Straight University Law Department 1874-1886

Rene Calvin Metoyer, Straight University Law Graduate 1886. Practiced until his death in 1937.

In the years immediately following the end of the Civil War, there was no greater desire among the millions of newly freed and newly enfranchised African Americans than to obtain education. The American Missionary Association (A.M.A.), an abolitionist group founded in 1846, immediately recognized the great missionary which existed in the Southland, where the lessons of the Bible and the primer were sought above all else. In 1869, the A.M.A. established Straight University in New Orleans, an institution which offered elementary, preparatory high school, and university-level courses. The university was named for Seymour Straight, a philanthropic cheese manufacturer from Ohio. While supported by the mostly-Congregational A.M.A., Straight University was a nondenominational but distinctly Christian institution. Straight included graduate schools of law, medicine, theology, and a normal school for teachers.

In 1874, a Law Department was added to the university. The Law Department was a draw for young men, both white and colored, who upon graduation were admitted to practice before the State Supreme Court. The first class of graduates from the Law Department completed their studies in 1876. Without a true law library at their disposal, the students read the major treatises in the offices of their professors. The distinguished faculty included Melvin M. Cohen, who wrote a 500-page treatise on admiralty law, and John S. Whitaker and William R. Whitaker, uncle and nephew, who were both major figures at the bar and in civic life. It was the untimely deaths of several faculty members, which led to the closure of the law school in 1886, after twelve years of existence.

An interesting fact, is that in its twelve-year history, at least one-third of the graduates of the Straight University Law Department were white. The scarcity of law programs in the city and the region, meant that this school established primarily for the children of slaves, included several dozen white young men among its graduates.

Among the seventy-four graduates of Straight’s Law Department, are several notable figures. The Citizens’ Committee, organized in 1891 to challenge the state’s Jim Crow car act, included among its members Louis-André Martinet, Rodolphe-Lucien Desdunes, and Eugene Luscy. Martinet, who published the militant Daily Crusader from 1890 to 1896, was also a graduate of Straight University’s Medical Department and practiced both law and medicine. Desdunes is best known for his opus magnum, Nos Hommes et Notre Histoire (1911), a history of the colored Creole community in New Orleans. Another distinguished graduate, Thomas de Saliere Tucker, served for fourteen years as the founding president of what is now Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). One of the members of the last class, René Calvin Metoyer, practiced in New Orleans for over forty years and in 1917, became only the second black attorney to be commissioned a notary public.

* All of the graduates are from New Orleans, unless otherwise noted.


Alfred E. Billings

John W. Cumberland

Robert H. Isabelle

Eugene Luscy

Louis A. Martinet, M. D.

Alexander F. Riard

Samuel J. N. Smith

John E. Staes



Bertrand Courrege

Thomas Flanagan

Hamilton N. Gautier – Gretna, Louisiana

Edward Hunt

Oliver L. Garrett – Canton, Mississippi

Robert L. Thompson – [Bayou?] Teche, Louisiana



Charles A. Baquie – Hahnville, Louisiana

John G. McLeod

B. Montz – Morgan City, Louisiana

Vincent Mielly

Edward M. Purcell

Malone Wheless – Washington, D. C.



Peter E. Burke

Charles H. Breen

George P. Davis

George G. McLean

John G. McMahon

Lawrence O’Donnell

Joseph S. Schwab

John Fouga – Arizona



S. P. Bouchereau

Thomas S. Collins

H. R. Grandmount

Charles W. Hunter

Patrice Leonard – Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana

Owen Riedy

William H. Seymour



Lucien Adams

Joseph William Carew

Thomas de Saliere Tucker – Pensacola, Florida

Benjamin Armsbruster

Rudolph Lucien Desdunes

Henry Heidenhain

Frank George Ulrich

Timothy James Gilloly

Oregon W. Long



William Golding

Paul Reusch

George W. Deering, Jr.

William H. Hodgkins – Nashville, Tennessee

Henry N. Frisbie

Charles A. Bourgeois – St. Charles, Louisiana

Matthew A. Grace

David C. Moise

J. Parish Childress



Charles B. Perry – Oxford, Connecticut

Felix Berhel

William H. Yates

J. J. O’Sullivan –

Sanford B. Horton – St. Joseph, Missouri

James J. Kearns

Ernest Longpre



Edmond H. Chadwick

John L. Davies

David B. Temple – Vicksburg, Mississippi

John F. Patty – Franklin, Louisiana

Michael J. Griffin

Charles A. Roxborough – Iberville Parish, Louisiana

Claudius B. Suares

Oscar Pillman – Algiers, Louisiana



Paul LaSalle

Thomas F. Maher

Rene C. Metoyer

John D. Grace

Andre Doriocourt

George Baldey


Jari C. Honora

3 thoughts on “Straight University Law Department 1874-1886

  1. Till current times there is a Louis A Martinet Legal Society in many communities in So Louisiana. The Society is preponderantly made up of African American lawyers and judges. As stated in the Greater New Orleans Chapter History, The society was formed not only to provide professional support but to combat Jim Crow not just on the streets but in the courtroom as well.

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