50 Years/50 Collections: Real Life New Orleans History in the Green Photograph and Film Collection

Women remove their masks for a smoke break at a Carnival ball, 1960s

Home movies can provide a wonderful glimpse into everyday life. They record events and traditions often seen as so commonplace at the time they are taken that they have been overlooked in the more formal documentation of history. Looking back, however, these moments can become a treasured time capsule of a bygone era. The Robert S. and Lillie Mae Green Photograph and Film Collection at Amistad is a small window into New Orleans life in the mid-twentieth century.

Children ride on a float in a parade, 1956

Robert Sylvester Green was an amateur photographer in New Orleans. He spent many decades photographing life in the city, both in still photographs and in moving images. After his passing, his widow, Lillie Mae Green, donated the material to Amistad in order to preserve his work for future generations. In a letter to Amistad dated 1999, Mrs. Green describes the material, saying “Some of the negatives [date] back to 1940 up to 1981, in the New Orleans area and the suburbs… They consist of some of the following events: Carnival Balls, Carnival parades, [debutante] presentations, football games, school concerts, Picnics, [church] programs, funerals, Political Conventions, [Graduations], Boy Scout programs, and [construction] of special [buildings] and such important events.” While some photographic prints are included, the bulk of the still images in the collection are 65mm black and white negatives. The moving images are a mixture of black and white and color, on both 8mm and 16mm film.

Costumed dancers at a ball, 1955

When viewing the collection, it is interesting to examine how New Orleans life has changed over the years, along with what has stayed the same. The football footage, for instance, includes images of the teams from Dillard and Xavier Universities in the 1950s, two historically black universities whose football programs are now defunct. However, images of marching bands and the homecoming court entering the field would look familiar to anyone who has attended a college homecoming game. Picnics and Christmas parties continue today in much the same fashion, although styles of clothing and decorations have changed.

A woman is escorted by a devil into the “Satan’s Inferno” ball, 1955