Katherine Caffery Baker Senter
Tue, 2014/07/15 - 5:00am News Staff
Katherine Caffery Baker Senter Born in New Orleans July 25, 1926, died peacefully at home on June 26, 2014. Great-grandaughter of a plantation owner, Katherine ("Kit") emerged in adulthood to become one of the city's greatest champions of justice. A graduate of Newcomb College 1947, where she was a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority, she married WW2 veteran James Corbett Senter in November 1947, after he had finished Tulane Law that same year. Their "honeymoon" lasted nine years, when they lived in the French quarter and began their careers, with Kit taking graduate courses at Tulane's School of Social Work. Raised in a large home with many servants, as a young child Kit spent much of her time at home with the servants. She was particularly close to the family's cook, Clara, and from Clara learned about the race screens on the streetcars, because sometimes there would be no seats for blacks on the car, and Clara would have to wait for another car in order to get to work at the house. This treatment of her friend angered Kit, and at age 14 she began stealing the screens from the streetcars and hiding them under her coat. In graduate school, she attended meetings of an interracial group of students from Tulane, Loyola, Xavier and Dillard. At the same time, she was working in the Welfare Department in Plaquemines Parish with mostly Yugoslavian fisher families who would arrive to their appointment in pirogues. Although the law forbade social workers foradvising women about birth control, Kit did so anyway. These experiences continued to foster an awareness of various injustices. Nevertheless, at the same time, Kit led the life of a typical Uptown housewife, active in the Junior League, the New Orleans Country Club, and the Bay Waveland Yacht Club and Coast Episcopal School while at her home on Beach Blvd in Waveland. But when school desegregation began, Kit decided to increase her involvement and along with Betty Wisdom and Peg Murison and others belonging to Save Our Schools, acted as a driver of the white children who remained at the integrated Franz School (they were interviewed by BBC in 1960 on their roles). Crowds screamed and threw bricks at her car as she drove the frightened children to school, and people called our home phone with threats and insults. She joined the First Unitarian Church of New Orleans, a location which allowed interracial meetings, and for which the church and the home of its minister, Rev. Albert d'Orlando, were firebombed. But her opposition to the Vietnam war really galvanized her and she lost interest in the more typical Uptown activities. After that period, she participated in numerous organizations including the IWO (Independent Women's Organization), League of Women Voters, Sierra Club, Alliance for Affordable Energy, Mayor's Environmental Breakfast (Barthelemy), Mayor's Recycling Task Force (Morial). She travelled to Nicaragua with the Maryknoll sisters at Loyola. She received the Bread and Roses Award from Pax Christi New Orleans, the Albert D'Orlando Award for Social Justice Action, the Carriers of the Culture Award, and the Community Labor United Unity Award. She hosted the Jack Gillespie Memorial Community Breakfast for many years, helped found NOCUT (New Orleans Citizens for Urban Trees), and was an early investor in the restoration of Laura Plantation. An avidsportswoman, Kit enjoyed water skiing, swimming, badminton, scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, table tennis, canoeing and camping. Although she travelled throughout North America, Europe, and New Zealand, she was most happy amidst the beauty of the Gulf Coast. She is preceded in death by her daughter, Sudie Senter, and survived by her son James Stuart Senter and daughter Caroline Senter and granddaughters Lila Taylor Dunlap and Anna Sudie Dunlap. A memorial service was held at First Unitarian Church of New Orleans, Saturday, July 12, 2014.