The Crescent City is home to people of all different backgrounds. New Orleanians with roots tied to Africa, Haiti, France and Spain fill the streets of the French Quarter and ride the streetcars everyday, making this city a melting pot of different cultures. The month of February is a special one, particularly in New Orleans. And no, it’s not only because of Mardi Gras. Although I do have an app on my phone counting down the seconds until it starts, the month of February is also Black History Month, and because of the strong African-American presence in this city, it deserves to be celebrated.
So many unique aspects of NOLA’s culture is based on black heritage, such as jazz music, cuisine, and parade themes. Dating back to the 18th century, African slaves were the foundation of the community, and their traditions are still alive today. Below is a list of places to visit in order to honor black people and the struggles they have dealt with throughout history. One thing to keep in mind when visiting historically sensitive places, such as the Oak Alley Plantation, is to not just post a picture of the entryway on your Instagram story, without also visiting the Slave Exhibit. I’m not saying don’t snap any pictures; what I am saying is visit the plantation for the purpose of learning about a horrific time in American history, not just for the Insta opportunity. Our city is like no other, and these places embrace and celebrate the history of African-Americans.
1. New Orleans African American Museum/ Treme
Located in the Treme section of New Orleans, this museum has a fascinating display of Creole architecture and preserves artifacts of African-American creation. After your tour, walk around the neighborhood, as the Treme is the oldest African-American community in the country. It was and still is home to many politically and socially active black people. The Creole people who lived here were often referred to as “gens de couleur libres” or “free people of color.”
2. Congo Square
During the 19th Century, slaves were allotted a few hours every Sunday for rest and worship. The common gathering area was Congo Square, a small corner in Louis Armstrong Park, where African dance was displayed along with the sound of drums. Today, those who practice Voodoo magic still believe in the spiritual aspects of the Square and often gather there for meetings. It’s not a bad place for a walk or go to listen to some music on the weekends.
3. The George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art
Located in the Lower Garden District, this museum highlights pieces of art that come from African descent, and is dedicated to preserving them. My favorite exhibit was the “Fashioning the Souls of a People: Honoring African American Iconic Female Public School Educators.” The museum also hosts lecturers and panels regularly where open dialogue between participants is encouraged.
4. Whitney Plantation
This antebellum plantation first opened its doors to the public in 2014, displaying museum tours that intensely focus on the harsh realities of slavery. It includes first-person stories from slaves, artwork from the 19th century, and the original architecture of the house. We are lucky to live in as beautiful of a state as Louisiana, but with all beauty comes a shameful history that we must learn about and remember.
All of these locations have great ways of celebrating African-Americans in the month of February. When visiting, don’t forget the history of black people and the oppression that they continue to face everyday. But you don’t have to leave Tulane’s campus to celebrate- watch Selma, the story of Martin Luther King Jr. and his journey of fighting for civil rights, or walk over to the Amistad Research Center right on campus, which contains documents of under-represented people. Wherever you are, during the month of February, remember to not only celebrate Mardi Gras, but also Black History Month.
COVER PHOTO: Paul Broussard