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Llewelyn Soniat papers

Identifier: 696

Content Description

The Llewelyn J. Soniat papers encompass 9.8 linear feet of documentation for his tenure with the NAACP New Orleans Branch Executive Committee (1958-circa 1994), the New Orleans NAACP Youth Council (1961-1989), and work as a volunteer for various political campaigns in Louisiana, including the campaigns of Ernest “Dutch” Morial and Marc H. Morial. Soniat’s documentation for his work with the NAACP include correspondence, committee minutes, resolutions, reports and collected news clippings, as well as annual convention and special programs (1983-1988).

A large section of the papers contains materials for Soniat’s work as an alumnus to the Xavier University Preparatory School (New Orleans, Louisiana) in which he was a member of various annual funding and reunion committees (1983-1994). These materials include correspondence, committee minutes, financial reports, collected news clippings and printed items, as well as programs dating up to 2008. Of interest is a small amount of school papers for Soniat’s time as a student at Xavier Prep including a report card (1949), correspondence with classmates (1946), commencement programs (1948-1951), a copy of Xavier University Bulletin (November 1946), and a Xavier University of Louisiana Student Handbook (circa 1945). Of interest is a program and chart for the Fourteenth Annual Southern Conference Basketball Tournament at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama (1947). Of note are ephemeral items such as Xavier University Preparatory School football programs (1947-1948) and issues of the newspaper The Xavier Herald (1946-1949).

There are a small number of photographs within the collection, mainly of family and NAACP New Orleans Branch events. There is a photograph of Soniat’s wife, Novyse Tomkins, circa 1949 within the collection.

Of note are materials documenting Soniat’s community activism in regards to New Orleans Police Department brutality against the African American community. Documentation collected by Soniat includes legal briefs, transcripts and reports about the shooting death of Joseph Williams (2004); as well as “A Case Study of the Death of Mr. Levon Jones and the Actions of the City of New Orleans Human Relations Commission,” compiled by the Crime Committee of the Carrollton Area Network (2005). Lastly, there are extensive news clippings and collected items, such as the legal transcript of the evidentiary hearing of the Concerned Citizens Committee of St. James Parish, et al. v. Willy J. Martin, Sheriff of St. James Parish, et al, (2000), which documents the arrest of citizens at St. James Parish High School (1999) who were demonstrating in protest of the transfer of Principal Ridgely Mitchell.

Lastly, Mrs. Novyse Soniat (neé Tomkins) was a member of the Shreveport Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, and the collection includes a hand script book of the chapter’s code, officers and rules, as well as an 8” x 10” black and white photograph of Miss Tomkins circa 1949. Title page inscription is “Novyse Elaine Tomkins, Soph in the Department of Liberal Arts, New Orleans, Louisiana, Shreveport 59, Louisiana.”


  • Other: 1942-2009, undated


Conditions Governing Access

The Llewelyn Soniat papers are open and available for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to these papers has been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of the author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.

Biographical / Historical

Llewelyn Soniat (1926-2014), New Orleans civil rights and community activist.

Llewelyn Joseph Soniat was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on December 7, 1926 to Alphonse Soniat, Sr. and Luella Breaux Soniat. He was the youngest of five children who lived Uptown in the Carrollton neighborhood of the city. On his 15th birthday, Pearl Harbor was attacked and two of his brothers joined the military from the aftermath.

After graduating from Xavier Preparatory School (1944), Soniat attended a specialized military training program at Howard University in Washington, DC. He served in the Army until 1945 and spent only three days on active duty. Soniat returned to New Orleans to attend college on an athletic scholarship, where he played football and basketball for Xavier University. He earned his bachelor of science degree in health and physical education (1949). Later, he attended the University of New Orleans to receive his bachelor of arts in political science (1964). Soniat’s love for the University of New Orleans led to his recruitment of many of the school’s first Black students.

Soniat married Novyse Elaine Tomkins, a Xavier classmate from Shreveport, Louisiana. The couple had two children, Donald (1948-1994) and Cynthia (1958- ).

Soniat worked as a clerk (1949-1974), EEO counselor (1974) and EEO representative (1975-1983) with the U.S. Postal Office in New Orleans. He served as a member of the NAACP New Orleans Branch Executive Committee (1958-circa 1994) and advisor for the New Orleans NAACP Youth Council (1961-1989). He also volunteered as a coordinator for many political campaigns, including Ernest “Dutch” Morial’s campaigns for the Louisiana State House of Representatives (1967) and New Orleans Mayor (1977 and 1982); and Marc Morial’s campaigns for United States Congress (1990), the Louisiana State Senate (1991) and New Orleans Mayor (1994).

Soniat’s political and social advocacy in the 1960s proved to be watershed moments in New Orleans history. As a member of the NAACP Youth Council, Soniat proactively worked to help desegregate businesses on Canal Street. In 1963, he was arrested inside the City Hall cafeteria in downtown New Orleans for seeking equal services for African Americans in restaurants.

In addition, Soniat’s life proved his passion for New Orleans and Louisiana through his myriad involvement in the community. In 1994, Soniat was named by Mayor Marc Morial to the Urban Homeowners Corporation of New Orleans, for which he became its president. His community activism in education included serving on the Louisiana Advisory Board for the Institute of Black Parenting (2005); the New Orleans City Education Committee (2007); and the Orleans Parish School Board Apportionment Task Force Committee. At 72, Soniat was one of 15 protesters arrested on October 1, 1999, in Vacherie for protesting the transfer of Principal Ridgely Mitchell from St. James High School to The Learning Academy, the public school system’s alternative school.

Finally, Soniat served variously as a champion for women’s rights, voters’ rights and human rights. He encouraged and supported his wife as she twice ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature while she worked as an insurance executive for Progressive Life Insurance Company, a Black-owned insurance company in the city. Soniat assisted in raising funds for Louisiana Electors for Louisiana Advancement to support the presidential election of Barack Obama. And as a human rights activist, Soniat was heavily involved with New Orleans grassroots organizations such as the Mobilization to End Racism in Government and Everywhere (MERGE) and Neighborhood Unity.

Llewelyn J. Soniat died on December 2, 2014 in New Orleans.


9.8 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Llewelyn Soniat papers
Felicia D. Render
November 2020
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Amistad Research Center Repository

6823 Saint Charles Avenue
Tilton Hall, Tulane University
New Orleans LA 70118 US
(504) 862-3222