This post summarizes week six of Akasa Thomas’ Environmental Justice Corps fellowship at LABB. Part of the EJ Corps curriculum involves African American History, and Thomas recently took part in a Hidden History tour around New Orleans’ French Quarter.
The French Quarter of New Orleans is such a historic place, yet today’s society knows little about the hidden history that lies before them. Last Wednesday, I went on a walking tour with local historian Leon Waters and the rest of LABB. We met Waters in front of the St. Louis Cathedral, where he gave us some brief history on the 1811 Slave Revolt and the strategic French Quarter locations the slaves planned to capture.
Waters brought us to the Cabildo, which the Spanish used as a court and jail, and then to the old New Orleans Mint, once was a place where artillery was held and also the site of one of the five forts that the slaves planned to attack. Next we went to the first Ursuline Catholic Church, where nuns helped bring Europeans to Louisiana to help the population and economy grow. They were also the first to purchase and trade slaves in the city of Nuevo Orleans.
The next stop was the Omni Royal hotel, which was used for the elite in New Orleans to meet with women that were 1/8th African-American and commit legal adultery, but not at the woman’s will. The next stop was at a restaurant Pierre Maspero’s, which was once known as the Slave Exchange where slaves were brought and auctioned off in the most embarrassing ways (interestingly, the history section of Maspero’s website references the original name of the “Slave Exchange” but focuses only on the site’s history as a meeting place for the Lafitte brothers). Visiting these places during the tour hit home for me, but the next stop would be the stop that gave me a feeling of chills down my spine.
We walked to the steps of the state Supreme Courthouse on Royal Street, where a statue stands to honor the former U.S Senator and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Edward Douglas White. Douglas was also a member of the Crescent City White League, known for taking part in a battle that left more than 1,100 African Americans dead. This monument is not the only one to praise White. Another monument used to be located at the end of Canal Street downtown and honored members of the White League who fought in an 1874 attack against the mixed race Reconstruction government after the Civil War. Residents protested against the monument in the early ’90s, specifically the inscription honoring the fallen White League members. The words were later changed to “In honor of those Americans on both sides of the conflict who died in the battle of Liberty Place.’’ In addition, the monument was moved to a less public area, and is now located by the streetcar tracks near the Aquarium of the Americas.
“Residents of New Orleans commemorated the White League insurrection of 1874, erecting a monument to the battle on its 17th anniversary. A former U.S. senator praised the league for fighting the ‘usurping government and [sweeping] them from the field as the chaff is driven before the wind.’ Later, in response to increased violence against black people and laws mandating segregation, a group of ‘Creoles of color’ appealed for equal rights to the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case. They lost, with Justice Edward Douglas White, a member of the New Orleans Pickwick Club and the Crescent City White League, ruling against them.”
Why is this person — who was affiliated with such a crime and the oppression of African Americans — memorialized at a site that has to be looked at everyday as a constant reminder. Keep in mind the Crescent City White League was far more fierce here than the Ku Klux Klan, simply because the Klan hid behind sheets and terrorized individuals; whereas the League was open and powerful, made up of the lawyers, doctors, politicians, and other leaders of the city. This made it almost impossible for African Americans to flourish and even more impossible for them to trust anyone.
I find it amazing that Louisiana still finds it necessary to keep some of these landmarks up and memorialize them even though some of these individuals were affiliated with horrid crimes against Louisianans. The fact that White’s monument lies in front of a court house leads you to believe that perhaps African Americans do not have a shot at justice if such figures helped build the judicial system.