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Jewish, Negro, Italian Defense Bodies Protest Navy Approval of Social Segregation

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The Anti-defamation. League of B’nai B’rith, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the America. Italian Committee Against Discrimination, protested a reported U.S. Navy directive, instructing sailors to comply with the New Orleans Mardi Gras policy of discrimination against Jews, Negroes and Italians.

A telegram, signed by Benjamin R. Epstein, national director of the ADL, Dr. John Morsell, assistant executive secretary of the NAACP, and Surrogate S. Samuel DiFalco, chairman of the American Italian Committee, was sent to Paul R. Ignatius, Secretary of the Navy. The wire stated:

“Press stories report that the Navy has instructed United States sailors participating in the New Orleans Mardi Gras festival next month to comply with the policy of discrimination against Jews, Negroes and Italians, maintained by organizations participating in the Mardi Gras carnival balls.

“The alleged Navy directive, dated Dec. 6, 1967, and circulated to all officers of the five ships designated to represent the Navy at Mardi Gras, is reported to have been signed by Lt. Com. James B. Eller. It is further reported to contain the following: ‘Most of the organizations will not issue an invitation to a Negro, a Jew or an Italian. However, the Jews, Negroes and Italians have carnival balls of their own and also are selective as to who can attend their carnival balls. Whether or not this meets with your personal or official approval, it is the way things are, and we have to go along with it.’

“If the press reports are accurate, the undersigned urge that you repudiate this directive as entirely inconsistent with established U.S. Navy policy.”

President Johnson, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, was called on today by the Jewish Labor Committee to “order the United States Navy to withdraw its support of the New Orleans Mardi Gras as long as one Italian, Negro and Jewish sailor or Naval officer cannot be part of the celebrations on an integrated basis.”

“It is time to rip the mask of bigotry from the face of the Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” Adolph Held, national president of the JLC, wired the White House. In his telegram, Mr. Held said “sending in a naval fleet as part of a celebration that condones segregation is a gross misuse of the taxpayers’ money. Furthermore, a directive that seeks to rationalize this bigotry not only offends the minority groups that have been singled out, but clearly is in excess of the powers of the Navy Department, and contravenes national policy. A reversal of both the visit and the directive would underscore your Administration’s unequivocal commitment to equal rights for all Americans.”

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