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. Today’s installment is the fourth and final feature in the series.
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 4, S-Z.
For those of you with a smart phone, each landmark has been added to a brand new application. The app uses “Augmented Reality” technology to automatically access each landmark’s information as you visit them. To get the app, 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.”
6901 Chef Menteur Highway
Mother house of African-American order of nuns
The order was founded in 1842 by Henriette Delille, a free woman of color who had been refused by both Ursuline and Carmelite orders because of her color. The order continues today, serving youth, the elderly, and the needy members of society Henriette Delille is the first United States native-born African American whose cause for canonization has been officially opened by the Catholic Church.
Slave Market site
Southeast corner of Esplanade Avenue and Chartres Street
Site of city’s largest slave market
Because of slavery’s impact on the Southern economy, slave trading was an integral part of New Orleans life. The slave auction was one of the most barbaric practices of the harsh system of slavery. Africans were brought to pens on the west bank of the river, where they were held until auctioned off in one of a number of slave markets. Conditions and treatment were cruel, and families were often torn apart. Most slaves in New Orleans were domestic servants, although others worked at various crafts or as unskilled laborers. In 1811, the population of New Orleans and its suburbs was about 25,000; nearly 11,000 were slaves.
Behind St. Louis Cathedral
The little square allegedly once was a dueling site, where disagreements were settled according to the Code Duello. One of the more infamous dueling instructors, according to lore, was Bastille Croquere, a mulatto, who trained young Creoles in the field of honor.
1210 Gov. Nichols St.
A church of free black citizens since 1842
Before the church’s 1842 dedication, both people of color and white people began buying pews. In an unprecedented social, political and religious move, the black members also bought all the pews of both side aisles, which they gave to slaves as their exclusive place of worship, a first in the history of slavery in the United States. This resulted in the most integrated congregation in the entire country: one row of free people of color, one row of whites with a smattering of ethnics, and two outer aisles of slaves. The church continues as a place of worship. On the grounds is the Tomb of the Unknown Slave, commemorating the remains of slaves buried in unmarked graves.
615 Pere Antoine Alley
Heart of Roman Catholic New Orleans
Catholics have been worshipping here since 1727, when the first little church was built. There the children of the colonists and the children of the slaves were baptized. The church was rebuilt after the devastating fire of 1788, and the current cathedral was constructed in 1850. The black and white checkerboard floor was constructed by a free person of color. In a city with such a strong Catholic heritage it was only natural that many, if not most, free black citizens embraced that religion.
Basin at St. Louis Street
The city’s oldest cemetery
The famous burial ground, with its above-ground vaults, was opened in 1789. Black blacksmiths were responsible for much of the cemetery’s cast and wrought-iron rails. Among famous black residents buried here are Homer Plessy, who instigated the famous Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case that legalized the idea of “separate-but-equal,” and famous voodoo queen Marie Laveau, allegedly buried in the Glapion family crypt.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 2
Claiborne Avenue between St. Louis and Iberville streets
Historic New Orleans cemetery
Consecrated in 1823, this “city of the dead” contains the graves of a number of notable jazz and rhythm and blues musicians, including Danny Barker and Ernie K. Doe. Andre Cailloux, one of the first black officers in the Union Army to be killed in combat during the American Civil War, also is buried here.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 3
3421 Esplanade Ave.
Historic New Orleans cemetery
Set aside for African-American Catholics, its denizens include Oscar J. Dunn, members of the Sisters of the Holy Family, Arthur Esteves, and Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial. Most iron ornaments and tomb gates were fashioned by African-American artisans, many of whom are also buried in the cemetery.
St. Louis Hotel site
730 Bienville St.
Historic French Quarter hotel once stood here
Originally known as the City Exchange, the hotel was built in 1838 for an astronomical $1.5 million. Until the Civil War, almost any event requiring an auctioneer took place under its 60-foot rotunda — including sales of slaves, who were brought here from across the river in Algiers, port of entry where Africans were brought to holding pens.
Toulouse Street at the Mississippi River
One of the few remaining historic steamboats
African Americans worked on board steamboats as well as on the docks. One of them was P.B.S. Pinchback, who was a cabin boy, deckhand, and steward on Mississippi River steamboats before and during the Civil War. He was elected to the Louisiana senate in 1871 and later served as acting governor following the impeachment of Henry Clay Warmoth in 1872. Pinchback was also owner and manager of the Louisianian, one of several post-Civil War African-American newspapers in New Orleans.
1500 Poydras St.
Largest fixed-dome structure in the world
On Aug. 29, 2005, the Superdome was used as a shelter of last resort for Hurricane Katrina. During the ordeal, the stadium sheltered about 35,000 people, many of them African Americans. With no food, water or sanitary facilities, conditions deteriorated, and buses didn’t arrive for three days to start transferring evacuees to Houston.
242 Ursulines St.
Home to famous free person of color
Thomy Lafon (1810-1893) was a Creole businessman, philanthropist and human rights activist in New Orleans. He ran a successful shoe store before becoming a real estate developer and philanthropist. An opponent of slavery, he gave large donations to the American Anti-Slavery Society and the Underground Railroad, and left money in his will to the Sisters of the Holy Family, an order of African-American nuns. Lafon also supported the Tribune, the first black-owned newspaper in the South after the Civil War.
501 Napoleon Ave.
Venue for New Orleans roots music
Tipitina’s began as a neighborhood juke joint, established in 1977, by a group of young music fans to provide a place for jazz blues legend Professor Longhair (born Henry Roeland Byrd) to perform in his final years. The venue, named for one of Longhair’s most enigmatic recordings,”Tipitina,” has grown from a small, neighborhood bar into an international music icon. Many of the city’s most beloved artists perform here frequently, including the Neville Brothers, the Meters, Rebirth Brass Band and more.
Treme Community Center
900 North Villere St.
Neighborhood community center
This faubourg, or neighborhood, is one of the oldest in the city, and from the early 19th century was the main neighborhood of free people of color. It remains an important center of the city’s African-American and Créole culture, especially the modern brass band tradition. It is named after Frenchman Claude Treme, who came to New Orleans in 1783 and owned land here.
William Frantz Elementary School
3811 N Galvez St.
First all-white elementary school in the South to have a black student
In November 1960, then 6-year-old Ruby Bridges was escorted by federal marshals to the school only a few blocks from her home. For a year, she was the only student in her class, since white parents pulled their children in protest. Bridges still lives in New Orleans, where she is chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, formed in 1999 to promote “the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences.” In 2010, she had a reunion at Frantz Elementary with Pam Foreman Testroet, who, at age 5, was the first white child to break the boycott over Bridges’ attendance. Bridges continues to tour as an inspirational speaker against racism.
1 Drexel Drive
Historically African American University
St. Katharine Drexel of Philadelphia and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious community dedicated to the education of African Americans and Native Americans, established Xavier as a high school in 1915. The four-year college program was added in 1925. Today Xavier is the only historically black Catholic University in the United States. In 1970, the Sisters transferred control of the university to a joint lay/religious Board of Trustees. Dr. Norman C. Francis, a 1952 XU graduate, has served as president since 1968. He is the longest tenured college president in the United States.
732 Broad St.
Headquarters of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club
The historic black Carnival organization first marched on Mardi Gras in 1909. In 1915, they added floats, spring wagons decorated with palmetto leaves and moss, and incorporated in 1916. In the 1960s, during the height of black awareness, it became unpopular to belong to Zulu, as dressing in grass skirts and black face was seen as demeaning. Now, however, the krewe ‘s parade is one of the biggest attractions on Mardi Gras, and its painted coconuts one of the most sought-after parade “throws.” The krewe consists of African Americans from all walks of life, as well as other minorities and also Caucasian members. In 1949, Louis Armstrong was king. The organization holds other events throughout the year, and also has community service programs.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. This guide to black history is published in four parts.