can't see it. It's a building far from here. There was a private college called Houston College for Negroes [Houston, Texas]. The state purchased Houston College for Negroes, and established a law school; and that's how Texas Southern came to be, March 3rd, 1947, a bill passing the senate [Texas Senate]--bill 140, 140--and approved by the house [Texas House of Representatives] that this would become Texas State University for Negros with a law school. Texas--and that would eventually become Texas Southern University, but Sweatt took his case--he still pursued his case to Supreme Court; and when it got to the Supreme Court, the State of Texas argued, "But we have separate but equal. They have a law school." The court ruled that there was no comparison between the two; and, therefore, Sweatt had to be admitted to the University of Texas. So what did Sweatt v. Painter [Sweatt v. Painter, 1950] do? It set precedent for Brown versus the Board of Education [Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954]. In Sweatt v. Painter, the court would imply separate but equal is unconstitutional. In Brown versus the Board of Education, it would say in black and white, separate but equal is unconstitutional and has no place in American society. And so that's how Texas Southern came to be. This case, most historians would argue Brown versus the Board of Education is the one that gave rise to the modern Civil Rights Movement. But I'm saying the precedence for the Brown versus the Board of Education was Sweatt v. Painter here in Texas and here at Texas Southern University.

Dr. Floyd Malveaux

Allergist and Immunologist, physician and academic administrator Dr. Floyd J. Malveaux was born on January 11, 1940 in Opelousas, Louisiana to Inez Lemelle and Delton Malveaux. His mother was a math and science teacher and both parents supported his interest in science and aspirations for higher education. Malveaux did well in school, placing first in a state-wide math competition for minority high school students. He received degrees in biological sciences: his B.S. degree from Creighton University in 1961 and his M.S. degree from Loyola University, New Orleans in 1964. Malveaux went on to Michigan State University where he obtained his Ph.D. degree in microbiology and public health in 1968.

He then served as associate professor of microbiology for Howard University College of Medicine (HUCM), coordinator of the Science Program from District of Columbia Public Schools and coordinator of microbiology for Howard University College of Dentistry. Malveaux received his M.D. degree from Howard University College of Medicine in 1974 where he became interested in immunology, specifically allergic reactions and asthma. Malveaux continued specializing in these areas during his postgraduate studies at Washington Hospital Center and Johns Hopkins University. In 1978, he rejoined the faculty of Howard University College of Medicine serving as an associate professor of medicine. At HUCM, Malveaux created a training program for allergists/immunologists based on his work in allergies and immunology. In 1986, Malveaux was invited to join the faculty at Johns Hopkins University and also founded the Urban Asthma and Allergy Center in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1989, he returned to HUCM as Chair of the Microbiology Department. His work led to the Community Outreach for Asthma Care, a new treatment program at HUCM. In 1995, Malveaux became the dean of HUCM, forcing him to give up his clinical practice. In 1996, Malveaux was named interim vice president for health affairs at HUCM and served as the principal investigator for a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for HUCM to establish a major Clinical Research Center. He co-authored a study in 1997 that demonstrated a strong correlation between cockroaches and an increase of asthma in inner city children. Malveaux retired from HUCM in 2005 and joined the Merck Childhood Asthma Network, Inc. as its head.

Malveaux is the recipient of several awards including election to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies; the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Research Service Award; the Outstanding Faculty Research Award from Howard University and the Legacy of Leadership Award from Howard University Hospital. He has served as a member of many professional organizations including on the board of directors for the American Lung Association; the National Allergy and Infectious Diseases Advisory Council and the American Academy of Allergy. He worked extensively with the National Medical Association holding a number of positions including member of the board of trustees and first chair of the Allergy/Immunology Section. Malveaux is a member of the Alpha Omega Honor Medical Society. He and his wife have four adult children: Suzette, Suzanne, Courtney and Gregory.

Dr. Floyd Malveaux was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 6, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.053

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/27/2012

Last Name

Malveaux

Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

J.

Schools

Creighton University

Loyola University New Orleans

Michigan State University

Howard University College of Medicine

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Floyd

Birth City, State, Country

Opelousas

HM ID

MAL05

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Cape Town, South Africa, Paris, France

Favorite Quote

That's cool.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

1/11/1940

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Gumbo (Creole)

Short Description

Allergist and immunologist, physician, and academic administrator Dr. Floyd Malveaux (1940 - ) was dean of the Howard University College of Medicine from 1995 to 2005. He is an expert on immunology, specifically asthma and allergies and became head of the Merck Childhood Asthma Network, Inc. in 2005.

Employment

Merck Childhood Asthma Network, Inc. (MCAN)

Howard University

Howard University Hospital

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Howard University College of Dentistry

District of Columbia Public Schools

Michigan State University

Favorite Color

Blue

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Floyd Malveaux's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Floyd Malveaux lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Floyd Malveaux describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Floyd Malveaux discusses the history of the Creoles

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Floyd Malveaux shares stories from his mother's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Floyd Malveaux describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Floyd Malveaux describes the origin of his maternal grandmother's name

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his grandfather's military service

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his grandfather and the state of medical education in the 1800s

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his grandfather's use of herbal medicine

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his father's work experience

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Floyd Malveaux describes his early life

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Floyd Malveaux describes his parents' personalities

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his sister

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Floyd Malveaux describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Floyd Malveaux describes the neighborhood where he grew up

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Floyd Malveaux describes the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his asthma and its effects on his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Floyd Malveaux describes his early education

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his favorite subjects

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Floyd Malveaux describes his experience at Immaculata Minor Seminary

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his return to Holy Ghost Catholic School

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Floyd Malveaux describes the racial climate of Opelousas, Louisiana in the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Floyd Malveaux describes his decision to attend Creighton University

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Floyd Malveaux describes his first impressions of Creighton and Nebraska

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Floyd Malveaux describes his experience at Creighton, University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his extracurricular activities at Creighton University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Floyd Malveaux describes his experience at Loyola University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Floyd Malveaux describes his experience at Michigan State University

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Floyd Malveaux describes his doctoral research and his move to Howard University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Floyd Malveaux talks about going to medical school

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Floyd Malveaux describes his decision to specialize in allergy and immunology

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his return to Howard University

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Floyd Malveaux talks about asthmatic allergic reactions among minorities

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his role as Dean of Howard University's School of Medicine

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Floyd Malveaux talks about the Urban Asthma and Allergy Center

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Floyd Malveaux talks about the African American Health Summit

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Floyd Malveaux talks about commercial products to mask odors

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his work with Merck and Co.

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Floyd Malveaux talks about dealing with chronic diseases

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Floyd Malveaux talks about the National Human Genome Center

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his work and his work ethic

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Floyd Malveaux talks about efforts to combat childhood asthma

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Floyd Malveaux reflects on his life

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Floyd Malveaux shares his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Floyd Malveaux talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Floyd Malveaux tells how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

4$4

DATitle
Floyd Malveaux talks about his grandfather's use of herbal medicine
Floyd Malveaux describes his doctoral research and his move to Howard University
Transcript
Do you know if he was a part of any association or any--$$I'm not aware that he was a part of any association, and, as you know, for African-Americans at that period of time there were very few medical schools that they could actually go to. Howard was probably one of the first ones that opened its doors after the Civil War. And well, Freedman's Hospital actually here in Washington, D.C. opened after, right after the Civil War in order to treat the freed slaves and people who were coming into the Washington, D.C. area, and the medical school started about a year or so after that. So, actually, there were very, very few opportunities for African-Americans to get a degree in medicine. And none of my family, until my mother, actually went to college, got a college degree. So, it's her generation who were the first ones to actually finish college, and that's true on both sides of the family.$$Okay, okay. So, now, did, oh--then one more question about your grandfather. You know, one of the figures out of Louisiana history, and then celebrated as Dr. John, of whom the musician got the name--but I think that Dr. John, a Creole--Dr. John is maybe just the one name that kind of typifies a kind of hoo-doo doctor, in that sort of, that sense.$$Uh huh, right.$$With the herbs and things--I guess there are different versions of that, but would you describe your grandfather as being, having that kind of reputation on any level?$$Yeah, I think so, but I also think he had the reputation of being very effective in terms of what he did. And again, I've--in his journals, I can see, you know, that he took certain chemicals and mixed them together, things I'm sure that you could get at a pharmacy or so, and put them together, castor oil being a part of it, and so on. So, I think he, it wasn't witchcraft so to speak, it wasn't voo-doo, I mean. I think there was, there was some signs to that. He used certain things that worked, didn't know why they worked and didn't know what the active ingredient was, of course, in those things, but it worked. And I think he built his reputation on that.$$Okay, alright.$Let me ask you this before we move on. What was your focus, what was the focus of your dissertation, and can you explain it in layman's terms?$$Sure. Yeah, I, well, of course, it was in microbiology. And I had a strong interest in biochemistry as well. So, I did my doctoral thesis on the physiology and the biochemistry of a micro-organism, a bacterium of Staphylococcus aureus. When you hear about staph infections and so on, it was this particular organism. And my interest was really learning more about how this organism invades tissues and how it causes inflammation. So I chose to study in great detail, an enzyme, a protein that was made by this organism, called acid phosphatase. So the organism produces this protein, this acid phosphatase, in acidic conditions and tends to break down everything around it. So, I was trying to learn more about the characteristics of this particular molecule and how it behaves, and perhaps at some point someone could maybe find another molecule that would neutralize it, so to speak, and prevent it from causing the local inflammation and damage that it does. So, I studied the biochemistry of acid phosphatase, characterized it, and purified it very well. You have to purify it. And then I did all of the biochemistry on it, and so on. So, that was my contribution. I finished that work in '68' [1968]. So, I was a, I was a microbial physiologist. That was my field, microbial physiology. So, I was interested in the physiology of micro-organisms, how they behaved and what made them survive in certain types of environments. I came to Washington [District of Columbia], I interviewed in the department of microbiology in the College of Medicine. I was recruited by an individual there named Charles Buggs, B-U-G-G-S, an interesting name for a guy who heads up a department of microbiology, obviously. So Charlie Buggs recruited me to Howard in the department of microbiology. I was young, very young for the faculty at that point in time. It was very interesting, because he also recruited a man from the University of Michigan at the same time. His name was Rubin Kahn, K-A-H-N. Rubin was in his eighties (laughter). I was twenty eight, Rubin was in his eighties. And Rubin Kahn was in, he had developed, he had had a career in microbiology at the University of Michigan and developed a test for syphilis, to detect syphilis, called the Kahn Syphilis Test, actually. So he and I came together, interestingly, at the same time, to the microbiology department. I taught microbiology there to the medical students, to the dental students, medical and dental students, primarily. And it was during that time that Howard had it's, a lot of the student disruptions and so on. I came to Washington right after the riots. Martin Luther King was assassinated in '68' [1968], the spring of '68' [1968], and I came in the aftermath to Washington after the riots in Washington and so on in the fall of '68' [1968].$$Okay.$$That was quite a sight, obviously, to drive through Washington, to drive down U Street to see the destruction and so on. And there was student unrest on Howard's campus at the time, in the medical school. And in fact, some of the individuals who were in the, who had, who were responsible for the disruption as undergraduates went to medical school. They were activists and, of course, decided to, not replicate, but at least start to create some disruption within the College of Medicine, and bring forth I think some legitimate issues that needed to be addressed in the College of Medicine.$$For instance?$$Well, for example, they felt that student aid could be distributed on a more even basis. They felt that the curriculum was a bit antiquated at the time. And these were students who by their very nature--because they had had that success in terms of really changing the undergraduate, some of the undergraduate programs. And so they felt that, you know, this could be done at another level. So, it was almost in their DNA, so to speak, to do these types of things. So, as a result we had a dean at that time who resigned as a result of that, a department chairman who resigned as a result of that. A number of changes went on. I was placed on committees at that time to look at financial aid. That was one of the sensitive areas, and I think I was chosen because I was relatively young and had just come out of school, and the students identified with me as being close to their age, so to speak. Most of them were in their twenties when they went to medical school. So I really got to know, you know, the university, the medical school very well as a result of the work, and that I sat on the curriculum committee. And then after my first, after my first year or so there, a couple of the faculty in the College of Medicine encouraged me to consider going to medical school. At that time also there were programs being established in medical schools called the Ph.D. M.D. programs because there was a shortage of physicians during that time. So, some schools established a two-year program for individuals with Ph.D.'s and put them through a very rigorous course and training so that they got their M.D.'s in two years. And I thought about that at some time, because actually the faculty members who spoke to me felt that it would be a good idea for me to pursue an M.D. degree. They said if you're going to be in a medical school, if you're really going to make a difference, and if you expect to really rise in the ranks, you need an M.D. degree. I took that to heart. And also, the type of research that I was doing was primarily bench research with micro-organisms. I felt I wanted to do more clinical type of research, and I thought an M.D. would be a way to, would be an avenue to pursue that. So, I could not afford the two-year medical programs that were being offered at other institutions. I had a family. By this time we had three children. My son was born right after we got to Washington, in that February. So I inquired, actually, about attending medical school at Howard.

The Honorable Ivan Lemelle

U.S. District Court Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle was born on June 29, 1950, in Opelousas, Louisiana. In 1971, Lemelle graduated cum laude from Xavier University with a B.S. degree. Lemelle received many scholarships in order to attend Loyola University College of Law in New Orleans, where he graduated in 1974 with a J.D. degree. After graduation, he served for three years as an Assistant District Attorney in New Orleans, where he was promoted to supervisory positions within that office, including co-chief of narcotic prosecutions.

In 1977, Lemelle worked as a private practitioner with the law firm of Douglas, Nabonne & Wilkerson, the largest African American law firm in Louisiana at that time. He also served part-time as Assistant City Attorney for the City of New Orleans. From 1980 to October 2, 1984, Lemelle was the Assistant Attorney General for the Louisiana Department of Justice. From October 3, 1984 to 1998, he was a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. His appointment to that office made him the first African American United States Magistrate Judge in Louisiana federal courts and the sixth African American U. S. Magistrate Judge in the Nation. In 1998, President Bill Clinton appointed Lemelle to the position of United States District Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans, where he currently serves as the only African American District Judge for that Court.

In addition to service in leadership positions with numerous civic, fraternal and professional organizations, Judge Lemelle has also served on the Federal Judicial Center’s Advisory Committee for the Guide to Judicial Management of Cases in Alternate Dispute Resolution, President of the Loyola College of Law-Thomas More Inn of Court, Visiting Committee Board for Loyola College of Law, Amistad Research Center’s Executive Board, Federal Bar Association New Orleans Chapter Board of Directors, District Judges Association for the U. S. Fifth Circuit Executive Committee, and the Board of Reconcile New Orleans, Inc.-a nonprofit committed to addressing the system of generational poverty, violence and neglect in the New Orleans area.

Judge Ivan Lemelle was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 8, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.054

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/8/2010

Last Name

LeMelle

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

North Elementary School

St. Augustine Seminary

Xavier University of Louisiana

Opelousas Catholic School

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law

First Name

Ivan

Birth City, State, Country

Opelousas

HM ID

LEM02

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Swimming

Favorite Quote

The Reward For Doing Good Work Is To Do Better Work.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Louisiana

Birth Date

6/29/1950

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New Orleans

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Seafood

Short Description

Federal district court judge The Honorable Ivan Lemelle (1950 - ) served as the U.S. Magistrate to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana for over a decade, and in 1998, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as a U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Employment

New Orleans Legal Assistance Corp.

United States Department of Defense

Xavier University

Loyola University City College Div.

Loyola University College of Law

United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana

District Attorney's Office

Law Firm of Douglas, Nabonne, & Wilkerson

City Attorney Office

Louisiana Department of Justice

Favorite Color

Black, Yellow

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Ivan Lemelle's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his mother's upbringing and education

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his paternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his father's personality and career

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his family's move to Opelousas, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his community in Opelousas, Louisiana, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his community in Opelousas, Louisiana, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his elementary schools in Opelousas, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his early religious experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his schools' limited resources

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his childhood activities

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his early career and educational aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his parents' civil rights efforts

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his experiences of racial discrimination in Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls the assassinations of the 1960s

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his teenage social activities

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his high school prom and graduation

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his father's value of educational achievement

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his housing at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about Gert Town in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his activities at Xavier University of Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about his experiences with the Student Government Association

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers pledging Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his decision to attend law school

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle reflects upon his experiences at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls the political climate of Xavier University of Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his start at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his experiences at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his law school professors

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his experiences at the New Orleans Legal Assistance Corporation

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his internship for the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps at Fort Sam Houston

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his experience as a student law practitioner in Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about his personal growth

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers passing the bar examination

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls proposing to his wife

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about his wife and children

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers clerking for Judge Robert Collins

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his early career as an attorney

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about the roles of a magistrate judge and city attorney

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his decision to apply for a magistrate judgeship

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle reflects upon his experiences of sentencing

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls being recommended for a federal district judgeship

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes the federal judicial appointment process

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his Senate judicial confirmation hearing

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about his chambers at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls delivering his first life sentence

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his preference for federal civil cases

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about the U.S. courts of appeals

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan LemElle recalls a housing discrimination case

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about his cases relevant to Hurricane Katrina

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers Hurricane Katrina

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes the Just the Beginning Foundation

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about RNO, Inc.

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his involvement with the youth of New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about the law profession

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle shares his advice to future generations

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle reflects upon his career

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about his interest in travelling

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes how he would like to be remembered and his hopes for youth

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle expresses his gratitude for The HistoryMakers

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$6

DAStory

6$1

DATitle
The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his experience as a student law practitioner in Louisiana
The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his Senate judicial confirmation hearing
Transcript
And I'll never forget going to, in my senior year of law school [Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, New Orleans, Louisiana], the first time they had a program that allowed senior year law students, under the supervision of a licensed attorney, could actually go to a (air quotes) real court, and represent a client before a real judge, and in civil and criminal proceedings. And it was a rule in the Louisiana Supreme Court that authorized that to occur. The law schools had to set it up, get it approved, and I was one of the first students of doing that, and going to court, representing a client with a licensed lawyer. And my first time appearing before a judge in a court in that context, it was in Jefferson Parish [Louisiana], where I heard all kind of stories about, and said, okay, I'm going outside of my parish [Orleans Parish, Louisiana] now to Jefferson. And I appear for this proceeding. It was a criminal case. And the client (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) And I'm sorry, what parish is this?$$Jefferson Parish. It's right across the--it's an adjoining parish to New Orleans [Louisiana]. And going to that state court and in the criminal proceeding--I think it was an arraignment where you just go in, and the client pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges and advised of a trial date and some other pretrial proceedings. My supervising lawyer, who was the director of the law clinic, was late for this proceeding. And I'm thinking, okay, he's late. There's a lot of other people in here waiting for their cases to be called. So, nothing to worry about, tell my client it's okay. Not okay. They called my client's case. The client walks to the podium with me. I tell the judge, "Judge, my name is [HistoryMaker] Ivan Lemelle. I'm appearing as a student practitioner pursuant to Louisiana Supreme Court rule--," blah, blah, blah. The judge cuts me off and says, "Did you say student practitioner?" I said, "Yes, Judge." He said, "I don't know what that is. Are you a member of the bar?" I said, "No, Judge." And he says, "Well, you can't appear. You step outside of the counsel area, and I'll deal with your client--," no, "with, with this defendant and without you." I said, "But, Judge, I'm appearing, pursuant to the Louisiana rule--," blah, blah, blah. The judge said, "You didn't hear what I said? I'm going to hold you in contempt if you proceed with it." At that point, you know, I'm, I'm thinking, okay, here's the end of my career about to happen 'cause I'm just stuck there--frozen. And he must have sown--seen that I was not moving. In bust my supervising lawyer that moment, and kind of rescued me from being held in contempt. And he asked me afterwards--the supervising lawyer asked me, he said, "What were you going to do?" I said, "You know, I don't know. I was just standing there trying to represent my client, and trying to advise the judge of this rule, but, you know, it wasn't getting through," so that was scary. But, again, it, it--scary and exciting at the same time. And I guess you could say it was one, one of many moments where I guess I disagreed with the judge, but didn't lose my cool, so to speak, in, in, in being disagreeable to the judge. So, again, all this influenced me to go into litigation, as opposed to corporate law, and, and enjoyed it since.$Continue telling me about your confirmation.$$The living autopsy?$$Yes (laughter).$$Yeah. It, it, it didn't end with the actual nomination. Once I got word that the president, ju- President Clinton [President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton] was the president in office when I was nominated, he nominated me. I got word that he nominated me and I said, okay, this is downhill from here, right? You got the nomination. You just need Senate hearing and a confirmation by the [U.S.] Senate. Well, lo and behold, a colleague of mine--well, she was Judge Lemmon [Mary Ann Vial Lemmon]. She was up for Senate confirmation, and I was just nominated. She was getting her hearing before the Senate, before me, and the chief judge of the court appeared at her confirmation hearing before the Senate, and told them that she's well qualified. She'd be a great federal judge, but we really don't need her. Our docket, our caseload in his opinion, it didn't justify another judge, even though there was a vacancy. The Senate went on ahead and confirmed, but the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee [U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary] said at the time, and I could understand why--he said the next nominee coming from that court, my court [U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana], would have a problem getting confirmed--or getting a hearing for confirmation if the chief judge of the court still felt that way, or the court still felt that way. Well, guess who is the next nominee coming up? Moi. And it took about, almost a year, I think, for me after nomination to get a confirmation hearing. And the only thing that changed his mind--the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee back then, was the judges in my court said that, look, Judge Lemelle [HistoryMaker Ivan Lemelle] is already here as a magistrate judge, you know, he's going to hit the floor running. Let's bring him onboard and, and they said that another vacancy that we had at the time--there was two vacancies. I was up for one. Nobody is up for the other one yet. And they were going to transfer that vacancy to Baton Rouge, middle district of Baton Rouge [U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana]. So, a combination of factors then, then got me that confirmation hearing. And after all that, that wait, the confirmation hearing lasted maybe--it wasn't even an hour in my estimation. There was four of us, four judicial nomina- nominees that were appearing for the hearing before the Senate. It was myself, a judge from Los Angeles, California and two nominees from Michigan--Detroit, Michigan, I think. And like I said, not even an hour, and that went well. About, I, I say, it was just a week later, it might have been longer or short. I get a call from the senior U.S. senator from Louisiana, then John Breaux. And he says, "Ivan, the Senate has voted by unanimous consent, your nomination--confirmed you, and now, it's just a matter of the president signing it." I was having coffee at a local restaurant when I got the call. And they had trouble reaching me initially. They called my mother [Cecilia Comeaux Lemelle] first in Opelousas [Louisiana], don't know how that happened, then they called me, and I got the word, so that process was interesting. And, again, educational, and I, you know, it, it gave me another appreciation for the position, and what it means 'cause it, it wasn't easy.$$And, and this was in 1998?$$Nineteen ninety-eight [1998], correct, when I was confirmed and sworn in.