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 Monday for Part 3.
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 2, H-M.
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.
2425 Dryades St.
Site of weekly practice of Mardi Gras Indians
The Mardi Gras Indians are black working-class groups that are part secret and spiritual society and part neighborhood social club. Fifteen or so tribes parade on Mardi Gras, chanting, singing, and beating percussion instruments. They are costumed in elaborate, handmade outfits that fancifully recall the dress of Native Americans. The origins of this tradition have yet to be conclusively documented, although African, Creole, Indian, and Spanish roots have been suggested, and some synthesis of them seems likely. This is also true of the meanings and the etymologies of the chants themselves.
533 Royal St.
Museum devoted to New Orleans history and research
The complex includes 11 permanent galleries devoted to Louisiana history, including that of its black residents, and a research center that contains 35,000 library items and 300,000 photographs (searchable online at www.hnoc.org). An exhibition about the life and works of Julien Hudson, the second earliest known portraitist of African heritage to have worked in the United States before the Civil War, runs through April 20, 2011.
413-15 South Rampart St.
Former Vaudeville theater where Louis Armstrong won a talent contest as a teen
Music legend Louis Armstrong, who grew up on Jane Alley “back o’ town,” was arrested at age 12 for firing a pistol in a New Year’s celebration on Perdido Street. He was sent to the Waifs Home for Colored Boys, where he had his first music lessons. The rest, of course, is history. As a teen, Armstrong reportedly put flour on his face to perform in “white face” at the Iroquois. A Russian immigrant family named Karnofsky lived nearby, at 427-31 South Rampart, and befriended Armstrong — giving him his first cornet. Today, the Karnofsky Project honors the memory by donating musical instruments to young players.
Where Bienville founded the city
The Sieur de Bienville, second governor of the French colony of Louisiana, was also its first slave owner: He brought two slaves, Jorge and Marie, from Havana. He also created the Code Noir, which regulated the treatment and behavior of slaves.
1225 North Rampart St.
Planned education center for the N.O. Jazz and Heritage Foundation
The former Tharp Sontheimer Laudumiey mortuary is a historic structure with Gothic columns and 11,000 square feet of space that will be turned into classrooms, dance rehearsal studios, and multi–purpose rooms for jazz concerts, lectures and conferences.
1825 Orleans Ave.
National headquarters of the country’s largest African-American Catholic lay organization
The Knights of Peter Claver was founded in 1909 in Mobile, Ala., by four Josephite priests as an organization to allow men of color membership in a Catholic fraternal society. It was modeled after the Knights of Columbus, and has grown to more than 700 subordinate units throughout the United States and more than 18,000 Catholic family members. The order is named after St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest from Spain who ministered to African slaves in South America in the 17th century. The original building at this site served as the local headquarters for the Urban League, NAACP and other civil rights organizations before being replaced by this modern structure.
1140 Royal St.
Most haunted house in New Orleans
In the early 19th century, Madame Delphine and Dr. Louis LaLaurie were known for their lavish parties. One night in 1834, fire broke out in their kitchen, and neighbors fighting the flames broke through a locked door to discover seven emaciated slaves chained to the walls. Residents were enraged. Mme. LaLaurie escaped the ensuing mob’s wrath and fled to Paris. The house has been home to the ghosts of the tortured slaves ever since. Another ghost is said to be of a young slave girl who jumped to her death after being chased by Mme. LaLaurie with a whip.
Lil’ Dizzy’s Café
1500 Esplanade Ave.
Soul food restaurant
Wayne Baquet runs the latest Baquet family restaurant, which serves Creole soul food on the edge of Treme. It’s named after his grandson Zachary, a trumpet player nicknamed Lil’ Dizzy after Dizzy Gillespie (there are as many Baquet musicians as cooks in the family tree). The restaurant is known for its fried chicken, but the Creole file gumbo is also a family heirloom.
751 Chartres St.
Memorabilia detailing the history of jazz
The former Old U.S. Mint building houses the New Orleans Jazz Club Collections, consisting of memorabilia chronicling the history of jazz. The New Orleans Jazz Club, founded by jazz enthusiasts in 1948, first started collecting the material, and it moved among several locations before finding a home with the Louisiana State Museum in 1977. Highlights include musical instruments, including Louis Armstrong’s cornet and Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet, more than 10,000 photographs, close to 10,000 recordings, posters, paintings, sheet music, and the elaborate tin sign from San Jacinto Hall, a dance hall on Dumaine Street highly popular in the black community, which burned down in 1967.
Mahalia Jackson’s grave
8200 Airline Drive
Providence Memorial Park Cemetery
Gospel singing legend Mahalia Jackson grew up in the Carrollton neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans in a three-room dwelling that housed 13 people. She began her singing career as a young girl at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. At 16, she moved to Chicago and began touring with the Johnson Gospel Singers. Jackson worked with composer Thomas A. Dorsey for years, and Dorsey’s “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” became her signature song. She was the first gospel singer to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall (1952), the first to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival (1958), and sang at President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, at the March on Washington in 1963, and at the funeral of her friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
McDonogh’s blacksmith shop
2003 Carondelet St.
Former shop owned by John McDonogh
McDonogh trained his slaves as managers of his plantations and real estate. He formed the American Colonization Society to assist freed slaves in returning to Africa, sent 85 of his slaves to this African republic and provided in his will for the manumission of many others. He left his $3 million estate to build schools in Baltimore and New Orleans; 35 educational institutions were erected in this city with the money. McDonogh 35 was the only four-year high school for black students until Booker T. Washington High School opened in 1942. A number of schools today, many of them predominantly African-American, still bear his name.
2003 Carondelet St.
Exhibits of African-American art
The George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art collects, interprets and preserves the visual aesthetic of people of African descent in North America and beyond, through innovative programs and exhibits. Featuring the private collection of Dr. Dwight McKenna, the museum presents works by local and internationally-renowned artists such as Henry Ossawa Tanner, William Edouard Scott, Clementine Hunter, Ernie Barnes and Ulrich Jean Pierre.
1515 Pauger St.
Creole cottage, once home to free woman of color
Rosette Rochon was a free woman of color who bought this lot in 1806 and built the house on it about 1815. Much of Faubourg Marigny was populated by free people of color, who formed an integral part of New Orleans life. By the mid-1830s, the city’s 12,000 free blacks owned $2.5 million in property, had their own schools and participated in cultural events. Rochon was a successful businesswoman who lived to be almost 100. The house is a rare example of an early Creole cottage.
Intersection of North Bartholomew and North Prieur streets (upper Ninth Ward)
Habitat for Humanity homes built post-Katrina primarily for returning musicians
Conceived by New Orleans natives Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis, Musicians’ Village is a cornerstone of the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (NOAHH) post-Katrina rebuilding effort, designed to both construct a community and preserve a culture. Its 72 single residences and five doubles are targeted at local musicians, many of whom had lived in inadequate housing prior to the hurricane and remain displaced in its aftermath. Current residents include jazz bassist Chuck Badie and Mardi Gras Indian Cherice Harrison-Nelson. Plans include The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, with a 150-seat performance space and classrooms.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. This black history guide is published in four parts.