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
New Orleans is home to several museums with perennial exhibits that highlight aspects of African-American culture.
Le Musee 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 Musee de F.P.C. brings their stories — and accomplishments — to the forefront.
Ashe Cultural Arts Center — A local nonprofit visual and performing arts space on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, the Ashe Cultural Arts Center features a mix of standing exhibitions and special events (such as the film screenings included below). Culture is the focus at Ashe — so much so that Viola Johnson Blunt told us it’s called “the other Vitamin C.”
St. Augustine Church — We’ve got a whole lot of info (and beautiful photos) on this historically significant church here.
Backstreet Cultural Museum — At this museum in the Treme, visitors can explore memorabilia indigenous to Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals, and other only-in-New Orleans traditions.
New Orleans African American Museum — Located in Treme Villa, one of the best examples of Creole architecture in the city and once the site of a plantation, New Orleans African American Museum (NOAAM) upholds and preserves artifacts from not only New Orleans African Americans but also throughout the African diaspora. Tranquil gardens on site are an ideal space to reflect after a visit.
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).
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.
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.”
Several single events throughout February are designed to highlight the importance of African American culture in New Orleans. Here are a few events to consider:
New Orleans Public Library Call for Recipes — In honor of Black History Month and the Tricentennial, the New Orleans Public Library is collecting recipes and the stories behind them for a community cookbook celebrating 300 years of African-American influence on New Orleans cuisine. Submit your recipes and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org or bring them into any New Orleans Public Library Location by Wednesday, February 28. Contributors are invited to share their dishes and stories at a potluck on Wednesday, February 21. Enjoy a talk on the African roots of Louisiana’s Creole cuisine immediately following.
GoNOLA Reading and Resources
We’ve compiled a list of great articles related to Black History Month. Click the links below, separated by theme, to start exploring!
- Up Your Louis Armstrong IQ
- New Orleans Calling: Rhythm of Life
- An Inside Look at ESSENCE
- New Orleans Calling: In Search of Satchmo
- New Orleans’ Women Chefs
- Rising Up: New Orleans’ Next Great Pastry Chef
- Where to Find Gumbo in New Orleans
- New Orleans Calling: Born in a Cast Iron Pot
- Tour History at New Orleans’ Jazz Houses
- Video: Explore Treme Art Exhibit
- NOLA History: St. Augustine Church
- GoNOLA Neighborhood Guide: Treme