James Henry Dillard is an integral part of the history of New Orleans, Louisiana. Best known for his work as a civil rights leader and educator, Dillard was born in 1856 in Avery Island and moved to New Orleans as a young man in 1888.
Dillard was educated at Straight University – now known as Dillard University – and served on the school’s board of trustees for many years. With an eye toward improving educational opportunities for African Americans, he co-founded both Straight University and the White Rose Missionary School which offered instruction to black schoolchildren throughout New Orleans.
Dillard’s commitment to social justice extended far beyond education - he was also a leader in the civil rights movement. In 1912, he was elected president of the state’s colored teachers’ association which provided assistance to black educators across Louisiana. He even took part in civil disobedience strategies such as the public bus boycott during World War II that eventually led to integration of public transportation throughout the city.
Later in life, Dillard returned to education when he became founder and first president of Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO). Under his leadership, SUNO worked toward providing quality higher education opportunities for African Americans living in New Orleans and surrounding areas.