The remarkable life of Rudy Lombard — as researcher and scientist, author on New Orleans’ Creole culture, one-time candidate for mayor of his native city — all demonstrated the range of the late activist.
But he should be remembered particularly for his heroism for standing up for civil rights in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Lombard was arrested his senior year during a sit-in at the McCrory’s dime store on Canal Street on Sept. 17, 1960. The protest was organized by the local chapter of CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, in which Lombard was a student activist.
He was senior class president at Xavier University and a national vice president of CORE, and he defied the white establishment that was trying to deny basic rights to black citizens. Lombard was joined at the whites-only lunch counter by Lanny Goldfinch, a white Tulane University student, plus Cecil Carter Jr. and the late Oretha Castle Haley, both of whom were black. The “CORE Four” refused orders to leave and were arrested.
The U.S. Supreme Court, which reviewed the case even though New Orleans had no official segregation ordinances for stores, tossed out their criminal mischief arrests in 1963 in the case of Lombard v. Louisiana. Not only the court case but his continued activism in training student protesters made a significant mark on the history of the civil rights era.
Lombard died of cancer at 75. He had lived in Illinois for many years but returned to New Orleans for hospice care. The city and the nation are better for his diverse contributions, but if young people today will learn what a lunch counter is and then learn what Lombard and his peers did to make a point about human rights, then the lessons will be valuable, indeed.