By Amistad Research Center
Amistad Research Center
Welcome to "The Things We Do for Ourselves" (2021-01) by Hancock Whitney BankAmistad Research Center
Sepia Socialite by Sepia Socialite Publishing CompanyAmistad Research Center
During the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans fought against political, social and economic marginalization that manifested in Jim Crow laws and institutional racism. This inequality became solidified in a post-emancipation society and severely circumscribed the lives of African Americans. In New Orleans, Louisiana, the majority of the population was and remains African American. In a post-Civil War era, where African Americans saw the disintegration of their rights, Black New Orleanians created institutions independent of a white-led society that sought not only to exclude them but to limit access to resources, which adversely affected their standard of living. African American communities developed despite these hardships, fostering and creating leaders. This exhibition displays the evolution of African American-owned and run businesses, organizations, and institutions in New Orleans that were created to fill the void of services offered to them during the era of segregation.
Benevolent Associations and Social Clubs
Benevolent associations or societies were groups organized to serve their communities through programs, sponsorships and donations. They often focused their aid on health care and funerary expenses. The rise of such organizations in the United States has been traced back to the Second Great Awakening of the late 18th century, and the first Black benevolent associations in New Orleans are believed to have originated during that time. Over 200 such organizations existed in the city during the 19th century and well into the 20th century. Scholar Claude F. Jacobs argued that, "more Black New Orleanians belonged to benevolent societies than any other types of voluntary associations except churches." This chapter explores documents related to these benevolent organizations.
Constitution and By-laws of Les Jeunes Amis by Les Jeunes Amis, Societe de Bienfaisance MutuelleAmistad Research Center
Organized as a benevolent society for Creoles of Color working in the cigar production industry, Les Societé des Jeunes Amis formed in 1867 and received its charter in 1874. Among the club's more well-known members were musicians Edmond Dédé and William Nickerson, as well as activist Daniel Desdunes and the family of Homer Plessy. The club, located at 1321 Dumaine Street, the site of the former St. Mary Institute, provided sick and death benefits for its members and annually donated $25 to the Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat Hospital of New Orleans. This booklet is the society's constitution and by-laws, which listed, among many things, how monies raised by members were to be used.
Ladies Friends of Faith Benevolent Association minute book Ladies Friends of Faith Benevolent Association minute book by Ladies Friends of Faith Benevolent AssociationAmistad Research Center
The Ladies Friends of Faith Benevolent Association was formed to furnish sick benefits to paying members. In this 1914 minute book, a glimpse is provided into the inner-workings of the organization. Application for membership and payment of dues are listed, as well as the payment of relief benefits to members. To guard against false claims of illness, a visiting committee checked on members receiving benefits.
Also discussed in the minute book is the movement of the association's meeting place to the Pythian Temple, a leading site for African American businesses and meetings.
St. Mary's Benevolent Association account book St. Mary's Benevolent Association account book by St. Mary's Benevolent AssociationAmistad Research Center
This account book from St. Mary's Benevolent association shows payments made to Dr. S.L. Henry for medical attendance to its members.
Young and True Friends Benevolent Association notice by Young and True Friends Benevolent AssociationAmistad Research Center
Benevolent association members who failed to contribute to the well-being of the organization faced consequences. This notice instructed a member of the Young and True Friends Benevolent Association to attend a meeting "to settle indebtedness, or be dealt with according to Article 6, Sec. 1 of the by-laws of the constitution." This article stated that any member owing more than 75 cents would be given 30 days to pay their debt or be dropped from the roll.
Insurance Companies and Funeral Homes
As the number of benevolent associations began to dwindle toward the end of the 19th century, and some eliminated health care from their responsibilities, African American-owned insurance companies in New Orleans began to prosper after the turn of the 20th century. In addition, the city had a long history of Black morticians and funeral directors dating back to the 1850s and 1860s. Both industries worked closely with the African American medical community in New Orleans. While Jim Crow laws restricted access to medicine, insurance, and burials for African Americans, it also created opportunities for Black entrepreneurs in those fields to create businesses and services to benefit the Black community.
The Weekly Sentinel. Vol. 1, No. 32 by The Weekly SentinelAmistad Research Center
People's Industrial Life Insurance Company, the second Black industrial insurance company in the state of Louisiana, was founded in 1909 by Walter L. Cohen and others. People's issued a weekly newsletter called The Weekly Sentinel, which is pictured here. The publication changed names twice and was subsequently titled, Newsletter of the People's Life Insurance Company of Louisiana and The Mighty Pelican.
Dedication Speech of the Home Office Building of the People's Industrial Life Insurance Company by Rivers FrederickAmistad Research Center
In this undated speech, Dr. Rivers Frederick, a prominent New Orleans surgeon, discussed the origins and development of the People's Industrial Life Insurance Company during a dedication ceremony for the company's new office building.
Geddes-Willis Funeral System by The Sepia SocialiteAmistad Research Center
Some of the most well-known and expansive funeral home businesses were those owned and operated by members of the Geddes family. George D. Geddes opened a mortuary business on Erato Street in 1876, which was inherited by his son, Joseph P. Geddes. Another son, Clement J. Geddes was co-owner of Geddes & Moss, which was reorganized by his widow Gertrude Geddes-Willis in the 1940s. This 1942 article from The Sepia Socialite discussed the history of the family business and Gertrude's role as a leading businesswoman of her day.
George D. Geddes Undertaking and Embalming Company receipt by George D. Geddes Undertaking and Embalming Co. Ltd.Amistad Research Center
A 1921 receipt from the George D. Geddes Undertaking and Embalming Company to customer Harry Dixon.
Blandin-LeBlanc Company receipt by Blandin-LeBlanc Co. Ltd.Amistad Research Center
The Blandin-LeBlanc Company, a funerary business, was formed in 1909 with the partnership of John Blandin and Mandeville Adrien LeBlanc. LeBlanc died in 1920 and Blandin in 1928, whereupon the company was inherited by Blandin's daughters and reorganized as the Blandin Undertaking Company.
This 1909 receipt is from the Blandin-LeBlanc Company to Molly Hutton. The handwriting says, "Transfer of remains of the late Mrs. Mary Jane Hutton from Girod Cemetery to New St. Louis #3 in small rough coffin--permit from Board of Health. Transportation of remains."
Business and Entrepreneurship in New Orleans
In the decade since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), New Orleans has become a magnet for business start-ups. The word "entrepreneurship" has become a buzzword for investors and city government; however, business leadership has been a strong aspect of the city's African American community since the antebellum period. Evidence of New Orleans' Black business class and businesses are represented by this small sample of rich documentation.
Journal of Negro Business by Journal of Negro BusinessAmistad Research Center
In the 1930s, the New Orleans Negro Board of Trade was formed by Black business owners of the Dryades Street corridor. Patterned on the National Negro Business League, the Board of Trade sought to stimulate and publicize African American business, promote employment for trained youth, increase modern business practices, and bring more business and trade conventions to the city. This 1940 publication by the organization was produced "for the promotion of business in the City of New Orleans." On the cover is Thomy Lafon, a 19th century Creole businessman and philanthropist.
Crescent City Sepia Host by Marion J. PorterAmistad Research Center
The Crescent City Sepia Host was conceived in 1950 by New Orleans photographer Marion J. Porter. Although not explicitly stated in the introduction or cover, this “buyer’s and tourist guide” obviously targeted an African American audience through its emphasis on Black businesses, churches, and entertainment venues. A “who’s who” of African American leaders, both men and women, in New Orleans are featured within its pages.
Esso Station by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Ellis Marsalis Sr., a prominent New Orleans businessman, began his business career in 1936 as the manager of an Esso service station, along with his business partner, William Wicker. When the station first opened, it was located at Eighth Street and Howard Avenue, but it later moved into the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans at the corner of Sixth Street and Claiborne Avenue. Ellis Marsalis Sr. was not only known for his entrepreneurial endeavors, but for being the patriarch of the prominent musical Marsalis family.
Advertisement for the Marsalis Motel by Crescent City Sepia HostAmistad Research Center
In 1943, Marsalis purchased a property in the Shrewsbury community of Jefferson Parish and converted a chicken barn into a forty-room motel, complete with swimming pool, restaurant, and lounge. The business was one of the only motels open to African Americans traveling to New Orleans during the Jim Crow era. Guests to the motel included prominent civil rights activists, politicians, and musicians, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Ray Charles, and others.
While the motel flourished during segregation, following civil rights legislation in the 1960s, hotels and motels across the city that once blocked African American guests opened their doors to all travelers, and business to Marsalis' motel declined drastically. On September 26, 1986, Marsalis closed the motel and it was demolished in 1993. A historical marker was erected in 2015 at the former site of the motel to honor the contributions of Ellis Marsalis Sr.
Congress of Racial Equality banquet invitation by Congress of Racial EqualityAmistad Research Center
Food is a fundamental aspect of New Orleans and Dooky Chase's Restaurant has long been a pillar of the city's food culture, as well as a meeting place for civil rights activists and politicians. Founded in 1941 by Emily and Dooky Chase Sr., the restaurant began as a sandwich shop and lottery ticket outlet.
This banquet invitation honoring the Freedom Riders, a group of civil rights activists who challenged the non-enforcement of laws against Southern segregated buses, speaks to the restaurat's role in the New Orleans civil rights movement.
The New Orleans Herald [The Louisiana Weekly] Vol. 1, No. 1 by Louisiana WeeklyAmistad Research Center
The Louisiana Weekly was founded by New Orleans community leaders O.C.W. Taylor and C.C. Dejoie Sr. in 1925. Taylor was a former teacher of the New Orleans Public Schools system and C.C. Dejoie was President of the Unity Industrial Life Insurance Company. The Weekly's original headquarters was at 303 Pythian Temple Building. Dejoie used his business entrepreneurial skills and persuaded insurance agents to sell subscriptions and copies of the publication and use their contacts in the community to relay stories and issues of importance to African Americans.
The first two issues of the newspaper appeared under the title of The New Orleans Herald. By October 17, 1925, the newspaper had 4,500 subscribers, which its founders called a "record in Negro journalism." This image is the cover page of the first issue of the newspaper, which still publishes to this day.
Twenty-five Year History of the Moret Press, 1932-1957. by The Moret PressAmistad Research Center
Adolph J. Moret entered the printing business as a teenager when family circumstances forced him to leave school and obtain employment. He worked for eighteen years at Steeg Printing Company in New Orleans before founding his own printing company, The Moret Press, in 1932. The company began in his backyard garage and eventually expanded into new quarters. Moret added new equipment and technology as the printing business evolved. The Moret Press existed for seventy-three years until it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
This picture of Adolph J. Moret is from a booklet discussing the history of the business.
African Americans and Education in New Orleans
During the years of 1871-1874, when the state of Louisiana was under Reconstruction following the Civil War, public schools in New Orleans were integrated due to an 1868 state constitution that disallowed schools to be segregated by race. When Union troops were pulled out of Louisiana in 1877, as a marker to the end of Reconstruction, schools were re-segregated. The quality of education for African Americans in the city became severely limited after 1877, but education remained an important feature in the lives of African Americans. Many private schools were established by African Americans, and some by religious organizations, to address the lack of Black educational institutions supported by the city of New Orleans.
Straight Univerity from the Crescent City Pictorial by O.C.W. TaylorAmistad Research Center
In 1869, the American Missionary Association (AMA) established Straight University in New Orleans. The campus was originally located on Esplanade at Burgundy, and later moved to Canal Street between Tonti and Rocheblave streets. Straight, the first school for African Americans that furnished elementary through postgraduate education, included among its disciplines the Law, Normal, College, Theological, and Medical schools.
The university prided itself on being "the pioneer school in this section of the South, in offering the recently emancipated race, the opportunity for an education leavened with the spirit of the Gospel." George Henderson, a Straight graduate, writing in 1900 stated, "Straight never loses sight of the home as the center of social life, and as the sanctuary of purity and virtue." The institution's name was changed to Straight College in 1915 and merged with New Orleans University to form Dillard University in 1930. The university exists as an institution of post-secondary education to this day.
Straight University commencement program (1893) by Straight University (New Orleans, La)Amistad Research Center
This is an 1893 commencement program from Straight University. One of the graduates listed, Albert Wicker, began his career as a New Orleans school teacher at the Bienville Street School in 1896. He became the school's principal in 1901 and continued in this capacity until his death in 1928. After his death, the name of Bienville was changed to the Albert Wicker School in November of 1928 to honor the legacy and service of Wicker. His life is an example of how Straight University was instrumental in educating African American New Orleanians.
Straight University commencement program (1904) by Straight University (New Orleans, La)Amistad Research Center
This is a 1904 commencement program from Straight University. Straight's Normal School graduated many students who would become education leaders and civic activists in New Orleans. One of these students, Fannie C. Williams, whose name is listed under the College Preparatory Department of this program, would come to embody Straight's goals of instilling service and virtue into its graduates.
Williams became a pioneer in the field of African American education in the South and worked for the holistic development of children. From 1912 until her retirement in 1954, Williams taught and was principal of Valena C. Jones Normal and High schools.
Straight College High School commencement invitation by Straight College High SchoolAmistad Research Center
Prior to the establishment of New Orleans' first African American high school, McDonogh No. 35, in 1917, African Americans, when their families could afford it, received their education at one of the city's three private high schools: Leland College, New Orleans University, and Straight College. Pictured here is the cover of the 1917 Straight College High School commencement invitation.
Straigh College High School commencement invitation by Straight College High SchoolAmistad Research Center
Also featured in Straight College High School's commencement invitation from 1917 is the graduating class's motto: Viam Reperiemus aut unum Faciemus, or "We will find a way or make one."
The name of George Longe is included in this Straight College High School class roll. Longe would become a future New Orleans educator, and was instrumental in designing the curriculum for an African American history course that would be established in New Orleans Public Schools.
Elma Moore Dance School student by UnknownAmistad Research Center
The three R's of reading, writing, and arithmetic served as the foundation of basic skills for education during the early 20th century. While African American educators emphasized the three R's to their students, they also wanted them to gain a greater appreciation for the arts, whether it was through singing, dancing, writing, designing, or printmaking. From yearbooks and calendars, to the performing arts, students in New Orleans flourished in a variety of arts programs. The next six images are examples of African American student participation in the literary and performing arts.
Pictured here is Fenelia Magraff, a student of the Elma Moore Dance School.
Elma Moore Dance School program by Elma Moore Dance SchoolAmistad Research Center
Elma Moore Booker was a lifelong resident of New Orleans, and the first African American woman to open her own dance studio in the city. She was also the first African American to receive her Louisiana Dancing Teacher's Certificate in 1934 after she completed training at the Mildred Kohlman Studio of Dance. Booker's school taught ballet, tap, acrobatics, ballroom, and other American popular dances. Performances of her students received praise from local audiences and newspapers for the talent and skill of the young performers.
Elma Moore Dance School student by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Louis Banks Brummond, a student of the Elma Moore Dance School.
The Moving Finger The Moving Finger by Valena C. Jones Normal High SchoolAmistad Research Center
The Moving Finger, the student periodical of Valena C. Jones Normal and Practice School, was published by its senior class. In this 1937 issue, the students sought to show the public the inner workings of the school. Featured inside was the Nursery, Practice and Normal schools. Sponsors of The Moving Finger included some of New Orleans' most prominent businesses and businesspeople, including Gertrude Geddes-Willis of Geddes & Moss, the Peoples Industrial Life Insurance Company of Louisiana, and photographer Villard Paddio.
McDonogh No. 35 Gazette. Vol. No. 1. by McDonogh No. 35Amistad Research Center
McDonogh No. 35 was founded in 1917 and became the first high school for African American students in the state of Louisiana. The high school's publication, The McDonogh No. 35 Gazette, debuted in January 1958. According to McDonogh's students, the purpose of the paper was "to give the public a bird's-eye view of the events which are going on in our school, and most of all, to give the student a chance to express his ideas in this time of turmoil."
Photograph of the Barker A'Cappella Girls Octette and Dramatic Readers of Albert Wicker High School by Villard PaddioAmistad Research Center
This 1941 image is of the Barker A'Capella Girls Octette, a group of nine students from Albert Wicker High School. They won several state contests, received accolades throughout the Gulf Coast, and hosted a fifteen minute weekly program on CBS affiliate WWL Radio. Their manager, Walter J. Barker, also pictured, was a poet, educator, and World War I veteran.
Albert Wicker Junior High School calendar Albert Wicker Junior High School calendar by Albert Wicker Junior High SchoolAmistad Research Center
The ninth grade boys from Albert Wicker Junior High School designed and printed this 1941 calendar. In it, they featured the works of African American poets and educators.
Certificate of graduation for Martinez Kindergarten student by Martinez Kindergarten SchoolAmistad Research Center
At a time when African Americans in New Orleans were working to expand the elementary, secondary and post-secondary options of their children, they also sought education for their littlest citizens. Mildred Bernard Martinez and Ethel Boyd Bush featured prominently in offering pre-kindergarten education to African Americans within the city. Both women founded preschools in the 1930s to fill the void of educational institutions for children under the age of five.
Shown here is the 1953 graduation certificate of kindergartner James Marvin Davidson of the Martinez Nursery School.
Portrait of Mildred B. Martinez by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Mildred Bernard Martinez founded the Martinez Kindergarten School in 1934. When the Martinez Kindergarten School opened at its original location on LaSalle Street in New Orleans, it was the first and only pre-kindergarten school for African Americans in Louisiana. Children were taught the basic concepts of phonics and math. The Martinez Kindergarten School became a prestigious institution that attracted the attention of many Black professionals who were eager to send their children there.
Winky: A Pre-primer. by Myrtle Banks QuinlanAmistad Research Center
The Martinez School had a rigorous curriculum organized by Mildred Martinez, who believed that pre-school children could and should learn to read. Martinez espoused teaching pre-K children literacy at a time when people thought that it was unorthodox to do so. This pre-primer is an example of books Martinez used to teach her students how to read.
Boys class at Martinez Kindergarten School by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Children were separated by age and sex in the Martinez Kindergarten School. This undated photograph features a boys class at the school.
Photograph of Martinez Nursery court by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Carnival is a festive season that has been celebrated in New Orleans since the early 18th century. According to a July 12, 1989, Times Picayune article, Martinez claimed to be among the first to sponsor carnival activities for her students. Featured here is the 1949 Martinez Nursery Carnival Court.
The Hi-Fli. New Orleans, LA: Bush Elementary School, 1957. The Hi-Fli. New Orleans, LA: Bush Elementary School, 1957. by Bush Elementary SchoolAmistad Research Center
Ethel Boyd Bush was born in Bayou Goula, Louisiana in 1911. She attended Valena C. Jones Normal School and McDonogh No. 35 High School before she attended Southern University in Baton Rouge and Columbia University in New York. She returned to New Orleans and “saw the need of a Kindergarten for the pre-school age children” of the city. She canvassed her neighborhood and enrolled 22 students when the school first opened on September 5, 1939.
Pictured here is the cover of the first issue of the Bush Elementary School yearbook, The Hi-Fli.
Flint-Goodridge Hospital & the New Orleans Black Medical Community
Flint-Goodridge Hospital was the only Black-operated hospital in New Orleans during the early 20th century. Its origins can be traced to 1894 when a group of Black women from the Phyllis Wheatley Club of New Orleans saw a need for a hospital in their community. In 1911, buildings used jointly by Flint Medical College and Sarah Goodridge Hospital & Nurses Training School were converted into a 50-bed hospital that became Flint-Goodridge Hospital. It offered residencies to young Black physicians at a time when they could not receive training at white-operated hospitals. It was also one of the few institutions training Black nurse anesthetists. Flint-Goodridge served as a resource for the Black medical community in New Orleans. Many of the city's African American doctors and nurses would call Flint-Goodridge their professional training ground.
Rivers Frederick performing surgery at Flint-Goodridge Hospital by Arthur P. BedouAmistad Research Center
In this photo from the 1930s, Rivers Frederick (center) is performing surgery at Flint-Goodridge Hospital surrounded by a team of African American medical professionals.
Frederick was born in 1874 in New Roads, Louisiana. He graduated from Straight University and earned his M.D. from the University of Illinois in 1897. Frederick served as the Chief of Surgery at Flint-Goodridge Hospital from 1932-1950, but remained as a consultant in surgery after his departure. He was also the instructor of surgery in the Flint-Goodridge summer post graduate courses from 1935-1953.
Portrait of Emile LaBranche by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Emile LaBranche Sr. served on the Board of Trustees of Flint-Goodridge Hospital in the early 1930s. He was a graduate of Straight College (now called Dillard University) and the Pharmacy School at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. Emile LaBranche opened LaBranche's Drug Store in 1907 at 716 N. Claiborne Ave. in New Orleans.
LaBranche Pharmacy by UnknownAmistad Research Center
Emile LaBranche's store provided opportunities for other medical doctors to start their careers such as Clifford Belfield who, like LaBranche, was also a graduate of Straight College and Meharry Medical School. Belfield would follow in the footsteps of LaBranche and open his own store called Belfield's Pharmacy in 1930.
This photograph, circa 1960s, depicts the building where LaBranche's Drug Store was located.
LaBranche Pharmacy delivery truck by UnknownAmistad Research Center
A photograph of a LaBranche Drug Store delivery truck, circa 1920s-1930s.
Civic, Social and Political Engagement in New Orleans
Since the 19th century, African Americans in New Orleans have been advocating for and addressing their political, social, and civic rights through various organizations such as the the Citizens' Committee (Comité des Citoyens); the Seventh Ward Civic League; The Links, Inc.; and the People's Defense League. This chapter displays the various ways in which African Americans organized to advocate for their civil rights or to address the different needs within their communities.
The Violation of a Constitutional Right by Citizens' CommitteeAmistad Research Center
The Citizens' Committee (Comité des Citoyens) was formed in 1891 as a response to the Separate Car Act of 1890 that dictated the separation of whites and African Americans on public transportation.
The Committee entered into history by choosing Homer Plessy to challenge the constitutionality of the Separate Car Act, which resulted in the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Many of its members consisted of some of the most prominent African Americans of New Orleans including lawyer Louis Martinet, funeral director Alcee Labat, and author and activist Rodolphe Desdunes.
Rodolphe Desdunes by Daliet PhotographersAmistad Research Center
A portrait of Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes, co-founder of the Citizens' Committee (Comité des Citoyens). Desdunes was a writer and civil rights activist born in New Orleans in 1859.
Members of the Seventh Ward Civic League by Villard PaddioAmistad Research Center
Civic leagues in New Orleans can be traced to the formation of the Seventh Ward Civic League in 1927. It was established to represent the 7th ward in the city, a largely Creole district. Dr. Joseph Hardin, who is highlighted in the center of this photo, was instrumental in its founding and became the League's first president. The goals of the League were to improve civic pride and welfare, encourage education, support African American businesses and promote interracial cooperation.
Federation of Civic Leagues toy drive flyer by Federation of Civic LeaguesAmistad Research Center
Other wards throughout the city followed in the Seventh Ward League's footsteps and established their own civic organizations. These distinct ward leagues formed the Federation of Civic Leagues in 1929 to organize around and discuss issues particular to their ward. They accomplished securing schools for African American communities and they engaged in social justice activities, which included heavy support for the city's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
This flyer includes information regarding a 1936 toy drive organized by the Federation of Civic Leagues.
Charter members of the New Orleans Chapter of the Links by UnknownAmistad Research Center
The Links, Inc. is an international women's service organization. Its national chapter was established in 1946 by Margaret Rosell Hawkins and Sarah Strickland Scott. It grew to become one of the most prestigious associations of Black women in the world. The New Orleans Chapter of the Links, Inc. was chartered on November 23, 1957. It was the first chapter in the state of Louisiana and its original fourteen members shared the vision of the national organization's commitment to educational, civic, and intercultural activities.
This photograph depicts the charter members of the New Orleans Chapter of the Links at its installation ceremony in November of 1957.
Correspondence from New Orleans Chapter of The Links Inc., to Wilfred Dailet by The Links, Inc.Amistad Research Center
Correspondence from Jesse Cook, President of the New Orleans Chapter of the Links, Inc., to Wilfred Dailet, Vice President of the International Longshoremen. Dailet was invited by Cook to a "minority employment event" that was being hosted by the organization in 1963.
Campaign card of Ernest J. Wright by Ernest J. WrightAmistad Research Center
The People's Defense League was founded in 1941 by Ernest J. Wright. Born in Kenner, Louisiana, Wright attended Xavier University of Louisiana in the 1930s. His career in labor organizing served as the launch for his political organization. The People's Defense League ran voter registration drives and protested against police violence. Wright gained support for the League by travelling across Louisiana addressing churches, unions, NAACP branches, etc. By 1946, it had registered 5,000 voters in New Orleans and by 1950 it had developed chapters in twenty-six parishes throughout Louisiana. The FBI described the League as "the most powerful Negro organization in New Orleans."
People's Defense League conference itinerary People's Defense League conference itinerary by People's Defense LeagueAmistad Research Center
An itinerary from the 1955 annual conference of the People's Defense League.
Geddes & Moss Undertaking & Embalming from the Crescent City Pictorial by O.C.W. TaylorAmistad Research Center
Before the passage of laws that banned de jure segregation between African Americans and Whites in social spaces, Black New Orleanians sought to create and fund businesses, organizations, and institutions that serviced their needs. The African American community in New Orleans was able to create an educated and engaged class of professionals and citizenry that became its leaders and entrepreneurs. By doing this, they were able to circumvent a system of laws that sought to diminish their constitutional liberties and render them invisible in public settings.
Exhibition curated by Chianta Dorsey, Melissa Smith and Christopher Harter. Digital exhibition created by David Gaidamak and Chianta Dorsey, and revised 2021. This digital exhibition is supported by grants from the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation and Hancock Whitney Bank. It is an expansion of the physical exhibition, “The Things We Do For Ourselves: African American Civic Leadership in the Crescent City,” held at the Amistad Research Center in 2015.
The Amistad Research Center is committed to collecting, preserving, and providing open access to original materials that reference the social and cultural importance of America's ethnic and racial history, the African Diaspora, and global social justice movements. As the nation's oldest, largest and most comprehensive independent archive, the Amistad's holds 800 manuscript collections which include over ten million documents from the 1780s to present, 250,000 original photographs dating from 1859, 1200 audiovisual recordings, 40,000 book titles, 2000 periodicals titles, and over 400 pieces of fine art dating from the 19th century.