In New Orleans, Documenting History Of Iconic Black StreetHistorians in the News
tags: African American history, New Orleans, oral history, urban history, urban renewal, highways
New Orleans resident Raynard Sanders can detail the many ways Black businesses and culture thrived under the canopy of oak trees along Claiborne Avenue: the Black insurance companies, the corner lot home to the Black musicians union, the church that held a funeral to bury slavery. And the Mardi Gras gatherings where families watched the Baby Dolls, the Batiste brothers and the Zulu parade.
“This was THE street. This is where everything happened. And this is where African Americans were welcomed and wanted,” Sanders said. “New Orleans was segregated. And they were not welcome and wanted in other parts of the city like they were here on Claiborne Avenue.”
As he spoke, cars and trucks roared overhead on the elevated freeway that was built directly on top of the avenue in the late 1960s — ripping up the oak trees and tearing apart a street sometimes called the “Main Street of Black New Orleans."
Sanders and documentary filmmaker Katherine Cecil head the Claiborne Avenue History Project, a multimedia project started in 2014 that aims to document and publicize the history of a street that has become notorious as an example of how highway projects often sliced through Black neighborhoods — a practice sometimes referred to as “white roads through Black bedrooms.”
The street and its history gained renewed attention with President Joe Biden's recently announced infrastructure proposal. Biden's plan includes a $20 billion program to “reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments” and specifically mentions Claiborne as such an example, although it doesn't say specifically that money will go to tearing down the New Orleans freeway.
In an interview with The Grio last month, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg noted the history of road projects disrupting communities of color. “There is racism physically built into some of our highways,” he said.
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