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Getting steeped in N.O. Black history

30th May 2017   ·   0 Comments

Leon Waters of Hidden History Tours talks about the post-Katrina recovery efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward during the Steeped in History Tour on April 6.

Leon Waters of Hidden History Tours talks about the post-Katrina recovery efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward during the Steeped in History Tour on April 6.

By David T. Baker
Contributing Writer

Plaques, historic markers and monuments, family albums and stories recounted between generations, or those read in books or watched in documentary. If there is one truth that can be gleaned from these things, it is this: History is important to people. Almost nowhere in the world does that seem to ring more true than in New Orleans.

On April 6, I had the opportunity to experience the Black history of the city, in which I was born and have lived for decades, in a way I had never before: a caravan driving tour to 17 of some of the city’s most significant landmarks in civil rights history, guided by local historian Leon Waters, founder and operator of Hidden History Tours.

The tour, sponsored by Toyota, is part of a series of historic tours in cities across the U.S. called Steeped in History.

According to Betsy Helgager Hughes, president of BLH Consulting who worked with Toyota to organize Steeped, the tour will be ongoing throughout the year and throughout the country.

“The year-round celebration of Black History recognizes the iconic moments and people of our past who’ve helped shape today’s African-American communities, including the city of New Orleans,” said Helgager Hughes.

Hughes says the tour was designed “to recognize and unearth interesting historical points that showcase the achievements of those of African descent.” Steeped kicked of its national tour with two tours in Los Angeles. New Orleans was the third stop.

While there were only a handful of participants included in the April caravan tour, anyone interested in seeing these historic sights and learning the history of civil rights in New Orleans can do a self-guided tour of these historic sites.

Some of the highlights of the tour are:

1. Homer A. Plessy Historic Marker (Corner of Royal and Press streets). The site where free man of color Homer Plessy challenged racial segregation in the United States which led to the Plessy v, Ferguson Supreme Court decision.

2. William Frantz Elementary School (3811 N. Galvez Street), The school made famous when it was integrated by six-year-old Ruby Bridges in 1960.

3. Alexander “A.P.” Pierre Tureaud statue. Located at the intersection of A.P. Tureaud and St. Bernard avenues in the Seventh Ward, the memorial honors the preeminent civil rights attorney in Louisiana from the mid-1920s until his death in 1972.

4. St. James AME Church (222 N. Roman Street). Former headquarters of Black Union soldiers during the Civil War, and the site of the founding of the YMCA for Black men and Louisiana’s Black masonic organizations.

5. Louis Armstrong Park (801 N. Rampart Street). A 32-acre park that honors New Orleans jazz pioneer Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and serves as home to the world-famous Congo Square, where enslaved Africans gathered on Sundays durning antebellum times and disseminated information about the 1811 slave revolt, the largest slave uprising in U.S. history.

6. The New Zion Baptist Church (2319 Third Street). The birthplace of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where in 1957 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gathered with the Rev. Avery C. Alexander, civil rights and justice advocate Israel Augustine, the Rev. Abraham Lincoln “A.L.” Davis and other civil rights leaders from across the South to form an organization to challenge racial segregation.

Other notable sites include singer Fats Domino’s house – (1212-1214 Caffin Avenue); Flint-Goodridge Hospital *2425 Louisiana Avenue), once one of the largest and oldest Black businesses in La.; the Joe Bartholomew Golf Course (6514 Congress Drive), an 18-hole golf course in historically Black Pontchartrain Park subdivision and home to a Black-owned restaurant, Lenora’s Grill; Make It Right homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, the brainchild of actor/activist Brad Pitt after Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans; McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School, where the “McDonogh Three,” Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost and Gail Etienne integrated the school as six-year-olds; Valena C. Jones Elementary School (1901 N, Galvez Street), the first public school for Black children in New Orleans in 1904, thanks to the efforts of the Rev. Alfred Lawless, Beecher Congregational Church and the Seventh Ward Educational League; the Free Southern Theater (1332 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.), founded in 1963 by John O’Neal and Doris Derby in 1963 to complement the work of the Civil Rights Movement; and the city’s three historically Black universities, Xavier University, Southern University at New Orleans and Dillard University.

For more information about the Hidden History Tours, visit

You can follow news and updates from David T. Baker on Twitter at @Tadfly.

This article originally published in the May 29, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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