In Memoriam: Nat LaCour

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Nat LaCour, one of the founders of the Albert Shanker Institute. He was 82. Nat was a giant of a man, who served as a mentor and an inspiration to many of those whose lives he touched.

The son of a shipyard worker and a school cafeteria employee, Nat attended Southern University, a historically black public university in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he began his participation in the Civil Rights Movement. He graduated in 1960 with a B.S. and Master's in Biology. He began his first day of work as a New Orleans high school biology teacher on January 3,1961—four months late because of citywide disruptions over school integration. One of his first actions was to sign up with a local union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 527, which he knew was in full support of integration. 

In 1972, the predominantly white Orleans Educators Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, and AFT Local 527 merged to form United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), electing Nat LaCour as its first president. That year, Nat was also elected to serve as a national AFT Vice President and a member of the AFT Executive Board. 

The merger of the two unions led to the solidarity necessary to win collective bargaining rights in 1974 for all teachers in New Orleans. UTNO became the first teachers' union in the Deep South to win a contract through collective bargaining, largely helped by Nat’s campaign to gain parent and community support. Over 20,000 signatures by citizens supported collective bargaining rights for teachers in Orleans Parish.

The second collective bargaining agreement between UTNO and the Orleans Parish School Board included the establishment of the UTNO Health and Welfare Fund. This jointly managed entity provided professional development for teachers, school improvement assistance to schools, and health benefits for bargaining unit members. UTNO also became the bargaining agent for paraprofessionals and clerical workers. In 1990, UTNO went on a successful strike for smaller class sizes and pay raises for its school support personnel, none of whom had received pay raises in over seven years.

Under Nat’s leadership, UTNO became the largest union in the state of Louisiana. It was famous for its many innovative programs, including providing parent training for pre-k and kindergarten parents; establishing a homework help line for students and their parents; creating a retiree chapter to sustain and increase civic engagement; supporting scholarships for students; and forming writing workshops for students and an Art on the Bus Contest in partnership with the Regional Transit Authority. He also built an extremely effective political operation, which helped to pass school funding levies, backed successful school board campaigns, supported state legislators, and was pivotal in the defeat of David Duke in his run for a U.S. Senate seat in 1990 and Governor of Louisiana in 1991.

Nat was committed to UTNO’s support for a range of social justice organizations and coalitions, including the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, Community Labor United, the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the NAACP, and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. The union also promoted anti-racist training through People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond and similar organizations.

Throughout his career, Nat was celebrated for his passion for justice, strategic imagination, and ability to bring people together across races, classes and walks of life.

In 1998, the AFT elected him to serve as the union’s first Executive Vice President. In 2004, he was elected to serve as the AFT’s Secretary-Treasurer until his retirement in 2008. As a national leader, he took on and championed big issues, including the quest for high academic standards, educational equity for all children, and the fight against vouchers and other efforts to starve funding for public schools. Until his retirement, he served as the chair the Organizing Committee of the AFT Executive Council. Indeed, throughout his career, he served as a talent scout for the union, teaching and mentoring scores of union activists and leaders.

Nat was a founding member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and a founding member of the Albert Shanker Institute’s Board of Directors. Over the years, he also served as a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, and a board member of the National Democratic Institute, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

He is survived by his beloved wife Connie Goodly-LaCour; his daughters, Carla LaCour Goudia and Charlette LaCour; his stepsons, Stephen and Christopher Goodly; his grandchildren, Candice LaCour Quarels Perkins and Andrew, Ashley and Asia LaCour; his step-grandchildren, Kelleryn Pearson and Destiny, Stephen Jr. and Christopher Jr. Goodly; many nieces and nephews, and numerous family members, friends and admirers. His only son, Carey Rene LaCour, preceded him in death in October 2010.  

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