Graduates of the long-since closed Adult Education Center held a reunion in New Orleans to celebrate their experience in a secretarial program hailed as a major success in the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights movement.
The reunion was organized by graduates now known as the 431 Exchange. It stands for the number of graduates and the Exchange Place building in the French Quarter where they attended class. They were mostly young African-American women from low-income households. Some had never had a white teacher.
In 1965, they entered the program that paid them a salary to attend the school. Most businesses were segregated at that time. Along with secretarial skills, African-American history and traditional subjects they were taught included business attire and proper office speech. They met with potential employers – like Shell Oil and city, state and federal agencies, so they could work right after graduation.
Raphael Morgan graduated in 1971.
“Later studies showed that our success continued for decades. Many of us went on to become teachers, ministers, earned Ph.D., and start our own businesses," she said.
Their salaries were three time what they had been earning. And they had benefits. Ninety percent of the graduates’ children earned college degrees.
Many testified in 1968 about the program’s success to Congress. But in 1972 it closed when funding was cut.