Each February in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is often top of mind. But February is important for another reason: Black History Month.
New Orleans has a long and complex history that relates to African-American culture, and many of the oldest traditions are still alive today. Congo Square, for example, is a modern hub for concerts and festivals, but the space is deeply rooted in black history. On Sundays from the early 1700s throughout slavery’s stronghold in the Deep South, slaves were permitted to gather at the square.
Congo Square is just one of many places in the city to celebrate Black History Month. And New Orleans is a fitting space to immerse one’s self in its rich, black history. Here are a few pertinent resources and articles below.
Black History Month in New Orleans
Museums and More
New Orleans is home to several museums with perennial exhibits that highlight aspects of African-American culture.
Le Musée de f.p.c. — This beautiful museum, in a historic home on Esplanade Avenue, delves into the hidden lives of 19th-century free people of color, a group the museum describes as “anomalies in a caste society rooted in Black and White, master and enslaved.” Through paintings, lithographs, sculptures, photographs, and other artifacts, Le Musée de f.p.c. brings their stories — and accomplishments — to the forefront.
Backstreet Cultural Museum — At this museum in Tremé, visitors can explore memorabilia indigenous to Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals, and other distinctly New Orleans traditions.
Ashé Cultural Arts Center — A local nonprofit visual and performing arts space on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, the Ashé Cultural Arts Center features a mix of standing exhibitions and special events where culture is the focus.
McKenna Museum of African American Art — Brick walls in a historic home on Carondelet Street are an ideal backdrop for vibrant works of African American art. The McKenna Museum also hosts special events like lectures and panels. If you’d like to view the collection, call ahead in advance to schedule an appointment.
Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum — Admission is always free at this museum on Deslonde Street, exploring the fabric of the Lower Ninth neighborhood through oral histories and exhibits. In addition, the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum has special programming designed for kids and families in the community (think after-school activities and weekly youth workshops).
Amistad Research Center — At Tulane University, the Amistad Research Center is an independent archive that documents contributions of under-represented people. As its website reiterates, the Center provides “open access to original materials that reference the social and cultural importance of America’s ethnic and racial history, the African diaspora, human relations, and civil rights.”
Historic Riverlands Church — Recently named to the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail, this historic church was the first in the area (Reserve, La.; about 45 minutes outside of New Orleans) built for African American parishioners. The meticulously kept museum makes for a great day trip outside the city.
Whitney Plantation — Among the antebellum-era plantation museums that line River Road outside New Orleans, only one explores the honest, heartbreaking truth of the enslaved peoples who lived there. Whitney Plantation opened its doors to the public in 2014, for the first time offering a plantation museum focused deeply on slavery: find first-person slave narratives, memorial artwork, and restored buildings that help you step back in time and see what it was like to live as an enslaved person of color in the antebellum South.
Food and Drink
Enjoy a meal from one of the many black-owned restaurants in New Orleans. From legendary establishments like Dooky Chase’s to newcomers Bywater American Bistro and Morrow’s, there’s plenty to explore this February and beyond.