The music in New Orleans is, in a way, the music of Central City. The neighborhood was home to some of the earliest jazz pioneers, from Kid Ory to Professor Longhair. It’s where we get our milk and our bread — Leidenheimer Baking Co. has been there since 1904, with Brown’s Dairy not far behind (it moved to Central City in 1915). It’s where we go for a Sunday second line.
As its name suggests, Central City is central to the culture and history of New Orleans as a whole. Moreover, says councilmember LaToya Cantrell, “it is a neighborhood that is a microcosm of the city demographically and socioeconomically.”
Watch the video below for a closer look — and deeper understanding — of this uniquely New Orleans neighborhood.
Central City Video Transcript
Latoya Cantrell: Central City is not only centrally located right in the heart of the city of New Orleans, but it is a neighborhood that is a microcosm of the city, demographically and socio-economically.
Linda Pompa: Central City has been sort of the working area. The “back-a-town.”
Carol Bebelle: Culture, community, and commerce: those are the three things. That’s our three-legged stool.
Pompa: Probably one of the most important aspects of the history of Central City is its role in the Civil Rights Movement.
Bebelle: Many people don’t know that SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] got started in New Orleans, a stone’s throw from Dryades Street. Most people think it happened in Georgia or Alabama or somewhere. It didn’t. Doctor King was here!
Johnson: OC Haley Boulevard, the main street of the neighborhood, is named after Civil Rights leader Oretha Castle Haley.
Pompa: Oretha Castle Haley was a major participant and organizer in the boycott of Dryades Street and also in the founding of the New Orleans chapter of CORE: the Congress Of Racial Equality.
Bebelle: Being together through good times and bad: that’s the covenant we make inside of ‘community.’
Cantrell: Central City has been a community that has suffered through lack of investment over the years.
Pompa: At one time there was really a thriving commercial district, and then, as happened all over the country, there was a lot of suburbanization. People leaving the city, sort of a draining of investment.
Cantrell: What’s exciting in the post-Katrina environment is the way we have been able to funnel resources to the community in a very targeted and intentional way. So, focusing on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, which was a mecca for Central City and really for African-Americans in the city of New Orleans as a whole.
Bebelle: When we came to this street, this street did not look like it does today. Working together, we have been able to make this bustling corridor that’s evolving happen.
Johnson: Along the boulevard, you’ll find thriving new restaurants, cool coffee houses, plus museums and community centers. There’s Cafe Reconcile, a non-profit that combines delicious food with the mission of serving the area’s youth. And then there’s the Southern Food and Beverage Museum with its in-house restaurant, Purloo. The Zeitgeist Theater, which hosts movie screenings and other visual arts. And then there’s the New Orleans Jazz Market, which has amazing concert space but also offers educational opportunities for all ages.
Cantrell: As we transition from OC Haley, which has reached a tipping point, it is time to shift the resources and intentionality to improving other parts of Central City, and I believe we’re doing that well.
Bebelle: You know, community is not just about working together. It’s also about celebrating together. It’s about playing together.
Pompa: There [are] a lot of Second Lines. A lot of events, so that’s a really important cultural piece that’s been around for a long time in Central City.
Bebelle: Dance. Music. Food. These are connecting cultural experiences.
Cantrell: Bringing people together is what a neighborhood does, and in Central City we can see it first-hand.
Johnson: Life in New Orleans is so much more than what you see in the French Quarter, and you can find a slice of that life just a few blocks off of St. Charles Avenue in this historic neighborhood: Central City. With another episode of GONOLA TV, I’m Fresh Johnson. Later!