Master of Arts (MA)
New Orleans’ voters elected Sidney Barthelemy as the city’s second African American mayor in 1986. Historical treatments of Barthelemy’s tenure generally do not hold him in the same high regard as New Orleans’ first African American mayor, Ernest Morial. Yet, unfavorable evaluations of Barthelemy reflect the maturation of African American politics in the Crescent City. Symbolic victories no longer resonate with an African American populous in need of substantive gains to redress longstanding social and economic inequities. With the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the struggle for African American equality entered its next phase, the transition from protest to politics. Denied the vote for so long, African Americans typically assigned high, even unrealistic, expectations to the liberating possibilities of the ballot. Yet, the mayoral tenure of Sidney Barthelemy illustrates the limitations of electoral politics as a vehicle for African American advancement. The consolidation of African American political power in New Orleans produced uneven gains. While the African American middle class benefited from set-aside programs for minority businesses and increased access to municipal employment, African Americans at the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder realized little more than rhetorical service from the election black mayors. Black political power did not translate into black economic power. And cuts in state and federal funding, declining tax bases owing to white flight to the suburbs, and downturns in vital industries rendered Mayor Barthelemy impotent in uplifting conditions for poor and working-class African Americans. These findings suggest that the struggle for African American equality must permutate beyond the narrow confines of electoral politics.
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Perkins, Lyle Kenneth, "Failing the race: a historical assessment of New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, 1986-1994" (2005). LSU Master's Theses. 834.