Llewelyn J. Soniat, a longtime New Orleans civil rights and community activist, died Tuesday. He was 87.
Soniat was born in New Orleans and graduated from Xavier University Preparatory School, Xavier University and the University of New Orleans. He had bachelor’s degrees in health and physical education and in political science.
Soniat went to work for the U.S. Post Office in New Orleans as a clerk in 1949. He later became an equal employment counselor and representative in the Postal Service.
He was a longtime member of the Executive Committee of the New Orleans branch of the NAACP and an adviser for the New Orleans NAACP Youth Council.
“Mr. Soniat was a true icon in the civil rights movement here in New Orleans,” said Danatus King, president of the NAACP’s New Orleans branch.
King said Soniat “helped organize the youth to participate in boycotts on Canal Street to desegregate the lunch counters,” one of the signature events of the civil rights movement in New Orleans in the early 1960s.
One achievement of the local civil rights movement, the desegregation of New Orleans Catholic schools in 1962, affected Soniat more personally. His son, Donald, an eighth-grader, and his daughter, Cynthia, a seventh-grader, were among the first black students to enroll at Mater Dolorosa Elementary School on South Carrollton Avenue that year.
The integration of Catholic schools across the archdiocese prompted protests, boycotts and even vandalism on the part of some white parents who wanted the schools to remain all-white.
In his later years, Soniat remained active in the community through the NAACP and other organizations, King said.
Soniat also worked in many New Orleans political campaigns, including Ernest “Dutch” Morial’s ground-breaking campaigns for the Louisiana House of Representatives, where he became the state’s first black legislator since Reconstruction, and to become the first black mayor of New Orleans in 1978.
Survivors include a daughter, Cynthia Soniat; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Services were held Thursday at Boyd Funeral Home.
A celebration of Soniat’s life is planned for next year. The date and location will be announced at www.SoniatNola.com.