New Orleans has long been known as the birthplace of jazz music, but for exactly a century the genre has technically been forbidden in the entire public school system.
The rule was added formally on March 24, 1922, at the bimonthly school board meeting, noted in one line at the very end of the Orleans Parish board’s agenda during a finance discussion: “Upon motion of Mrs. Baumgartner, it was decided that jazz music and jazz dancing would be abolished in the public schools.”
According to a 1922 newspaper article, when she was asked what dancing was permissible, Mrs. Baumgartner called jazz dancing “rough” and said “they can dance the one-step, two-step and the waltz.” The motion was brought to a vote and passed with one person abstaining. A century later, the rule is still on the books.
The current Orleans Parish school board uncovered the original policy with help of the local special collections librarian, and it was raised as an action item at Tuesday’s school board committee meeting. Ken Ducote, the executive director of the Greater New Orleans Collaborative of Charter Schools, said the policy was “absurd” and noted the “tremendous role New Orleans schools played in development of jazz in this community.”
Before the vote, school board President Olin Parker said “I want to acknowledge that this was rooted in racism” and praised the contributions of the various school band students and directors. The rule has largely been overlooked over the years, but the school board recognized the importance of officially removing it from the system.
The formal vote to rescind the policy was scheduled for Thursday night, exactly 100 years to the day since its original adoption.