As New Orleans celebrates its tricentennial in 2018, its residents will have much time to reflect upon the historical timeline of one of the most culturally diverse cities in America. African Americans have existed in and contributed to the city since its earliest days.
The struggle for freedom and civil rights is a narrative that constantly appears when discussing the existence of African Americans in New Orleans. The history surrounding how African Americans were able to develop and thrive within a segregated society where Jim Crow laws excluded them from predominately white institutions is one of strength, courage, and endurance. While accessibility to resources such as schools, hospitals, and businesses were limited due to racism and discrimination, a crop of leaders emerged to address the needs of Black New Orleanians.
From benevolent associations and funeral homes to insurance companies and restaurants, Black entrepreneurship flourished to serve communities during an era plagued by segregation. The Woods Directory, published from 1912 to 1914, displayed just how enterprising African Americans were at the dawn of the 20th century. Its pages are littered with advertisements of business owners promoting their products and services. Many of the city’s business leaders were also civically engaged in their local communities.
Being proactive in improving educational opportunities was one of the many ways in which Black civic leaders worked to increase the quality of life for African Americans within New Orleans. Organizations such as the Colored Educational Alliance and the Federation of Civic Leagues advocated strongly to increase educational access for students in public schools.
This exhibition draws upon the rich library and manuscript collections at the Amistad Research Center to highlight African American leaders in the areas of business, education, philanthropy, medicine, and civic engagement from the mid-19th through the mid-20th century.
Image from the Dunn-Landry Family papers. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.