Robert Collins

Audio:

Part 1
Part 1
Part 2
Part 2

Notes:

The interview starts abruptly, but both Lolis Elie and Warren can be heard clearly while it is difficult to distinguish between Collins and Douglas at times. The dating of this interview is uncertain. The first two sound files are dated Feb. 2 in the Historic Sound Recordings collection at Yale while the last two are dated Feb. 8, but the conversation in the third file appears more or less continuous with the conversation on the second.

Photo of Robert Collins by Eliot Kamenitz, courtesy of The Times-Picayune.

Audio courtesy of Yale University.

Robert Collins, Nils Douglas, and Lolis Elie

Date: 
Feb. 2 and possibly 8 [1964]
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Robert Collins Bio

Robert Collins (1931- ) is a civil rights attorney and former federal judge. Collins was born in New Orleans and graduated from Dillard University in 1951. In the fall of 1951 Collins enrolled at Louisiana State University Law School, becoming one of the first three African American students to do so. He graduated from LSU Law School in 1954. Collins later started a legal practice with Loyola Law School alums Lolis Elie and Nils Douglas. In 1960 the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) asked Collins and his firm to represent CORE after a sit-in campaign. Collins and his firm defended CORE chapter President Rudy Lombard and three others who were arrested for staging a sit-in protest at the lunch counter of the McCrory Five and Ten Cent Store in New Orleans. They appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court which, in its decision, declared the city's ban on sit-ins unconstitutional. Collins' firm also provided free legal counsel to the Consumers' League, a group of black civil rights activists who protested discriminatory employment practices. President Jimmy Carter nominated Collins to serve as a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, which would make him the the first African American federal judge to sit on the bench in the South in the twentieth century. Collins resigned his post amid claims that he accepted a bribe in exchange for giving a criminal defendant a lighter sentence. Collins was ultimately convicted of bribery, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice, and, in September 1991, was sentenced to a prison term of six years and ten months.

Nils Douglas Bio

Nils Douglas (1930-2003) was a civil rights attorney. A native of New Orleans, Douglas completed his undergraduate degree at Dillard University in 1950 and graduated from Loyola University School of Law in 1959. After graduation, Douglas started a legal practice with Loyola classmate Lolis Elie and Louisiana State University Law School graduate Robert Collins. In 1960 the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) asked Douglas and his firm to represent CORE after a sit-in campaign. Douglas and his firm defended CORE chapter President Rudy Lombard and three others who were arrested for staging a sit-in protest at the lunch counter of the McCrory Five and Ten Cent Store in New Orleans. They appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court which, in its decision, declared the city's ban on sit-ins unconstitutional. Douglas's firm also provided free legal counsel to the Consumers' League, a group of black civil rights activists who protested discriminatory employment practices. In the late 1960s, Douglas helped form the Southern Organization for Unified Leadership, a group that worked to register, organize, and mobilize black voters. Douglas became commissioner in the magistrate section of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in 1974.

Lolis Elie Bio

Lolis Elie (1930- ) is a civil rights attorney. A native of New Orleans, Elie attended Howard University and Dillard University, and later graduated in 1959 from Loyola Law School. After graduation, Elie started a legal practice with Loyola classmate Nils Douglas and Louisiana State University Law School graduate Robert Collins. In 1960 the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) asked Elie and his firm to represent CORE after a sit-in campaign. Elie and his firm defended CORE chapter President Rudy Lombard and three others who were arrested for staging a sit-in protest at the lunch counter of the McCrory Five and Ten Cent Store in New Orleans. They appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court which, in its decision, declared the city's ban on sit-ins unconstitutional. Elie's firm also provided free legal counsel to the Consumers' League, a group of black civil rights activists who protested discriminatory employment practices. Elie was one of seven supporters of the Freedom Riders who met with then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy in 1961, when Kennedy encouraged them to shift their efforts to registering black Southerners to vote. Elie later organized a law firm with white attorney Al Bronstein. The pair argued civil rights cases and also established a training program for new black lawyers.

Abstract

Elie considers whether mob violence reflects the views of the majority of white southerners, describing white New Orleanians who brought their influence to bear to improve living conditions for African Americans. Elie discusses his efforts in support of fair hiring practices for municipal jobs and suggests that the slow pace of reform would lead to large-scale demonstrations. Elie expresses doubt as to whether white people (in the U.S. and abroad) will ever acknowledge the basic humanity of black people. He also argues that some African Americans need to acknowledge their own humanity. Elie then assesses the black Muslim movement and describes some of the ways in which Christian churches have failed African Americans. Douglas expresses his displeasure with the Catholic Church and discusses how the geographic dispersal of the African American community in New Orleans has proven a hindrance to reforms. All three discuss Gunnar Myrdal's proposal for Reconstruction, the advisability of preferential treatment for African Americans, and some of the difficulties associated with desegregation efforts. They close the interview by discussing African American families and describing the role of Jewish people in the civil rights movement.

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