The Louis A. Martinet Legal Society is the result of the efforts made by Earl J. Amedee; Israel M. Augustine; Louis Berry; Lionel Collins; Robert F. Collins; Niles R. Douglas; Norman C. Francis; Benjamin J. Johnson; Alvin Jones; Vanue B. LaCour; Ernest N. Morial; Justice Revius Ortique, Jr.; J. T. Powell; James Smith; A. P. Tureaud; Freddie Warren and Lawrence Wheeler in seeking to combat the racial injustices and inequalities that existed in the 1950’s. It was during this tumultuous time that Jim Crow dominated every aspect of African-American life and African-American attorneys were barred from participating in the mainstream of the nation’s legal profession. They organized not only for professional support, but to focus their skills and training to combat Jim Crow not just in the streets, but in the courtrooms as well.
The Society is named in honor of an African-American pioneer in the legal profession, Louis André Martinet. Martinet was the first African-American graduate of Straight University Law School, now Dillard University, in 1876. He graduated law school after he passed the Louisiana Bar Examination a year earlier in 1875. In addition to being an attorney, Martinet was a politician, lawyer, educator, activist, journalist, medical doctor, and notary. Throughout the early years of his practice, Martinet was also a key figure in the civil rights activities surrounding the end of Reconstruction. In 1889, Martinet began publishing the Daily Crusader, a first weekly then daily paper chronicling the struggle for civil rights.
In 1890, he helped organize the Comité des Citoyens (Citizens Committee) to offer legal resistance to the Separate Car Law of Louisiana. The Separate Car Law was passed by the Louisiana Legislature, requiring blacks and whites ride in separate coaches on all public transportation in the state. Martinet publicly denounced the Separate Car Law in the Daily Crusader and quickly mobilized African-American attorneys to combat the law. He was a key strategist in orchestrating Homer Adolph Plessy’s arrest for violating the Separate Car Act, an act that resulted in the landmark 1896 United States Supreme Court decision, Plessy vs. Ferguson, which established separate but equal as the law of the land. Because Martinet was not admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, he selected S.F. Phillips and A.W. Tourgee to serve as attorneys of record.
When the New Orleans Times Picayune announced the founding of the Louis A. Martinet Legal Society on May 13, 1957, Brown v. Board of Topeka was still fresh in the American consciousness and the promises of an end to racial segregation were more tangible to the Society’s pioneering founders. A. P. Tureaud was elected president of the statewide and the local New Orleans Chapter. Other state officers included Earl J. Amedee, Financial Secretary; Vanue B. Lacour (Baton Rouge), Corresponding secretary; and J. T. Powell (Shreveport), Treasurer. The local officers included Amedee, Secretary, and Benjamin J. Johnson, Treasurer.
Martinet’s objectives were to encourage interchange of ideas, promote legal scholarship, advance the science of jurisprudence, promote the administration of justice, uphold the order and ethics of the courts and the profession of law and promote the welfare of the legal profession in Louisiana.