Alexander Pierre Tureaud, known as A.P. Tureaud, was born on February 26, 1899 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was born three years after the notorious United States Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, in which legal segregation, or "separate but equal" was made the law of the land. His parents were descendants of free people of color, a uniquely Louisianian community of people who were formerly slaves but then freed under Louisiana's legal codes, drawn from French and Spanish law that was (in some ways) more lenient to slaves, and which were specific only to Louisiana. His early education was in New Orleans but as a teenager he moved to Chicago as part of the migration of Southern black people out of the South and its severe Jim Crow laws. He then moved to New York with his brother, where he was first introduced to the N.A.A.C.P.
When Tureaud was 19 he moved to Washington, D.C. where he became a junior clerk at the United States Department of Justice library. He entered Howard University Law School in 1921, where he excelled, and met a fellow Louisianian, Lucille Dejoie, who he later married. During his law studies at Howard, he became a member of the N.A.A.C.P. and met black leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois. He graduated from Howard in 1925, as the first member of his family to graduate from college. After graduation, he sat for and passed the District of Columbia bar exam and became a minute clerk for a D.C. judge who was one of his former professors.
In 1926 Tureaud returned to New Orleans to help his mother who was growing ill. But in addition to that compelling reason, he felt drawn back to help "right the wrongs" of discrimination, segregation, and violence towards people of color in his home, Louisiana.
Life was not easy for black lawyers in Louisiana. Because of Louisiana's whites-only admission policies at state's law schools, Tureaud was one of only four black lawyers in the state when he was admitted to the Louisiana bar in 1927. There remained fewer than twenty black lawyers until the 1950s. This discrimination also made it hard for him to practice law full-time, so he took a job with the office of the comptroller of customs, while practicing law part-time. He was active in New Orleans civic leagues, which were devoted to improving the lives of people of color. Through these leagues, he became inspired to fight the educational oppression facing the black community, a mighty struggle which he would fight for the rest of his life.
Left image: Tureaud at a Fourth of July celebration in Virginia, 1921. (Credit: Tureaud Family) Right image: Tureaud during his Howard University Law School days, 1924. (Credit: Tureaud Family)