Oretha Castle Haley was a vital leader of the civil rights movement in New Orleans—challenging segregated facilities and promoting voter registration in New Orleans and rural Louisiana, all while facing arrest and physical violence. Her civil rights activism began while she was a student at Southern University at New Orleans. During that time, she participated in a boycott and protests organized by the Consumers’ League of Greater New Orleans in response to the racially discriminatory employment practices of Dryades Street merchants.

In 1960 she became a founding member of the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and served as president of the chapter from 1961 through 1964. Throughout the early 1960s, she actively participated in sit-ins, protests, and demonstrations around the city. Her arrest, along with that of three other activists, for participation in a 1960 sit-in at a Canal Street lunch counter, was the basis of a case, Lombard v. Louisiana, that reached the US Supreme Court in 1963. The court overturned the arrests, in a major victory for the civil rights movement.

In 1964 Haley served as a CORE field secretary in Monroe, Louisiana, where, despite the threat of violence, she worked to register African American voters in rural communities. That year she also helped organize the court case that desegregated Charity Hospital in New Orleans, for which her grandmother Callie Castle served as a plaintiff.

In the 1980s, Haley served as an administrator at Charity Hospital, organized the New Orleans Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, and worked on the political campaigns of African American politicians, including Dorothy Mae Taylor. In 1989 the commercial district of Dryades Street between Philip and Calliope Streets was renamed Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.

Oretha Castle Haley

ca. 1975; photograph

courtesy of the Louisiana Weekly Photograph Collection, Amistad Research Center


June 1962

The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2016.0090.2


The lead story in this issue of CORE-lator addresses the “Louisiana Lunacy,” a term coined in a May 1962 New York Post editorial discussing Louisiana authorities’ tactic of charging civil rights protestors with criminal anarchy as a means of suppressing their protests. Oretha Castle Haley was charged with criminal anarchy for participating in a 1960 sit-in, and by 1963 she was a plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that successfully overturned the use of criminal anarchy statutes to suppress civil rights protestors.

Dryades Street

negative, 1955; gelatin silver print, between 1979 and 1983

by Charles L. Franck Photographers, photographer;

Nancy Ewing Miner, photographic printer

The Charles L. Franck Studio Collection at The Historic

New Orleans Collection, 1979.325.5215


As a college student, Oretha Castle Haley participated in a boycott and protests of Dryades Street merchants because of their racially discriminatory employment practices. In 1989 Dryades Street between Philip and Calliope Streets was renamed Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.