Filed Under:  Civil Rights, Local, News, Regional

Vacant LaSalle Street lot offered for Memorial for MLK and SCLC

21st September 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

In this 90th Anniversary issue, The Louisiana Weekly looks back to a time when this newspaper stood alone, as virtually the only local media voice covering the budding Civil Rights Movement.

And, few articles we published were as important as newsprint which The Weekly devoted to a meeting in New Orleans on February 14, 1957. We provided the account of how the Montgomery Improvement Association joined with other local civil rights groups to form the “Southern Leadership Conference.”

Its leaders had initially gathered in Atlanta a month earlier, but the group’s formal name and articles of incorporation were adopted here in the Crescent City, thanks to the intervention of the Rev. T. J. Jemison of Baton Rouge and attorney Israel M. Augustine of New Orleans. They would be elected that February as Secretary and General Counsel for its newly established Executive Board of Directors, which would include the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as President, Dr. Ralph David Abernathy as Financial Secretary-Treasurer, and the Rev. C. K. Steele as Vice President.

Other than The Louisiana Weekly’s account of Dr. King’s visit to New Orleans that February 1957 to formally launch what would become the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Montgomery in August of that year, there are few memorials to that historic moment. A coalition of Central City stakeholders seek to change that oversight.

Their plan is to transform a vacant lot on LaSalle St. owned by the non-profit Felicity Redevelopment into a public park that will commemorate the 1957 visit of Dr. King, and build placards and outdoor exhibits explaining the importance of that moment in the history of the larger Civil Rights Movement.

“We want something simple and open that will engage the neighborhood,” explained Felicity Redevelopment President Louise Martin. “This proposal is by no means for a ‘Civil Rights Museum,’ rather it is a straightforward, open pavilion space to honor a specific event within the Civil Rights Movement—Martin Luther King Jr’s 1957 visit to New Orleans and the important events that stemmed from it.”

“Felicity Redevelopment, Inc. has acquired a lot on LaSalle [St.] which will be the project location, and thanks to generous donations, we have been able to get the project off the ground. Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell has also been a strong supporter of the project.”

“Our goal is to design and build something that people in the neighborhood will be proud of, and that people from all over can visit to learn about the important role this neighborhood played in civil rights history…We hope to have informational panels on site that educate visitors about the work that Dr. King as well as many neighborhood activists did during this important time in 1957.”

Early this summer, on June 4, at the Israelite Baptist Church, 2100 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., Felicity Redevelopment’s leadership—along with Barbara Lacen-Keller of Central City Housing Partnership, Charmaine Baker-Fox, lifelong resident of the neighborhood, and Ronald Coleman—hosted a gathering of Central City stakeholders to explain the concept of the park, and how it might take shape.

Jeanette Bell, longtime neighborhood resident and co-founder of Felicity Redevelopment, began the evening with an introduction of Felicity Redevelopment’s history and involvement in the neighborhood over the last 15 years. She described the organization’s work which includes over 80 residential and commercial properties put back into commerce.

“We did it quietly,” Bell said. “We weren’t trying to make noise, we were trying to make neighbors.” She also emphasized the point that “Everyone here tonight is in at the ground floor of this project. We are just getting started.”

Following Bell’s introduction, Grover Mouton and Nick Jenisch of the Tulane Regional Urban Design Center presented four potential designs produced by graduate students in their program. Students spent a semester designing potential memorial spaces on a typical New Orleans-sized lot, the goal of which was to create a space to honor the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists in New Orleans, specifically in Central City, in February of 1957.

Ranging from simple layouts to more elaborate and eye-catching spaces, Jenisch explained “None of these designs are by any means finalized, but the great thing about them is that we feel they could all have a huge impact on the neighborhood while still being able to be built fairly quickly for a modest budget.”

After the brief presentation of the proposals, a lengthy discussion ensued on the project and some of the larger issues in the neighborhood which would be both directly and indirectly addressed by the project. Danny Allen, a violence intervention supervisor for the organization Cease Fire, praised the location of the project and use of an empty lot, adding, “Everywhere you look there’s blight, and if that’s what people see, that’s what they react to. We need to beautify some of these lots.”

Monique Montgomery-Jones, another neighbor, said, “If this project can connect the New Orleans of the past with now, that would be explosive in the community.”

Next steps for the project include engaging both the local and national SCLC chapters and as many community members as possible. Felicity hopes to have several more community meetings as it refines the design of the memorial and the information it will display. Any community member with pictures, stories, or interest in helping with the project can contact Felicity Redevelopment at (504) 581-3701 or

This article originally published in the September 21, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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