The late Rudy Lombard and his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement are little known, but that’s exactly how the activist and leader wanted it. The New Orleans native made history with a series of sit-ins in New Orleans, immortalizing himself and other activists with their bold actions against racism. Lombard was born in Algiers, La. in 1939.
He grew up witnessing widespread discrimination against Blacks, prompting him to become an activist. As a student at Xavier University, Lombard led a 1960 sit-in at the McCrory’s Five & Dime store in protest of its Jim Crow laws.
Joining Lombard in his protests were what would be become known as the “CORE Four” – Lanny Goldfinch, a white man, Cecil Carter, Jr. and Oretha Castle, both of whom were Black. At the time, Lombard was the National Vice President of the Congress of Racial Equality and also the senior class president at his college.
The case made its way to the Supreme Court and after its review; it tossed out the criminal mischief arrests in 1963. At the time, New Orleans didn’t have any official segregation laws in place but they were still enforced. After earning a doctorate in urban planning from Syracuse University, Lombard became a prominent businessman.
A failed mayoral bid in New Orleans took place in 1985. Lombard finished a distant fourth but called to attention the city’s need to develop better public housing options for its poor citizens. Lombard was also an author, writing a 1978 book with the late Nathaniel Burton titled “Creole Feast: 15 Master Chefs of New Orleans Reveal Their Secrets.”
According to published accounts, Lombard was also friends with jazz great Wynton Marsalis. His brother, 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edwin Lombard, shared that the leader was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and kept the news quiet until early 2014.
Lombard succumbed to the cancer on Dec. 13. He was 75. As a CORE elected official and activist, many who were close to him have chosen to keep his legacy alive in a fashion he didn’t do himself.
Although Lombard rarely acknowledged his achievements, his decisive actions helped to move the country forward.