The Blind Leading

I just ran across this absurd sentence in Love in the Lead, Peter Brock Putnam’s 1979 history of the seeing eye dog:

As late as the 1950s, an association for the blind in a southern city used to post sighted monitors at the entrance for its Christmas party, so that the blind guests who could not see each other’s color would be able to segregate racially.

Apparently this is true. In 1945 federal judge J. Skelly Wright was attending a Christmas Eve party at the U.S. attorney’s office in New Orleans. Across Camp Street, at the Lighthouse for the Blind, he could see another party going on. “He watched the blind people climb the steps to the second floor,” writes journalist Jack Bass. “There, someone met them. He watched a blind Negro led to a party for blacks at the rear of the building. A white person was led to a separate party.”

“They couldn’t see to segregate themselves,” Wright said later. “That upset me a great deal.” In 1956 he ordered Louisiana schools to desegregate. He said that the incident of the Christmas party had given him “my mature and great sympathy for Negroes.” As he told this story to journalist W.J. Weatherby, he “was so moved that he could not complete the story for several minutes.”