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Recent Acquisitions Provide Varied Insight into New Orleans History

Four recent donations to the Amistad Research Center highlight the varied and expansive nature of New Orleans history. These new collections are comprised of personal memoirs, artwork, photographs, audiovisual and born-digital material, and personal papers that document family life in the city during the early 20th century, post-Hurricane Katrina recovery, the judicial and civic career of the first African American elected to Louisiana's Supreme Court, and the emergence of bounce music in New Orleans.

Advertisement for a marionette performance of Emperor Jones by Ralph Chesse, undated.

The papers of artist and puppeteer Ralph Chesse (1900-1991) document his life and career in theater, art, puppetry, and television. Chesse was born into a New Orleans Creole family in 1900. He was a self-taught artist who became involved in theater in the city’s Le Petit Theatre, but spent much of his adult life in the San Francisco area, working in marionette theater, television, and art circles. The collection dates from 1926-1987 and includes an unpublished memoir that touches upon life in New Orleans during the early 20th century, Chesse’s writings on marionette theater and other topics, promotional material for Chesse’s marionette shows, biographical materials, correspondence, and collected materials. Accompanying the papers are 123 examples of Chesse’s linocuts and woodcuts. The Chesse papers have been donated by Bruce Chesse, son of Ralph Chesse.

Judge Revius Ortique, 1976.

The family of Judge Revius Ortique have donated an addition to the Ortique papers held at Amistad. Judge Ortique (1924-2008) was the first African American to be elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The addendum contains correspondence, ephemera, photographs, publications, newspaper clippings, and other records that document Ortique’s life and career. Items of note include materials related to the New Orleans Aviation Board and court operations files, which include Ortique’s opinions, decrees, and dissents, as well as items regarding the MLK Commission and the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Visual and audiovisual holdings related to New Orleans have been enhanced by donations from photographer Aubrey Edwards and filmmaker Luisa Dantas. Edwards partnered with journalist Alison Fensterstock in 2008 to document the history of bounce and hiphop music in New Orleans with the Where They At project through photographs, interviews, and a dedicated website. Edwards’ donation includes over 60 portraits of rappers, bounce artists, record store owners, DJs, and producers, as well as images of prominent clubs and public housing projects. The photographs complement 19 digital audio interviews and 37 electronic interview transcripts from the Where They At project, which were previously donated in 2013 by Alison Fensterstock. The photographs have been digitized and will soon be uploaded to the NOLA Hiphop and Bounce Archive.

Luisa Dantas’ Land of Opportunity is a documentary film, funded by the Ford Foundation and the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South that chronicles the reconstruction of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed the breach of the federal levees. The Land of Opportunity collection is comprised of approximately 1500 hours of footage, including the completed documentary, outtake footage, and related production material for the project, as well as an interactive web platform. The footage represents a diversity of perspectives on this unprecedented moment in our recent history, including African-American community organizers in devastated neighborhoods, public housing residents fighting for the right to return to their homes, displaced residents struggling to rebuild their lives, urban planners reimagining New Orleans neighborhoods, and immigrant workers helping to rebuild the city. Their stories are as timely as ever, and as the tagline for the project says, this story is “happening to a city near you.”

Online descriptions for these donations will be available soon. In the meantime, please contact Amistad’s Reference Services for more information.

Demolition of a public housing project in New Orleans
Big Freedia performing at the Sissy Sweetheart Ball at One Eyed Jacks club, 2009.

Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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