Editor’s note: To honor Black History month, NolaVie is rerunning an alphabetical guide to African-American history in New Orleans, originally published in 2011. The series will run in four parts over the course of the next two weeks. Check back tomorrow for Part 2.
For Black History Month, we offer a look at sites around New Orleans that mark milestones in the history of the city’s African-American population. The guide will appear over the next four days, so stay tuned. Today: Part 1, A-G.
You can get the smartphone app, too! Imagine pointing your mobile phone at a New Orleans landmark and reading about its relevance to African-American history. Layering data over real life is at the center of the emerging field of augmented reality, and this mobile phone application brings black history to the forefront, thanks to Retha Hill, a recent Knight News Challenge winner and director of the New Media Innovation Lab at Arizona State University. Download the Layar browser on your smart phone (you have to have OS 3GS or higher or a Droid phone) and then search for Black History. The New Orleans app has all of the historical locations below.
1418 Gov. Nicholls St.
Exhibits on African-American history and culture
Housed in the Treme Villa, the museum showcases African-American art, history and community. The cottage was constructed in 1843 and is a classic example of a Creole cottage. It is said that Marie Laveau, the infamous voodoo priestess, lived here. The property includes the Villa Meilleur, once living quarters of enslaved Africans.
6823 Saint Charles Ave.
Repository for collections of African-American documents
Located at Tilton Memorial Hall at Tulane University, it houses the country’s largest collection of manuscripts about African Americans, race relations and civil rights. The center is the focal point of research by historians, nonfiction authors, novelists and those pursuing information about their family’s history.
801 North Rampart St.
The southern corner held Congo Square, where slaves gathered
In the 1800s, slaves were allowed Sundays off. They gathered in Congo Square, where they set up a market, sang and played music. The African drumming sessions there were instrumental to the development of jazz. In the late 19th century, the community’s Creoles of color held brass band concerts there. In 1970, the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was held there.
1116 St. Claude Ave.
African-American cultural museum
Exhibits focus on the unique cultural traditions of New Orleans’ African American community, including Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals, and Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs. It contains the city’s largest collection of Mardi Gras Indian costumes, as well as an enormous collection of still photos of jazz funerals and second lines.
532 Frenchmen St.
Live music venue
Housed in the first building that was constructed on Frenchmen St in 1832, it became the first music venue on the street in the early seventies, as the legendary Dream Palace. In 2000 it became The Blue Nile and has carved out a niche in the vibrant Frenchmen Street scene, with an array of musical acts. Frequent performers include Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Cyril Neville and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux.
751 Chartres St.
Spanish colonial seat of government
The Spanish government building was constructed by African slaves, under the direction of Don Almonester after the fires of 1788 and 1794. Slaves also were traded here. Today the building houses the state museum. Among other items of note to black history, it contains early issues of L’Union, launched in 1862 as the first African-American daily newspaper in the South.
532 Frenchmen St.
Every Wednesday, the Treme Brass Band plays here. Murals of brass bands and Uncle Lionel (the city’s famous brass band percussionist), line the walls. The tradition of local brass bands dates to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when black musicians blended the music of European military band and African folk music. Brass bands lead the secondlines at jazz funerals.
1615 Saint Philip St.
Established in the late 19th century, this is one of the oldest African-American funeral homes in the city.
1025 St. Louis St.
Once home of free person of color
Louison Cheval was born a slave in 1747 but was purchased out of slavery. She had 10 children, and bought the cottage in 1785. One of her grandsons was Norbert Rilleux, a free man of color and engineer who invented the vacuum pan method of refining sugar, revolutionizing the industry.
2601 Gentilly Boulevard
Historic African-American University since 1869
Situated on a 55-acre campus in Gentilly, Dillard University was ranked in 2010 by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s Top 10 historic black universities. Among its many famous graduates is jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, patriarch of the Marsalis family and still one of the city’s iconic jazz greats.
2301 Orleans Ave.
Soul food restaurant
At the helm of this landmark New Orleans restaurant is Leah Chase, the Queen of Creole Cuisine. Chase promotes both Creole cooking and African-American art within its walls. She is widely known for her Gumbo Z’Herbes, a green gumbo traditionally served on Holy Thursday. Chase has fed, among many famous diners, Jesse Jackson, Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall, James Baldwin, Ray Charles and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez home
197 Iberville St.
Where founder of country’s first daily black newspaper once lived
Physician and newspaper publisher Louis Charles Roudanez, born in 1823 in Louisiana, was educated in France and moved to New Orleans to practice medicine. When the Union army took New Orleans in 1862 during the Civil War, Roudanez decided that the time was right to demand equality for free men of color. He started the militant Republican journal L’Union, published in French and edited by Paul Trevigne. It was the first black newspaper to be published in Louisiana. When L’Union failed in 1864, Roudanez established a new journal called La Tribune de la Nouvelle Orléans (The New Orleans Tribune), which was published in English and French. La Tribune was the first bilingual black newspaper in the United States.
Fats Domino House
1208 Caffin Ave.
Katrina-flooded home of the legendary rock ‘n’ roll musician
Antoine “Fats” Domino recorded dozens of hits in the 1950s and ‘60s, including “Blueberry Hill” and “Ain’t That a Shame.” Domino stayed in his Lower Ninth Ward home during Hurricane Katrina, and was subsequently rescued by boat, although rumors of his demise were widely and falsely reported after the storm. He lost everything to the flood, however, including his gold and platinum records and baby grand piano (on view in its storm-tossed condition at the Louisiana State Museum’s current Katrina exhibit).
Flint Goodridge Hospital
2425 Louisiana Ave.
Historic black hospital
Founded in 1911 and managed by Dillard University, this 88-bed institution was one of only two medical facilities that cared for black patients in New Orleans. In the 1930s it was the only medical school for African-Americans in Louisiana, and at one time it had 29 African-American doctors on staff. The hospital was sold to a national hospital chain in 1983. It is no longer in use as a hospital, but was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
Francois Lacroix shop
123 Chartres St.
Once the clothing shop of the city’s wealthiest free person of color
Francois Lacrois, born in the early 1800s, was the wealthiest black man in New Orleans before the Civil War. In 1861, his property was valued at $242,570. He was a tailor, store owner (at several locations, including this one) and philanthropist. He also owned slaves, which was not uncommon for free men of color in New Orleans.
French Market Place
Oldest public market in New Orleans
This landmark tourist attraction, still a shoppers’ favorite, was the site of a Native American trading post and later designed by a free man of color, Joseph Abeilard. In the 1700s, free persons of color, enslaved people, whites and American Indians all traded goods here. A multi-million dollar renovation in the 1970s restored the vibrancy to this marketplace; there’s still a farmers market among the gift shops and cafes.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. This Black History Guide is published in four parts.