LGBTQ History at Jackson Square and in New Orleans

My neighbor Frank wrote this piece which describes a little of the 1970s LGBTQ activism in the Quarter in response to the 1970s Sarah Palin, the horrid Anita Bryant. As someone who moved into and then grew up in the lower Quarter as a teen, I always felt welcomed by the gay community that was active around St. Phillip. My best friend Roger Simonson who had come out as a young man and had lived in the Quarter since the 1960s was known for his Royal street shop A Better Mousetrap and his later management of Roger Bogle’s Persian Boy gallery. Through his friendship, I was included in many parties and allowed in bars and clubs that did not encourage non-gay attendance back then.

The leaders of the gay community have tirelessly worked alongside the old-line preservationists on many community efforts that impact the Quarter. That dual leadership served the neighborhood well as it meant the issues of one group were not the only ones being met any longer and it allowed younger and less wealthy voices to be heard on political matters. Since the 1990s, many in the community moved to other areas of town, expanding the impact of that early Quarter activism into every part of municipal and social life. With the acceptance by most Americans (especially younger ones) of less strict gender and sexuality definitions or mores, the need for gay-only areas, clubs, and events has lessened.  As exciting as it is to live in a time when sexuality is not so closely monitored by a few disapproving Puritans, it is sad to lose the active presence here of some of those wonderful leaders even while I remain grateful to Frank and others for continuing to offer so much civic energy.

LGBT History at Jackson Square and in New Orleans


Nola Files: The First 20 Stories

The Nola Files is preparing stories of the most influential people and places in New Orleans history. To do this history project justice we need to first focus on the people and places that had the widest impact and connected with most of the city. Please look through some of these options and vote for those you think need to be our focus first.

In this survey you will vote on PEOPLE who stories must be told.


The First 20 Stories

Interview with editor of N.O Lit: 200 years of New Orleans Literature

Listen to The Anthology of Louisiana Literature‘s 2-part interview with Dr. Nancy Dixon, editor of one of the necessary books for any New Orleans scholar or armchair historian: N.O. Lit: 200 Years of New Orleans Literature. Even if this brilliant woman wasn’t my pal, I’d still be urging you to get a copy. I open it up again and again to read her selections from different authors.

The 560 pages includes a well-curated set of short fiction and plays that reflect the city’s literary history, from Paul Louis LeBlanc de Villeneuve’s 18th-century play The Festival of the Young Corn, or The Heroism of Poucha-Houmma to Fatima Shaik’s 1987 short story “Climbing Monkey Hill.”

Dixon provides informative introductions to each author’s section, placing the works and their creators within the context of the city’s history and the history of its literature, making the anthology both an enjoyable artful artifact and an important academic resource.

Part 1

Part 2

Tear that wall down

Here’s a link to a story about when highways are removed from inner cities:

This is an issue at the forefront in New Orleans because of the ramps to the Claiborne Expressway built in the 1960s, need to be repaired soon. “An option that’s been tossed around for awhile is to remove the overpass, restore a former tree-lined boulevard there and let traffic run along it and surrounding streets.”

It may be important to remember both the spur that was never built:



And the expressway that was:


And what Claiborne used to look like:
As long as we’re on this story again, I am always surprised by how many freethinkers still trot out the erroneous story of how the win to not build the Riverfront spur in the Quarter in the 1960s led to the Claiborne Expressway. Simply not true.

In any case, it’s time to focus on the positive benefits of taking down the Claiborne Expressway and make sure that more negative developments are not put in its place.

Newcomb Pottery exhibit

Update for 2015:  Still up as an exhibit; if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it heartily. And now you can have lunch afterwards at Petit Amelie right across the street, which is the most beautiful cafe in the Quarter.

(original 2012 post)
Over a sunny lunch hour, I dragged my 1970s Crescent folding bike out from behind the lawnmower (been raining a lot lately is my only excuse) and headed to the Quarter.
After a delightful lunch at Stanley’s-well except for the wait staff’s obsession with their new iPhones, although I think a very good idea to have them for taking orders. The real issue today was the less than stellar bar staff but  I’m still loyal to this chef and his wife, so stayed for a cherry-limeade Italian soda and a bowl of their gumbo with potato salad dumped in and was glad I did.

Afterwards, I unlocked the Crescent and headed to Dumaine, between Chartres and Royal.
Madame John’s Legacy is said by some to be either the oldest or the second oldest building in the Quarter. Ursuline Convent is usually considered to be the oldest and since MJL burned in the first fire that swept through the Quarter and had to be rebuilt, I’m not sure why some fight for the oldest designation.
Okay, maybe its just wild talking mule carriage drivers that say that. I am also sure that the many expert historians could make a case for either if needed.

In any case, it has to be the plainest building in the Quarter.

I like that about it, but it must be hard for people to believe its a museum with its undecorated green front (historically accurate colors by the way) and its entrance at street level under the stairs. As locals know, the gingerbread and vibrant colors came with that nutty Victorian age. The name itself comes from a George Washington Cable story, a writer interestingly, who worked in part of the same time period as the Newcomb Pottery folks and was known for his sympathetic and sensitive portrayal of the complex culture found in New Orleans.
Once you get upstairs, a very courteous security officer at the desk gives a short overview of the fact that this exhibit is free (thanks to the Friends of the Cabildo, you’re very welcome) and that pictures are allowed.
I was the only person in there until the end when a couple of French men came in and went directly to the house descriptions rather than to the Newcomb exhibit. The exhibit is set up in 4 rooms, with one or two cases in each laid out in different periods. For those unfamiliar with Newcomb, pottery or even the name, it was a celebrated liberal arts women’s college at Tulane University. Until 2006 that is, and then scandalously to many Newcomb graduates, the management of Tulane ceased the operation of this endowed college and folded it and its endowment into the larger university. I can understand the argument that there may not be a need for a women’s college any longer but talk about kicking people when they’re down…
In any case Newcomb operated this pottery business for about 50 years really, from the late 1800s through the early 1940s. Its pottery became quite the collectors item for arts and crafts pottery enthusiasts and it is some of the loveliest work you’ll see. The detail is striking, especially since they often used local flora and fauna for their motifs.
The arts and crafts movement itself was an artistic response to the industrialization of America and also a way to allow women to work on their degree. Having grown up also in Ohio, I was already familiar with Rookwood Pottery, which was the most well known of the arts and crafts pottery-a friend in Cincinnati has Rookwood fireplace detail in her apartment, which is not that unusual to find there….
The Newcomb school allowed women to design and paint designs, but the actual pottery wheel was handled by men! ugh. I’m gonna leave that alone….

Interestingly, the most well known prolific potter at Newcomb, Joseph Meyer, was the son of a French Market vendor who sold utilitarian wares.
This modest exhibit is at the perfect venue and is well worth the trip to Dumaine.















Weighing In On A Confederate Past

It’s amazing to be alive at the moment of the tipping point for a social movement: For my lifetime, they already include the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid in South Africa, Arab Spring, the extension of legal rights for women and for same-sex unions among many others.
What all of these have in common is that they happened well before the formal governing entity signaled that it was ready for the change or even in some cases, before the solid majority had decided to back the change.
All were hard-fought and seemed destined to fail at many points in their campaign. All had active opposition.

The removal of statues of Confederate leaders from public space is another tipping point in a country that is heading toward a time when whites will be a minority (by 2043).
The affronted use mockery (“Why don’t we remove all traces of Washington? HE owned slaves! Where will this end?”) or condescending treatises on what they view as “the real history”, as understood through a lifetime of racist schoolbooks and likeminded family members (“The war was about states rights and not about slavery, duh.”)
To me, the arguments stated above mask the bigger truth: The public lionization of the Confederate past of the South is a barrier to working together for the future and signals to people of color that whiteness is a privilege earned, when it is not. I don’t care what version or scope of history you subscribe to, although I may pity you; have a statue of Lee in your backyard, but holding on the “Lost Cause” narrative in public places is a recipe for the continuing disintegration of our region. It also masks the true vibrancy of the South: that it is based on a multi-cultural, multi-generational belief in place, extreme socialization and culture handed down from person to person.
I wish we had the ability and forethought as a people to have created realistic evidence of the world of slavery and the brutality of the Civil War as Eisenhower ordered to be done with the concentration camps after WW2, but we did not. Instead we have inherited this soft and “heroic” narrative that does not truly represent the history of that ugly time.

Statues of those who brought a civil war to defend a system that allowed people to be sold as chattel should not be kept in public spaces.
Keep all of the statues and throw some Mardi Gras beads on em if you’d like, but put them in the Custom House or another place to properly frame their history as those who ignored the opportunity to expand human rights for their neighbors, along with information on when the statues were commissioned and by whom.

And thank you to Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “The Warmth Of Other Suns:The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” for writing this piece in the NYT about how symbols do help to define their time:

With the lowering of the Confederate flag in the state that was the first to secede and where the first shots were fired, could we now be at the start of a true and more meaningful reconstruction? It would require courage to relinquish the false comfort of embedded racial mythologies and to open our minds to a more complete history of how we got here. It would require a generosity of spirit to see ourselves in the continued suffering of a people stigmatized since their arrival on these shores and to recognize how the unspoken hierarchies we have inherited play out in the current day and hold us back as a country.

“Any time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it—just to stand one minute on God’s airth [sic] a free woman— I would.” — Elizabeth Mumbet Freeman secured her freedom in a precedent setting court case on 8/22/1781.