Dyan French Cole, ‘simply Mama D,’ dies at 72: ‘She was the rock of New Orleans’ 

She always gave me a big smile and reached out to touch me when we met. I do not know why she did so, but it may have been that she could feel my respect for her organizing skill and longevity.

 

We did not lose our ability to fish. Don’t bring the fish to our door, just bring us some fishing poles and some bait. We didn’t lose our minds. I don’t know why we didn’t, but we could have. We lost all of the necessities we need to support our survival. Just give us that. Just give us that, and I promise you, in six months … come back, we’re going to make you some gumbo.

 

Katy Reckdahl’s wonderful piece about her

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“the smallest possible gesture”

This is what a friend wrote today, as Lee is removed from his place on our city streets, the last of the 4 main monuments defiling our public streets that were placed to strengthen the white supremacy movement in the decades after the Civil War. (There are, however, 3 more Confederate statues of much less prominence that still need removal. Still, as my pal says beautifully here: we are beginning to approach the truth.)

…Black children can expect and, by every measure, will receive, substantially worse treatment than their white peers within the educational system, the healthcare system, the policing and justice systems, the housing and financial markets, in terms of their prospective employment and earnings. Hell, they will have a harder time on Tinder and Grinder.
Parents of black children already get to explain why this is and try their best to prepare their children to navigate these evidence-based realities.
One less white supremacist being honored in the street is actually the smallest possible gesture available that we can bestow on these children.

One less statue doesn’t change these realities. But it begins to approach the truth. There has never been truth and reconciliation in this country, so we keep recycling white supremacy into different iterations, instead of dismantling it (Jim Crow! Mass Incarceration!).

We can’t begin to face white supremacy without truth telling. And most Americans (of all backgrounds) are not taught the fullness of the truth about the founding of this country or how it prospered. Most aren’t taught what slavery entailed, or how it persists in different forms today. Taking down Lee is simply acknowledging these truths.

Scandinavian Jazz Church and Cultural Center

Remember the old Norwegian Church on Prytania that almost closed? It was saved at the last moment and reborn as the Scandinavian Jazz Church and Cultural Center. Well here is a great upcoming event to go back and celebrate its new life:
May 21, All Day
Norwegian National Day

10:00 Raising of the flag and sing the Norwegian national anthem –Ja vi elskerdettelandet!
10:15 Parade around the block. Make sure to bring your flag and singing voice.
11:00 Celebration Service with Pastor Torhild Viste from The Seamen’s church in Houston. Lars Edegran will be joining us on the piano for the service.
12:00 Games for children and adults held outside if the weather permits. You can also bring your swimsuit and enjoy the pool. There will also be served hot-dogs and ice cream at this point.
2:00 Dinner will be served
6:00 Concert by Miriam’s Fleur De Lys orchestra

The cost for everything that happens before 2:00 is $ 5.
The dinner will be $ 30 per person, $ 10 for children under 6, and we are serving baked salmon with sides. The price also includes coffee and dessert.

Please RSVP for the dinner: 504 525 3602
Or email: astrid@jazzchurch.us

 

The People’s Grocer-Review

It is my opinion that New Orleanians are either fascinated by the Schwegmann Brothers Giant Super Markets saga, recounting their own connections to the stores at the drop of a hat, or if they have no shopping history there, are completely bored by the attachment that others have to it.

My family is in the later camp and so never has been heard wailing over its loss or spending any energy preserving any of Schwegmann’s famous printed shopping bags or any of the political buttons within my late grandmother’s massive collection of New Orleans menus, World’s Fair, Superdome souvenir items and Carnival clutter.

My own experience with the chain was also slight- In the 1980s, I did regularly go to the Schwegmann’s out on Airline, but more as a visitor to a strange land than as a shopper. I went with my pal Roger who sold fancy kitchenware to department stores and high-end shops, where I would help him set up displays and tag along as he talked to the buyers. Since he was constantly assessing retail and observing cultural connections in his beloved adopted city,  Schwegmann’s appealed to him as something uniquely New Orleans and yet with industry-leading ideas like the bank and the pharmacy within its massive footprint. He loved the food counter and the bar. I learned to love retail analysis in those days while at the Airline and the West Bank stores, listening to Roger explain why John was brilliant in his design and product choices. He would have loved meeting John. He would have loved this book too.

Yet, the list of who will enjoy this book is not just those with a personal fascination for the deep local culture that begat this chain, or those with Roger and my obsession for retail histories. Really, anyone who wants to learn more about 19th century German immigration to the area, or the layout of corner stores before supermarkets, or of pricing strategies in the pharmaceutical or dairy industries, or of how early 20th century “fair trade” laws stymied discount pricing, or of the history of the Bywater area of New Orleans, or of the political arena of the latter part of 20th century Louisiana, or of later generations of family businesses who can quickly and shockingly kill the goose that lays the golden egg, will also find this book a keeper.

It is important to note that this is a biography of John Schwegmann and not only a history of the supermarkets that he founded and made into a chain of 18 beloved stores. The family’s history is front and center especially in the beginning of the book and may delve more deeply than those without local connections care to know but I suggest readers stick with it even if the family history is not the reason for reading this book. That history offers important detail in the shaping of this supermarket innovator, likely responsible for making him into the type of businessman and later politician who relied on his own intuition, his deep allegiance to his city and a small group of loyalists for advice or support. His folksy marketing and personal touch were certainly similar to other successful New Orleanians and probably true of a great many corporate founders of that golden age of family businesses in America with names like Kellogg, Ford, and Woolworth amid hundreds of others. It also shows how deeply the grocery business runs in the Schwegmann family, and yet how often family turmoil existed among struggling immigrant families even back in those hazy and halcyon days which are often used as an unfair measuring stick for our uncertain times.

This bio also offers many anecdotes from those who were there to show how John was a force of mostly good in the high-stakes world of grocery and drug sales, fighting for principles that most corporate leaders would not spend time or money to fix, all shaped by the place and people of his city. His home life may  be viewed at times as calculating in terms of his handling of wives and mistresses but author Capello rightly doesn’t linger too long on modern interpretations of John’s morals and reminds us that the businessman maintained warm relationships with the mothers of his children even after the marriages ended.

The book spends more time on Schwegmann’s world travels and later political life, which was not as impressive as his business career. That career in Baton Rouge was derailed by his opposition to Hale Boggs and almost everyone else, leading to constant no votes and also not helped by some of his political stunts like having a goat milked while testifying against the milk commission. Those responsible for the building of the Superdome were also targets of his wrath, forecasting many other fights a generation later around the U.S. by communities questioning the logic of taxpayer-sponsored sports arenas.

The research behind the book is impressive, especially when so many other writers of New Orleans history use cliches and oft-told stories that may or may not be true rather than doing the work to find primary and accurate details. Capello’s background in writing technical papers lends itself to detailed analysis of the retail industry and of the trends in pricing, product development and store design that Schwegmann pioneered. The timeline of the collapse of the chain is shared in unsentimental fashion and should allow New Orleanians to finally understand exactly how son John F. allowed this shocking collapse to happen in such a short amount of time. The author’s obvious unlimited approval of the free market system as defined by Schwegmann and others rings loud and clear throughout this book even if a few might quibble with some of the broader denunciations of the old public market system (which supported the port, small family businesses and farms by offering regulated food sales in every part of the city for 250 years) or, of John having an entirely altruistic nature in fighting for some of the price discounting that benefited his stores so clearly in a city that had no other supermarket chain to compete with his for decades.
I’d love to see Capello add to his research on this family and this sector with later papers on the superstore sector’s (meaning post Schwegmanns) complete lifespan in New Orleans and others across the U.S. with more attention paid to how the makers of things were ultimately priced out of their small production work because of this discount pricing strategy. It would also be interesting to see the author detail how the concept built and consolidated multi-generational family fortunes for discounters like this one and the Arkansas-based Waltons among others, and what those families have done with their newfound power. The destruction of Main Street might also be examined in terms of the formation of the superstore era, an era that now seems to be slowing with the latest retail category killer- the internet – and the Millennial generation’s expectations of impersonal speed and 24 hour convenience of online shopping over local retail culture and family shopping trips.
Still, there is no doubt those low prices and huge new stores meant that the mostly poor residents of this old city in those days felt attended to if they were lucky enough to have a Schwegmann (Brothers) Giant Super Market within distance of home. And with an air-conditioned bar with the cheapest liquor in town to drown their sorrows at for good measure.
I expect that this book will be used in university courses on retail and marketing, as well as in any history course devoted to the people who made New Orleans great. John Schwegmann’s story, as written in The People’s Grocer, certainly deserves that.

The People’s Grocer can be ordered here.

St. Paddy’s Parades 2017, St. Joseph’s Day Parades too

Saturday, March 11 & Friday, March 17, 2017

Tracey’s St. Paddy’s Day Party – 11 a.m. til
Annual celebration in the Irish Channel – 2604 Magazine Street. Lots of green beer, corned beef and cabbage and more fun. They are the party at the end of the Irish Channel Parade.
See party location.

Saturday, March 11 & Friday, March 17, 2017

Parasol’s Block Party Celebration – 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
3rd and Constance 10am to 8pm. Music, green beer, food and surprises. The start of the block parties on the day of the Irish Channel Parade. The fun runs from 10 am to 8 pm, both days.
See party location.

Saturday, March 11

Irish Channel Parade – 12:30 p.m.
The Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Club will hold its Annual Mass and Parade celebration at St. Mary’s Assumption Church (corner of Constance and Josephine Streets) followed by the parade (corner of Felicity and Magazine)
See parade route.

Sunday March 12

St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Metairie Road – 12 Noon
The annual Metairie Road St. Patrick’s Day parade will take place at noon in front of Rummel High School on Severn Avenue, goes down Severn to Metairie Road, then Metairie Road to the parish line.
See parade route.

Friday, March 17

Molly’s at the Market & Jim Monaghan’s Parade – 6:00 p.m.
In the French Quarter, riders in carriages and marching groups. Begins and ends at 1107 Decatur St.
See parade route.

Friday, March 17

Downtown Irish Club Parade – 6:00 p.m.
The annual downtown St. Patrick’s Day parade begins on the corner of Burgundy and Piety in the Bywater, proceeds roughly up Royal, across Esplanade to Decatur, up Canal to Bourbon. The parade makes several “pit stops” on its way to Bourbon St.
See parade route.

Friday, March 17

Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Club block party – 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
This block party takes place on St. Patrick’s Day and is located at Annunciation Square on the 1500 block of Chippewa. This block party has Irish music, food, drinks, and dancers, and proceeds benefit St. Michael’s Special School.
See on map.

Saturday, March 18

Italian-American St. Joseph’s Parade in the French Quarter – 6:00 p.m.
The Italian American Club celebrates St. Joseph with a parade through the French Quarter. The parade kicks off at 6 p.m. at the intersection of Convention Center Blvd. and Girod Street. It includes 16 floats, nine marching bands and a whole lot of guys dressed in tuxedos.
See parade route.

Sunday March 19

Louisiana Irish-Italian Parade (Metairie) – 12 Noon
The Louisiana Irish-Italian Parade will roll at 12:00 noon, on the traditional Veternas Highway route in Metairie.
See parade route.

Saturday, April 1

St. Bernard Irish Italian Islenos Parade – 12 noon
The St. Bernard Irish Italian Islenos Community Parade is one of the largest events in nearby St. Bernard parish. The parade starts at 12noon along the W. Judge Perez route in Chalmette – from Meraux Dr. down to Ventura and back! It consists of 53+ floats, 35+marching groups 1,500+ members and 350,000 pounds of produce!
See parade route.

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

Paul Tuennerman’s Resignation and Apology to the community over blackface comment

Note the comment her husband makes that is listed on this post. That is the source of the brouhaha, not the Zulu mask and costume.

Note the comment her husband makes that is listed on this post. That is the source of the brouhaha, not the Zulu mask and costume.

Tales of the Cocktail Co-Founder, Paul Tuennerman resigns from Tales over his comment during his wife’s Zulu ride saying this in his letter to the community:

My comment to Ann about blackface prior to the Zulu parade was meant to be a husband’s innocent teasing of his camera-shy wife, not a belittlement of others. In retrospect, the words were insensitive, hurtful and just plain dumb and I feel horrible for the pain they have caused. I take full responsibility and it is with a very heavy heart that, effective immediately, I am resigning from Tales of the Cocktail.

Paul Tuennerman’s Resignation and Apology to the Community | Tales of the Cocktail

 

I appreciate the Tuennermans quick response to his insensitive and poorly chosen comment and wish Ann well in her work, including what I am sure is her hoped for continued participation in the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club which hosts many wonderful community events across New Orleans and does much to highlight African-American leadership across every sector in our city. It is up to those in the African-American community to decide if more is needed to be done for the Tuennermans to feel the effect of his words. People are already attempting to pooh-pooh this and to make the wrong argument here: The issue is not the costume, as everyone knows has been the traditional wear since the early days with characters playing roles like the mayor, the Big Shot and the Witch Doctor.

This is the answer given to the local paper a few years back by one of the members:

What’s up with the blackface, wigs and skirts? Why does a mostly African-American organization present that image during its most public moment?

It’s all make believe and a part of masking. The blackface, bush wig and grass skirt are parts of the Official Parade Dress for the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, Inc. and date back to the early 1900’s and the initial parades of the organization. Early costumes were put together with the materials available to the members at that time and are meant for fun. Our costumes are not meant to be offensive to anyone.