United Teachers of New Orleans Statement on the Life and Legacy of Nat LaCour, UTNO President Emeritus.

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Local 527 membership elected Mr. LaCour vice-president in 1969 and then president in 1971, a post he held until he was promoted to a position in the American Federation of Teachers in 1998. He transformed Local 527 from a relatively small group of mostly segregated teachers into the largest local in the state. In 1972, amidst top-down faculty desegregation, Mr. LaCour helped orchestrate a merger with the mostly-white NEA local to form UTNO: The United Teachers of New Orleans. The merger was unprecedented:

 

In Mr. LaCour’s words: “I think UTNO was really the first institution in New Orleans to merge where whites joined a majority Black organization. That had not happened. Integration in the South had been a movement where Blacks integrated into white situations. Blacks went to white churches, Blacks moved into white neighborhoods, Blacks went into white restaurants, but it was never whites moving into a majority Black setting. I think UTNO was the first institution I know where that happened, and that was because people understood that race was not the big factor in our progress, that we needed to be together. So, we didn’t have to love each other, socialize with each other, but we could come together and campaign for our mutual interests. And that’s what happened.”

 

Two years after the merger, in 1974, the union became one of the first teachers unions in the south to win a collective bargaining agreement. Under his leadership, UTNO fought tenaciously for more money for schools and improved building conditions. They incorporated paraprofessionals (school aides) in 1975 and clerical workers in 1982 and were influential in neighboring parishes, notably Jefferson and St. Tammany, earning collective bargaining agreements of their own. Mr. LaCour led the union through two successful strikes, in 1978 and 1990, both times winning pay increases and school improvements.

 

“Nat’s attitude to us was that we deserved as much as the teachers in New York deserved. So we fought to get whatever they had in New York, we had a teacher center, we had a health and welfare fund…” –Grace Lomba, Retired Educator

 

“Nat LaCour will be remembered as a hero, a mentor, and a tireless champion of New Orleans’ public schools. Nat forged a way out of no way in the late 60’s and early 70’s and spent decades building UTNO into a powerful union to improve education for teachers and students.” --- Wanda Richard, UTNO President.

 

Born in New Orleans, Mr. LaCour’s father worked in the shipyards and his mother was a cafeteria worker in the New Orleans Public Schools. He graduated from Cohen Senior High School and then attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, earning first his bachelor’s degree and then a master’s in teaching biology. He was active in student demonstrations at Southern, protesting the administration’s decision to discipline students who participated in desegregation sit-ins. In fall 1960, he returned to New Orleans to teach, but had to work as a substitute until the spring semester because, in an attempt to obstruct the federal desegregation order, the Louisiana legislature had stripped the school board of its power, including its ability to hire new teachers. He immediately signed up to join the union, AFT-Local 527. His early activism both emerged from and was part of the Black struggle to end segregation in the south.

 

“I was concerned about a lot of the people I was working with,” Mr. LaCour recalled. “Some of the teachers were struggling, and things were unfair. Salaries were low.” In 1965, the union, nominally integrated but composed almost entirely of Black teachers, appealed to the board for collective bargaining. LaCour participated in two strikes, in 1966 and 1969, to demand board recognition and equity for Black students and educators. The 1966 strike was the first teachers strike in the south.