Oretha Castle Haley was a courageous leader of a courageous group of African Americans in New Orleans fighting for racial equality in the city and throughout the nation.
Haley grew up on North Tonti Street, not far from Dooky Chase where her mother worked.
As part of the Consumers’ League of Greater New Orleans, in 1959 Haley began picketing businesses on Dryades Street that catered to black clientele, but refused to employ African Americans. That commercial corridor was renamed after Haley in 1989.
Haley, Cecil Carter, Rudy Lombard, Lanny Goldfinch and Oliver St. Pee, established a local branch of the national Congress of Racial Equality and in 1960 members of the group staged a sit-in at the McCrory’s lunch counter on Canal Street. Castle and the others were arrested and charged with criminal mischief.
The charges were eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the charges violated the 14th Amendment.
Haley, along with CORE, was also instrumental in organizing the Freedom Rides. Haley was arrested several times for participation in other civil rights’ protests, including in 1963 when she was carried out of the New Orleans City Hall by police while still in a chair.
She later served as field director of CORE in northern Louisiana.
Haley also successfully forced the integration of the city’s public parks system and helped Dorothy Mae Taylor, Louisiana’s first black female legislator, get elected.
Haley served as a deputy administrator at Charity Hospital in the 1980s and helped create the New Orleans Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation.
She died of cancer at age 48 in 1987.