The story of North Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans is a narrative with parallels in every major American city with a significant Black community, but the Claiborne story is unique because of the exceptional memories of its residents who hold tight to their history and to the Avenue’s rich and original cultural traditions.
New Orleans was segregated into the 1960s and white exclusion of African Americans from commercial districts resulted in the Avenue becoming the main thoroughfare for Black communities living in the immediate surrounding neighborhoods and across the entire city. Claiborne connected uptown and downtown like an artery, the oldest part of which – North Claiborne – ran directly through the historic neighborhood of Tremé. The Avenue became well known as the site for Black Mardi Gras; Indians; Zulu floats; Baby Dolls; Skeletons, and community figures such as the Batiste Brothers. Celebrated and key players from New Orleans music and cultural history have long shared a deep connection to North Claiborne’s theaters, restaurants, bars, venues, surrounding streets and cemeteries. However, between 1966 and 1969 the construction of the Interstate 10 highway initiated the speedy demise of this important thoroughfare; steel reinforcing rods now occupy the spaces where the roots of live oaks once spread, concrete pillars replaced their trunks, and the shadow of the interstate highway now towers above the neutral ground where generations of families used to walk to work, interact, picnic, and socialize.
North Claiborne Avenue has been at the heart of the New Orleans African American cultural, commercial and political experience for over two hundred years, and its communities’ stories are emblematic of the ultimate American experiences: the broad themes of construction and expansion, cultural and economic boom, obliteration and devastation, and then potential resurrection, and the opportunity for art and its enduring traditions to triumph in the face of adversity.
CAHP seeks to address and redress these ever-present wounds by capturing and transforming today’s human stories behind North Claiborne Avenue’s history and weaving these voices into our multi-platform interdisciplinary project creating a community of voices to deepen a collective understanding of what it means culturally to be connected by a physical geographical space for over two hundred years. Few resources exist that fully document 20th century cultural, economic, political and social exchange within this space; and none has sought to accumulate existing sources in one place with community mechanisms for ongoing data-gathering.
Given the continuing discussions in post-Katrina New Orleans concerning bringing down the section of the I-10 over North Claiborne as well as the current work-force development studies and initiatives taken on by Livable Claiborne Communities about the future of this corridor and its residents, we believe that CAHP’s focus on community, identity and agency is well-timed.