Editor’s Note: The following series “Via Voodoo Vie: an Exploration of Voodoo in NOLA” is a week-long series curated by Emily O’Connell as a part of the Digital Research Internship Program in partnership with ViaNolaVie. The DRI Program is a Newcomb Institute technology initiative for undergraduate students combining technology skillsets, feminist leadership, and the digital humanities.
The history and tradition of Louisiana Voodoo has become a unique part of the culture of New Orleans. However, it goes deeper than the Voodoo that has been popularized by the media and tourist attractions. With origins in West Africa and Haiti, brought to Louisiana by enslaved and freed people of color, Voodoo has a rich and often overlooked history, so let’s explore how Voodoo has made its mark on the city and how the city has, in turn, influenced the perception of Voodoo. Want to learn more about the historical context and contemporary practice of Voodoo? Check out the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum and Pharmacy Museum for a unique and educational experience. Bonus: check out the other places mentioned in the article to explore Black history in New Orleans. Originally published on February 16, 2015.
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 the fourth and final installment 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 3, N-R. (Parts 1 and 2 were published last week; Part 4 will appear Tuesday.)
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.”
1205 North Rampart St.
Headquarters of the foundation that owns the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
The foundation’s mission is to promote and preserve the cultural heritage of Louisiana. It also maintains a jazz archive, open to researchers and scholars, that contains a vast trove of information from Jazz Fest and the Foundation’s programs — including photos, videos, oral histories, artifacts and documents.
New Image Supermarket building
1216 Bienville St.
One of few surviving buildings from Storyville
Storyville was the city’s early 19th-century redlight district, named after city alderman Sidney Story, who wrote the legislation setting it up. Both black and white brothels existed, and early jazz bands flourished in them. This building was the site of Early’s Saloon, where popular Storyville singer/pianist Tony Jackson often played.
724 Dumaine St.
The museum, founded in 1972, offers a look at the folklore and history of gris gris, spells, rituals and the city’s voodoo queens. The most famous was Marie Laveau, a free person of color born in 1801, who went on to reputedly practice voodoo and cast powerful spells, causing the rich and connected to seek her advice. Supplicants still seek her assistance at her tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
916 North Peters St.
National jazz park and museum
New Orleans is universally considered to be the birthplace of jazz. The New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park was created in 1994 to commemorate this memorable musical legacy. The park’s purpose is to preserve information, resources, and sites related to the beginnings and progressions of jazz in New Orleans.
525-537 Conti St.
Former location of influential post-Civil War black newspaper
The New Orleans Tribune began publication on July 21, 1864. Its editor was Paul Trevigne, a linguist and educator who, at the risk of his life, had been editor of L’Union, another black newspaper, before the Civil War. The newspaper’s editorials called for the right to vote for black people, civil rights for all citizens, free public education for all citizens and carried on a war against President Johnson’s policies by sending copies of the Tribune to every member of Congress on a regular basis. Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, and Garibaldi sent letters from Europe to the paper. It had regular correspondents in Mexico, Paris and Boston. The paper serialized French novels, published the poems of local black poets, and reported on the social and literary activities in the black community.
Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard
Corner, Jackson Avenue at Dryades Street
Named for historic civil rights leader
Oretha Castle Haley was a student at Southern University in New Orleans when she became active in civil rights by participating in the Dryades Street Boycott in 1960. The boycott protested the fact that, although the area was frequented by black shoppers, no African-Americans were hired there. Haley went on to become a founding member of the Congress for Racial Equality. In 2006, the upper part of the street was renamed for her.
514 Chartres St.
Museum dedicated to pharmaceutical history
The historic apothecary’s extensive collection of memorabilia includes voodoo jars, herbal remedies and herbal medicines used by Marie Laveau, famous voodoo queen.
Pirates Alley Café
622 Pirates Alley
Site of Spanish colonial jail
Pirates Alley Café stands on the site of the former Spanish Colonial Prison of 1769. Called the Calabozo, it was demolished in 1837 and the land sold to make way for the Creole house seen today. In this prison, escaped slaves were held, as were the pirates Jean and Pierre Lafitte.
Corner of Royal and Press streets
Site where Homer Plessy boarded an all-white train car
Shoemaker Homer Plessy, a light-skinned black man of mixed ancestry, boarded the East Louisiana Railroad Company’s Covington-bound train here on June 7, 1892, and entered the first-class, “whites only” car. He refused, when asked by the conductor, to “retire to the colored car,” and was arrested. The famous Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case ensued, mandating a “separate but equal” ruling that had wide consequences for Civil Rights in the U.S., effectively legalizing segregation as long as facilities were provided for both blacks and whites.
542 Frenchmen St.
Soul food restaurant
The Praline Connection began as a home delivery service targeting career women who were too busy to prepare home-cooked meals for their families. African-Americans Cecil Kaigler and Curtis Moore opened the restaurant on Frenchmen Street in 1990, serving “down-home” Creole-style soul food typical of the kind of home cuisine enjoyed by New Orleanians for centuries. The restaurant’s pralines are handmade daily in the old fashioned, spoon-dripped method.
726 St Peter St.
A musical venue dedicated to the preservation of jazz
Built as a private residence in 1750, the building has housed a tavern, inn, photo studio and art gallery. In 1961, Allan and Sandra Jaffe opened Preservation Hall as a place where New Orleans musicians could play New Orleans Jazz — a style, they believed, should not disappear. The hall was created as a sanctuary, to protect and honor a musical genre that had lost much of its popularity to modern jazz and rock ’n roll. Today, four decades later, the hall is still going strong, with live jazz concerts at 8 p.m. nightly. The inside walls contain portraits of the musicians who first filled it with the beautiful sounds of New Orleans Jazz.
Bourbon Orleans Hotel, 717 Orleans St.
Ballroom where French suitors met free women of color
The first ball was held in 1805 to introduce Frenchmen to young free women of color to be their mistresses. The quadroon (technically, one-quarter African) beauties were chaperoned by their mothers, who made financial arrangements for houses and support with the suitors. Sons of such unions were often educated in France, a practice known as placage, unique to New Orleans. The ballroom later became part of a convent for the Sisters of the Holy Family, a religious order founded by the daughter of a quadroon to care for African-American women.
Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes home
928 Marais St.
Once home to noted civic leader, writer and scholar
In “Our People and Our History,” originally published in French in 1911, Rodolphe Lucien Desdune recorded the lives of 50 prominent Creoles who lived in New Orleans at the end of the 19th century. Although he received little formal education, Desdunes, himself a Creole, was an articulate observer of his times and culture. His portraits of black doctors, lawyers, teachers, musicians, artists, and writers reveal the extraordinary role that Creoles played in the cultural and political history of Louisiana.