The many flags of Louisiana
The flagpole at the front of Jackson Square has been put through its paces over the years, hoisting up the flags of the new governments after removing the flags of the old. While the first flag that was raised was the French Tricolour in 1718, the land had been occupied by various Native American tribes, including the Chitimacha, for over a millennium. In fact, when Bienville and explorers before him came to the area, the local tribes showed them the portage route from Bayou St. John to the Mississippi that was a big factor in the French settling in this area. IShortly after the city's founding, Louis H. Pilie designed the square in 1721 as a military parade ground and open air market, then called Place de Armes. In 1762, we have our first flag change with the Spanish taking control of the area after the French seceded it in the Treaty of Fontainebleau at the end of the Seven Years' War. In 1800, the Spanish returned Louisiana to the French in exchange for some territories in Tuscany, but the French didn't officially take over until November 30th, 1803. And only 20 days after the French hoisted their flag in Jackson Square, the Louisiana Purchase transfer ceremony took place and the city became American. Twelve years later, the square was renamed in honor of the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson, for his role in ending the War of 1812. By the 1850's, the square was a shadow of what it once was and Baroness Pontalba who owned the land surrounding it wanted to bring it back to its former glory. So she redid the landscaping and added the fences, benches and walkways you see today, in addition to building the two apartment buildings that flank the square. The wealthy Baroness scandalized the city by repeatedly showing up to the building site in pants, ordering the workmen around and climbing the scaffolding herself. Andrew Jackson, who the Baroness was rumored to have had an affair with during his presidency, heard about all of this and said that he would not tip his hat to her, which was a sign of respect at the time, until she started acting more ladylike. In response, the Baroness paid for a statue of Jackson to be built in the center of the square in 1856, that can be seen to this day tipping his hat in the direction of the apartment the she shared with her sons.
The Cabildo Museum
Museum and site of legal landmarks
This building, known as the Cabildo, functioned as city hall until the 1850's, so when the Louisiana Purchase was finalized in 1803, this is where it happeed. From the late 1860's until 1910, the building was used as Louisiana Supreme Court, so when Homer Plessy got arrested a mile away for violating Louisiana's Separate Car Act that mandated "equal, but seperate" train cars, his trial was heard here before eventually making it to the US supreme court. Not all civil rights disputes end up in a courthouse. Anita Bryant, an outspoken homophobe, was scheduled to perform in the city in 1977, which many locals and gay rights groups did not think was right. They all came together for a rally in Jackson Square and subsequent march around the French Quarter in protest of her performance, in what would be one of the biggest civil rights demonstrations the city has ever seen. The Cabildo was turned into a museum in 1911, which is home to a two exhibitions: We Love You, New Orleans! in celebration of the city's tricentennial and a permanent exhibit on the Battle of New Orleans.
Changing laws led to the birth of jazz here
This plaza in what is now Armstrong Park was the historic Sunday meeting place for enslaved people and free people of color. The Code Noir or Black Code that was put into place by the king of France in 1724 gave enslaved people Sunday as a day of rest. They would often use this day to play music, dance, and practice their religions. In 1763, the code was relaxed and enslaved people were allowed to buy and sell their own goods, which many did as a way to earn enough money to buy their own freedom, a practice called cortacion. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Americans made life much harder for enslaved people and free people of color. While the free people of color in New Orleans were by no means free before the Americans took over (for example, women were forced to wear headscarves called tignons to signify they were not white), things got a lot worse. The new government forced free people of color to carry identification papers, prohibited them from defending themselves in court, and eventually implemented a curfew. In 1859, state legislators went so far as to propose re-enslaving free people of color and taking their land. In 1817 the mayor passed an ordinance that forbade enslaved people from congregating anywhere other than Congo Square. Because they had no where else to go, come Sunday the square would be packed with people playing music, dancing, selling goods, and doing religious ceremonies, all brining the traditions of their ancestors to their activities. The blending of these sounds is thought to be how jazz got its start and the blending of religions is how New Orleans got its own unique form of Voodoo.
Madame John’s Legacy
Classic French Creole home
In 1718, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville chose this area to start the French colony of La Nouvelle-Orléans, believing that the curve in the river and the higher land in the area would be the perfect place for the French to control the entire Mississippi River Valley while being protected from the elements. However, only three years after the city was founded, a hurricane came through and decimated the settlement, which was then rebuilt in the grid-like fashion you can see in the French Quarter today. On Good Friday in 1788, the city was burned to the ground, only to be hit by another devastating fire in 1794. To prevent this from happening again, the city was rebuilt using brick rather than wood in the Spanish-colonial style the French Quarter has come to be known for. This building, which is one of the oldest in the city, was built in 1788 after the Good Friday Fire burned down the previous one. It is considered one of the best remaining examples of French Colonial architecture in the French Quarter, because it was one of the few buildings built in that style after the Good Friday Fire to survive the fire that came through six years later. Madame John's Legacy is currently closed for renovation, but you can still take in some of it's architectural detail from the outside.
632 Dumaine St, New Orleans, LA
St. Augustine Church
First African-American Catholic church in the country
St. Augustine was founded in 1841 by free people of color as the first African-American Catholic church in the country. Back then, people who wanted to attend church had to purchase a pew to sit in during the service. Knowing that enslaved people would not be able to pay those fees, many of the free people paid for extra pews so that enslaved people could attend services as well. When white members of the community heard about this tried to buy up as many pews as possible, but in the end the free people of color out bought them three to one. This War of the Pews unintentionally created one of the most diverse congregations in the country, where white people, people of mixed race, free people of color and enslaved people all came to worship. At the time of the Louisiana Purchase, free people of color made up 20% of the city's population, a higher proportion than anywhere else in the country. This was due in large part to the French and Spanish practice of cortacion that allowed enslaved people to buy their own freedom. Another practice that added to the population of free people of color was a practice called placage, a system where white men would arrange common-law unions with women of color. Sometimes these relationships were monogamous, but often the man took a white wife later on, after he was more financially established. As part of the agreement, the men often set up small businesses for their daughters to run and educated their sons in France. Henriette Delille was born into the placage system with her mother, a free woman of color, educating and preparing her to follow the same path. But she had other plans. Delille instead devoted herself to the Catholic church and started Sisters of the Holy Family, a group that provided for the sick, poor, elderly and enslaved. She educated enslaved people, which was illegal at the time, and started the first catholic home for the elderly in the country. The city recognized her contributions by naming the street that runs along the side of the church after her. Be sure to visit the extremely moving Tomb of the Unknown Slave around the side of the church. In 2004, the church community installed the monument that rests just outside the church walls. It is dedicated to the numerous lives lost to the city's cruel slave trade.
Sister Marie Sanchez
Backstreet Cultural Museum
Mardi Gras Indian costumes & second line history
The museum strives to preserve and perpetuate the unique cultural traditions of New Orleans' African American society through its costume, story, and picture filled space. Set in a converted house in the Treme, this homade museum is cash only and a must-visit if you want to learn about a New Orleans that goes beyond Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras revelry.