Riley worked to eliminate racial discrimination. She was a member of the Commission on Human Rights of the Catholic Committee of the South, which assisted in the implementation of the New Orleans Archbishop’s 1953 order forbidding any further racial segregation in Catholic Churches
“In my early days in the Catholic Churches of New Orleans, black people sat in the back...My dean at the law school was on the Catholic Committee of the South and had been given the assignment to do something about race relations in the church. He invited thirty or forty people, half of them men, half women, half of them black, half white, to a meeting, and we organized the Commission on Human Rights.”
-- Janet Mary Riley, “I Found it Very Difficult to Be Heard” from Generations: A Century of Women Speak About their Lives
Janet Mary Riley held onto a NAACP pamphlet addressing lies or common misconceptions about their organization.
Another NAACP pamphlet in Riley's possesion. This one specifically addresses racial violence in the South.
“Core Members Found Guilty”
In 1960, four people, three of them African-Americans, were arrested after they sat at a McCrory's lunch counter reserved for white customers. They were fined $350 each and sentenced to 60 days in jail.
Janet Mary Riley was part of the defense legal team and wrote the brief for the Lombard vs. Louisiana case that was heard by the United States Supreme Court, which overturned the arrests. The case was one of several that became precedents for striking down segregation laws and practices.
Article can be found through ProQuest.
The Civil Rights Movement
The Janet Mary Riley Papers contain pamphlets, brochures, and newspaper clippings related to the social justice and civil rights movements of her time. These ephemeral pieces of paper were deemed important enough to keep by Riley, and today provide researchers insight into the atmosphere of the time of what is sadly the continued struggle for civil rights in the United States.
“…The only dodge left to die-hard segregationists is, apparently, truly private schools which fulfill state standards for those who can afford them, and public schools for the poor or those who prefer them. This means that the cost-of-living for the growing family now often includes tuition. It will probably also mean a movement to obtain subsidies from the state for tuition for all children to attend private schools. Must we then start all over again?”
-- Janet Mary Riley, “Civil Rights,” Loyola Law Review vol. XVII
Visual protest item of Riley's against the E.R.A.
Pamphlet adressing the facts, outcomes, and concerns surrounding the E.R.A
“Will Economic forces without law result in a delicate balance, or in the accumulation of power among the few? If so, will certain classes of people inevitably become the powerless?”
-- Janet Mary Riley, “A Jurisprudent’s View,” Right in the Marketplace: The Consumer – The Poor – Women.
Riley's correspondence to Professor Waren D. Bracy expressing her negative stance on the E.R.A.
Janet Mary Riley expressing her favor of the E.R.A in 1976 in a letter to Louisiana Legislators.
Gertrude Loriro Beauford thanking Riley for her support of the E.R.A.
E.R.A and Janet Mary Riley
Janet Mary Riley was originally against the Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.) out of a fear of “an extreme interpretation of E.R.A. to forbid any state of federal action recognizing sex differences.” As the amendment evolved and passed Congress in 1972, it became to Janet “the very symbol of equality of the sexes before the law” and she changed her mind in support of it.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for all citizens regardless of sex; it seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment, and other matters. It has never been ratified by the states and is not part of the United States Constitution.