2018 is New Orleans’ Tricentennial, and NOLA and its visitors have been honoring the Crescent City’s 300-year-old history. Perhaps the most integral history to be told in New Orleans is the Black history here: the stories of enslaved people, free people of color, and life after the abolition of slavery. New Orleans has countless stories to tell of the Civil Rights movement, jazz heritage, historically Black neighborhoods, Black-owned businesses, Mardi Gras, and much more.
New Orleans has plenty of Black history tours, museums, and sites to see to dive into this incredibly significant history that makes the city the cultural hub it is today. Plus, while you’re here, you can support Black-owned businesses that sustain New Orleans’ local economies.
Here we’ve crafted a guide for you to dive into the Black history in New Orleans. We’ve listed iconic sites, but also provided additional resources to pursue a deep dive into history with members of the community who have lived, breathed, and even thoroughly researched many of the topics you may want to explore. By no means does this guide cover everything - there is endless history to learn about and honor.
If you’re visiting New Orleans, chances are you know that no one leaves this city hungry. But you may not have heard that some of the city’s most legendary restaurants are filled with African-American history and heritage that have shaped the city of New Orleans and even the nation at large. Iconic spots to visit are James Beard Award-winning Dooky Chase’s, which fed many civil rights activists during the Civil Rights movement. Willie Mae’s Scotch House is another James Beard winner, and has been serving some of the most famous fried chicken in town since 1957. Don’t just stick to the famous spots, though - New Orleans is filled with Black-owned restaurants to dine in throughout your whole trip! Explore Eat NOLA Noir for even more about New Orleans’ Black culinary scene - and take advantage of Black Restaurant Week, too!
Tremé, known as the oldest African-American neighborhood in the U.S., is filled with hundreds of years of history. The beautiful, bright color homes were built by people of color over 100 years ago, and a walk down Tremé streets may give you a sense of what enslaved people and free people of color may have seen while taking the same stroll. While you’re in Tremé, you can see significant landmarks like St. Augustine Church, the oldest African-American parish in the United States. Walk through Armstrong Park’s Congo Square, the place where enslaved people could gather to sing, dance, drum, and keep their African cultural traditions alive. While you’re in Tremé, remember that this is the neighborhood that some of New Orleans’ earliest jazz musicians began to play (and teach) the genre.
Tremé isn’t the only neighborhood with a storied Black history: every neighborhood in New Orleans does! There are plenty of places to explore in the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, Uptown, and beyond.
Across New Orleans, there are plenty of museums that highlight the Crescent City’s African-American history.. If you’re curious about art, cultural traditions, or historical artifacts, take advantage of the incredible institutions here. In Tremé, be sure to explore the Backstreet Cultural Museum, a museum filled with Mardi Gras Indians memorabilia, artifacts, and photographs. You can learn more about the history of Mardi Gras Indians, their suits, and the traditions these amazing groups continue to share with New Orleans today, like Super Sunday. Or participate in a hands-on Mardi Gras Indian Sip & Sew class at Second Vine Wine. Offered on Sundays (or other days by special appointment), this one-of-a-kind experience allows participants to learn a brief history of Mardi Gras Indian culture and view a live performance by the Young Maasai Hunters tribe while creating unique keepsakes and trinkets.
In Central City, Ashé Cultural Arts Center on O.C. Haley Boulevard is a true gem filled with art exhibits, cultural events, and shows. Two more can’t miss venues are the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African-American Art (by appointment only) and Le Musee de f.p.c. The McKenna Museum preserves and shares African Diasporan fine art and shows the work of emerging artists as well. Le Musee, nestled on beautiful Esplanade Avenue, is a historic mansion house that tells the deep and storied history of free people of color in New Orleans. As Ms. Beverly McKenna, who keeps these two collections now, says, “New Orleans history is Black history.” Immerse yourself in these exhibits/research centers, and many others, such as Studio Be, the Amistad Research Center, and the Tremé’s Petit Jazz Museum.
It can be overwhelming to tackle a trip in a new city with so many important sites to see. Fortunately, New Orleans has heritage tours that you can join to experience NOLA with a guide that can share history and interesting information you may not have otherwise known. Welcome New Orleans is an exceptional tour resource: it is a guide for Black tourists to New Orleans. There are other Black-owned tours that can give you a close look at New Orleans Black history and culture: All Bout Dat Tours and Hidden History Tours are more great options. For more heritage tours, see here for a full list.
If you are planning a trip to New Orleans or you’ve been already, there’s a likely chance that you know about the city’s legendary festivals. There are over 130 fests per year (and that number keeps on growing), and some festivals specifically honor black culture in NOLA. Tremé Fall Festival (September/October) is an annual fest and fundraiser for St. Augustine Church, and includes plenty of activities like live music, delicious food and drink vendors, stilt walkers, and kids’ activities. Tremé Creole Gumbo Fest (November) is the perfect chance to taste all the types of gumbo you can imagine. For a truly unforgettable weekend, visit during ESSENCE Fest (July), the largest celebration of African-American music and culture in the country. If a more local music fest is more your scene, don’t miss Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival (March). There are many more multicultural fests - see them here.
This guide is just a bit of what NOLA offers - there are endless ways to explore black history here. From the breathtaking suits of Mardi Gras Indians at the Backstreet Cultural Museum, to the gumbo you might taste at Tremé Creole Gumbo Fest, you’ll have to book a few trips to experience it all.
Below, find additional resources to dig deeper into NOLA’s Black history: