Tricentennial Exhibition Highlights Contributions of African Heritage to New Orleans

By Juliana Tomasoni

People in New Orleans have one more venue to celebrate the Tricentennial. The New Orleans Historic Collection on Chartres Street in the French Quarter held a reception to launch its exhibition titled “African Heritage of New Orleans: 300 Years in the Making” on June 1, 2018. The audience saw for the first time the collection that shows significant historical and contemporary occurrences and sites associated with people of African descent in New Orleans.

“New Orleans has such a huge history, but sometimes the heritage of African-Americans is mentioned last, and I think is important for us to understand and reflect on the tricentennial, just how important the contribution of Africans to the City is” said Zela Palmer, the Director of The Dillard University Ray Charles Program, one of the contributing institutions to the exhibition.

The African Heritage of New Orleans: 300 Years in the Making illustrates the African presence in New Orleans and the development of a uniquely African Cultural Identity in the City. It celebrates the political power of African-Americans in New Orleans that has been progressively significant, with the most recent example being Mayor LaToya Cantrell. As an African-American woman, Cantrell became the first women elected mayor of New Orleans and reflects how far people of African descent have come in New Orleans from the struggles and fights of enslaved Africans who strove for and achieved their own self-determination.

One of the goals is to attract the young and students to learn about this legacy, organizers said. “We want them to come to the exhibit and really learn about their history, because unfortunately a lot of our history is not in the curriculum,” Palmer said. “They should not have to wait until they go to a Historically Black College and University to learn about African-American history,” she said.

The exhibition is offered through the collections of The New Orleans Arts & Culture Coalition. The NOACC is a collective of local arts, education, and cultural nonprofit organizations that serve as a coordinated voice for the recognition and promotion of civil and human arts, history, and culture in New Orleans.

Besides Dillard University, many other institutions are contributors for the exhibition. Partners include Xavier University of Louisiana, the Amistad Research Center, the New Orleans Public Library, the Louisiana Civil Rights Museum, the New Orleans Jazz Museum, The Plessy and Ferguson Foundation and others.

People who attended the event at 400 Chartres Street enjoyed a presentation of the “Le Code Noir” by The Voices in The Dark Group and dinner was served with typical creole and Louisiana food. Besides the main exhibition, there will be eight citywide exhibitions in different institutions for the rest of the year, organizers said.

“The main exhibition is highlighted from slaves to the Civil Rights Movement, and it just gives kind of an idea of the main points, moments and people who really pushed to make this City great,” Palmer said. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

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