African American Heritage Walking Tour, New Orleans

African American Heritage Walking Tour (Self Guided), New Orleans

For over 300 years, the African-American community has played an intrinsic role in creating authentic New Orleans that everyone loves today. The bedrock of the city's life is built on the African-American experience, a heritage both proud and tragic, yet strong enough to have preserved throughout centuries the many aspects of African culture, influencing everything from religion to vibrant music to the spicy, singular food that New Orleanians eat for dinner.

Never segregated, the Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 contains both white and African-American tombs, including that of Ernest “Dutch” Morial, the first African-American mayor of New Orleans (1978-86), who was instrumental in the building of the city’s very successful Convention Center. While there, you cannot continue further without walking through and enjoying the beautiful Congo Square. Full of history, beautiful art, and well-kept grounds, this place, along with adjacent Louis Armstrong Park, is a must-see.

The attractiveness of the African American Museum lies in the artwork that is used to depict the hardships and accomplishments of the Africans that did not come here of their own free will but still survived and flourished, continuing to do so till this day. The history of black slaves, the work of entrepreneurial black men and women in aiding slaves to freedom, along with eradicating poverty, hunger and homelessness, is further illustrated inside Free People of Color Museum – a well preserved 1850s mansion that ends your journey.

Take this tour of New Orleans to learn the history of African-Americans in the city and explore their traditions and culture!
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African American Heritage Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: African American Heritage Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » New Orleans (See other walking tours in New Orleans)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Saint Louis Cemetery Number One
  • Congo Square
  • Louis Armstrong Park
  • St Augustine Catholic Church
  • African American Museum
  • Dooky Chase
  • Le Musee de F.P.C
Saint Louis Cemetery Number One

1) Saint Louis Cemetery Number One (must see)

It may seem odd to have a cemetery for tourist attraction, but not for the city like New Orleans, it's not. The above ground resting places are an important part of local history and display an array of beautiful Spanish and French design monuments. Two of the city's most famous cemeteries are Saint Louis Cemetery #1 and #2.

Saint Louis Cemetery #1 was established in 1789, replacing the old Saint Petersburg Cemetery, and is now part of the African American Heritage Trail in the city. It is located eight blocks away from the Mississippi River on Basin Street. The cemetery spans just one square block but is a resting place for many thousands. Numerous notable individuals have been buried here, in the crypts and tombs, including prominent locals like the civil rights activist Homer Plessy, the sugar industry pioneer Etienne de Boré, the architect and surveyor who allegedly became one of Jean Lafitte's pirates Barthelemy Lafon, and one of the earliest world champions of chess Paul Morphy. The renowned Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau is also interred in the Glapion family crypt at this cemetery.

Other notable New Orleanians buried here include Ernest N. "Dutch" Morial, the first African-American mayor of New Orleans, and Bernard de Marigny, the French-Creole aristocrat and politician who founded both the Faubourg Marigny and Mandeville, Louisiana. Delphine LaLaurie, the notoriously cruel slave owner, is also believed to be laid to rest here. In 2010, actor Nicolas Cage purchased a pyramid-shaped tomb to be his future final resting place.

It seems like the church has closed the #1 cemetery to self-guided tours due to the unwanted late night ceremonies and vandalism; however, you can book a guided tour, day-side (be sure it is led by a guide with a license to enter the cemetery and not just to talk about it outside the walls). If you're not a fan of guides or tours, try the #2 cemetery, which is free to enter.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 9am-3pm; Sun: 9am-12pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Congo Square

2) Congo Square

Visitors to New Orleans can experience a bit of African Culture whenever they visit Congo Square located in Louis Armstrong Park in the Treme neighborhood. Back in the day, this square served as a gathering spot for African slaves on their free day of Sunday. In 1817 the mayor of New Orleans designated an open area within the city to be used by slaves as a meeting place.

Originally named Place de Negres, then Place Publique, and then Circus Square, the plaza enabled slaves to honor their culture through song and dance. They could also sell their wares at the local market. The colonial French slavery style allowed slaves much more freedom than the rest of the United States. Slaves could move freely within the square.

As the United States slavery style became more prevalent, the gatherings occurred less and less and finally ceased completely about 10 years before the end of slavery. After the abolition of slavery in the late 19th century, Congo Square once again came to life when Creoles of Color began to play their music here, thus giving birth to the new music genre later known as Jazz.

Outside music and dance, Congo Square also provided enslaved blacks with a place in which they could express themselves spiritually. The brief freedom of conscience that they enjoyed on Sundays resulted in the practice of Voodoo ceremonies. Although this was not the most noted recreational activity people partook in here, it was nonetheless one of the many forms of entertainment and social gatherings they practiced.

Marie Laveau, the first and most powerful “Voodoo queen” of New Orleans, is one of the best known practitioners of Voodoo in Congo Square. In the 1830s, she led Voodoo dances as well as organized darker, more covert rituals along the banks of Lake Pontchartrain and St. John's Bayou.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Louis Armstrong Park

3) Louis Armstrong Park

Louis Armstrong Park is a 32-acre (130,000 m2) park located in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana, just across Rampart Street from the French Quarter. This park was designed by New Orleans architect Robin Riley and was named after New Orleans-born Jazz legend Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971), an African American trumpeter, composer, vocalist, and actor who was among the most influential figures in jazz.

Armstrong was born and raised in New Orleans. Armstrong has a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance. His career spanned five decades, from the 1920s to the 1960s, and different eras in the history of jazz. In 2017, he was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

Louis Armstrong Park was home to the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1970. More recently it has been the home of many other events, including the "Jazz in the Park" free concert series, the Treme Creole Gumbo Fest, and the Louisiana Cajun & Zydeco Festival.

The park contains the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium, the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts and several buildings owned by the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. Monuments within include a 12-foot statue of Louis Armstrong, a bust of Sidney Bechet, and a depiction of Buddy Bolden. Both Bechet and Bolden are African Americans and prominent figures in Jazz movement.
St Augustine Catholic Church

4) St Augustine Catholic Church

St. Augustine Catholic Church is the oldest African-American Catholic parish in the nation. It is located on Saint Claude Avenue near the French Quarter on the site of the old Claude Tremé plantation. The church is the location of the annual Jazz Mass that is held in conjunction with the Satchmo Festival, which pays homage to Louis Armstrong.

The place of worship was founded in 1841 and dedicated in 1842. Architect J.N.B. de Pauilly designed the church. The property was donated by Ursuline Sisters on the condition that the church be named after Saint Augustine of Hippo.

What makes the church special is that it was built by Free Persons of Color. Famous parishioners include Homer Plessy, Sidney Bechet, A.P. Tureaud, and Allison ‘Tootie’ Montana. One interesting note is that a war of the pews began when white people heard about the free people of color buying pews for slaves. The free people of color eventually won by buying three pews to every one pew a white person bought.

St. Augustine’s almost faced closure after Hurricane Katrina due to extensive property losses in the city. This was a shock to the parishioners since the church escaped major damage. In addition, the parish was also providing support to those affected by the hurricane. The locals rallied and barricaded themselves in the building. This response caused the archdiocese to reverse its decision.

In 2008, the church received a $75,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express to do much needed renovations. Mass is at 10 am on Sunday.
African American Museum

5) African American Museum

Located in the Tremé community in Tremé Villa, the New Orleans African American Museum presents the life, culture, music, and history of the New Orleans African American community. Tremé is one of the oldest surviving black communities in the United States and it is only fitting that the exhibition hall be located there. The building design reflects West Indies and French-colonial architecture.

The museum was built between 1828 and 1829 by Simon Meilleur and is located on the site of a former plantation. The artwork of established and up-and-coming artists is beautifully displayed throughout the building. The site features three courtyards and a gazebo in the center of the yard that everyone will enjoy when they visit.

Variety is the theme at the museum with the exhibits changing frequently. One of the best exhibits is the Louisiana-Congo: The Betrand Collection that displays an assortment of jewelry, clothing, masks, artifacts, and musical instruments from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The exhibit allows visitors to see some of the parallels between African and African American culture. They are open Thursday through Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm and by special appointment on days they are closed. It is strongly recommended to take the bus tour offered by the museum.
Dooky Chase

6) Dooky Chase

Dooky Chase is a popular restaurant and famed domain of the late celebrity chef Leah Chase (1923–2019), an author and TV personality, nicknamed “the Queen of Creole Cuisine”. One of the oldest African-American restaurants in the nation, Dooky Chase has fed the stomachs and souls of the large army of its loyal followers for more than 60 years serving classic staples, like shrimp with lima beans, Shrimp Clemenceau (previously available only in whites-only establishments), steaming gumbo and crispy-yet-tender fried chicken. In 2018 the place was rated among the 40 most important restaurants of the past 40 years by Food & Wine magazine.

Apart from Creole cooking, Leah Chase was also an avid supporter of African-American art and hosted gallery openings for early-career artists during the Civil Rights period. She began to collect African-American art after her husband gave her a Jacob Lawrence painting, and eventually displayed dozens of paintings and sculptures by African-American artists, like Elizabeth Catlett and John T. Biggers, as well as hired local musicians to play in her bar.

Back in the 1950s-60s, the place was also a hotbed of Civil Rights activism where revolutionary thinkers secretly gathered in the upstairs dining room to discuss nonviolent resistance to segregation. Today, everybody, including famous customers, dines downstairs. The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. used to come here for the liking of barbecued ribs, while James Baldwin preferred gumbo. The singer Sarah Vaughan ordered stuffed crab to go, and Nat King Cole always wanted a four-minute egg. At one point, Barack Obama, the future president, nearly committed a real culinary sin here, when running for presidency in early 2008 — putting hot sauce in his gumbo — but was timely stopped short of that by the owner. The latter also, despite pressure from a city still angry over the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, fed President George W. Bush crab soup and Shrimp Clemenceau on the second anniversary of the storm that nearly closed her restaurant for good.

Leah Chase served as an inspiration for the main character Tiana in the 2009 Disney animated film "The Princess and the Frog." She often used to say, “In my dining room, we changed the course of America over a bowl of gumbo and some fried chicken.”
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Le Musee de F.P.C

7) Le Musee de F.P.C

Le Musee de F.P.C. is a historic house-museum located in a beautiful 1859 Greek Revival mansion in the Upper Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. This is one of the country's fewest attractions dedicated to sharing the rich and impactful history of the forgotten subculture – the “free people of color” before the Civil War – by way of telling their stories, collecting, preserving, and interpreting their material culture, and more. Pursuant to its objective, the museum celebrates the lives, legacies, and contributions of men and women of African descent who have left an indelible mark on New Orleans, Louisiana and played a unique but prominent role in the development of the United States.

The museum showcases a 30-year collection of artifacts, documents, furniture and art. Each room here spotlights a certain era in the city's history, with a focus on physician and newspaper publisher Dr Louis Charles Roudanez, born in 1823. The small but fascinating collection includes original documentation of slaves who became free, either by coartación (buying their own freedom) or as a reward for particularly good service.

With parlors, courtyard, and decorative arts, this venue is a perfect backdrop for any special event. Because of its intimate boutique style, Le Musee de F.P.C. and its collections are open to the public for guided tours only and only by prior appointment.

Operation Hours:
Tue - Sun 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM

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