NEW ORLEANS — In the 1950s New Orleans was ahead of its time with Pontchartrain Park and the subdivision surrounding the public park.
"No place in the U.S. was there ever a subdivision built for blacks that had a golf course, tennis courts and a stadium. They weren't building that for blacks in the 50s. It wasn't happening, but that happened through the City of New Orleans," said Earnestine Bennett-Johnson, who grew up in the Pontchartrain Park.
The park was developed on the lakefront by the Park and Parkways commission. Pontchartrain Park Subdivision was developed by private investors. The 200-acre subdivision contained 1,000, two and three-bedroom homes.
"Blacks wanted a place to be able to go and live and have nice homes, so that's how that development came about. The mayor at the time, though he was not necessarily a liberal mayor, but he understood the power of the vote and there was a lot of blacks that could have voted," Bennett-Johnson said.
With some city backing, Mayor deLesseps Morrison approached W. Hamilton Crawford, along with some other investors. Crawford's company out of Baton Rouge built the subdivision -- which was dedicated in 1955.
"We had all sorts of artists and talented people and teachers and nurses and policemen and mayors and doctors," Bennett-Johnson said.
Dr. Earnestine Bennett-Johnson was a child when her family moved into Pontchartrain Park. Her father was a police officer and teacher. Her mother was also an educator. They used her dad's V-A Benefits to purchase their first home.
In the 50s this ditch is what they referred to as the segregation line. This side Gentilly Woods was all white, this side Pontchartrain Park was all black. It was a line that used to divide a world of two.
"It was fantastic because we were kind of, sort-of insulated during the 50s and 60s because we had our own things going on, our own little parties and own little affairs that we were able to do. So that kind of bonded us as a community," Bennett-Johnson said.
Earnestine attended Coghill Elementary, which was in her district. However, she would later become one of the students to desegregate Eleanor McMain, which was a junior high school in the 60s.
"When I went there, my first semester I was on the honor role, which proved to me the education I had gotten at Coghill was more than sufficient because I was on the honor roll. And my mom kept that. I saw that like 30 years later. How really proud she was that I had gotten on the honor roll," Bennett-Johnson said.
It's easy to see her upbringing in Pontchartrain Park really shaped Earnestine into the successful and responsible citizen she is today.
"Just a pride in the neighborhood which was really wonderful," Bennett-Johnson said.
WWL-TV reporter Leslie Spoon can be reached at email@example.com;