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Hard Head History: The Story of The 7th Ward. (Documentary)

The City of New Orleans is filled with history. A history that spans across the 17 Wards that divide the city. When attempting to get a full grasp of New Orleans history a great place to start would be the 7th Ward.

The 7th Ward is the second-largest Ward in New Orleans behind the 9th Ward. The 7th stretches from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain and was once the epicenter for Black advancement in the city.

The 7th Ward has one of the richest histories in New Orleans. There are themes in the 7th Ward’s history that need to be told to future generations. In this piece, I will explain how the 7th Ward came to be as well as its features and landmarks. Then I will talk about the type of people that lived in the 7th. This will include stories about the Creoles of New Orleans and residents of the St. Bernard Housing Development. I will then talk about notable figures who emerged from the 7th Ward like Mia X, A P Tureaud, Mannie Fresh, and Tyrann Mathieu. This will be followed by the story of Claiborne Avenue explaining how the installation of a Highway single-handedly dismantled the most successful Black business district in New Orleans.

Borders & Early Ownership

The 7th Ward is bordered by the 5th, 6th, & 8th Ward. The lower boundary is Elysian Fields Avenue, the border with the 8th Ward. In the South-West boundary is Esplanade Avenue, the border with the 6th Ward; then from where Esplanade meets Bayou St. John the boundary follows the bayou north to the lake, with the 5th Ward being across the bayou.

The land now known as the 7th Ward was once a portion of Claude Dubreuli’s estate. Bernard Marigny a slaveholder, and real estate developer acquired the tracts of land in the late 1700s. Once he acquired the area he created the Faubourg Marigny the first suburb in New Orleans. Charles De Morand owned most of the remaining land in the 7th Ward, most of which was near the Treme. In the early days of the 7th Ward, things were very crowded because of limited resources. This led to many citizens leaving the seventh to build lives in other parts of New Orleans.

Family & Lifestyle

The 7th Ward lifestyle and family structure were created on a business-driven foundation. It was not uncommon as a 7th Ward resident for your neighbor to be a successful entrepreneur, musician, or trader. The family structure was a key component in this success. They practiced group economics which kept money circulating within the community.

There was a very healthy economy within the 7th Ward. During the mid 19th to early 20th century, there were successful family-owned businesses on every corner. The businesses ranged from laundry mats to salons and funeral homes. Music was also a really big deal in the 7th Ward. Musicians from all over the world came to New Orleans to train with locals and play at our clubs. Musicians from the 7th were held in very high regard. They played for some of the wealthiest and powerful people in the world at that time. I will go into more detail later in the story.

Landmarks

New Orleans Fair Grounds

By the 7th Ward being the second-largest Ward in New Orleans there are a lot of landmarks within its borders.

The first landmark that I am going to talk about is The New Orleans Fair Grounds Racetrack and Racino. The track was founded in 1838 making it the second oldest site for horseracing in America that’s still open. Bernard Marigny whom I mentioned earlier was one of the main organizers of what was then called the Louisiana Race Course.

The Track reopened in 1852 as the “Union Race Course”. It closed again in 1857 after losing business to the Metairie Course. They attempted to rebrand the course by renaming it the Creole Race Course but was shortly changed to Fair Grounds in 1863.

The track consists of a one mile dirt track with a grandstand, clubhouse, and slot machine gaming hall.

Dillard University, UNO & St. Augustine High School

The 7th Ward is also home to some of the finest schools that New Orleans has to offer.

The first school on my list is Dillard University. Dillard University is an HBCU that once existed as two different schools, Straight College & New Orleans University. The goal of Dillard University was to fill the need for a larger more notable Black institution of higher learning in New Orleans. The University named after James H. Dillard was made to offer a traditional liberal arts curriculum to the Crescent City and engage with the Black community through programs and organizations.

The next school on my list is the University of New Orleans. UNO came as a result of New Orleans being the largest metropolitan area in the United States without a public University. UNO began as a branch of Louisiana State University called LSUNO. In 1962, the LSU System of Higher Education was erected and LSUNO parted became a separate campus. It took 10 years of positive growth for the board to approve the name change to the University of New Orleans.

The last school on the list is the historic St. Augustine High School. St. Augustine was created to educate young men from Black Catholic families in New Orleans. In the past, schools made for Blacks were generally torn down and understaffed. The use of negative reinforcement also stagnated young Blacks from developing in a healthy way. Notable Alumni include; PJ Morton, Tyrann Mathieu, Jay Electronica, Mack Maine, Luke James, Leonard Furnette, and countless others. St. Aug believed that respect for students was priority number one. Addressing the students as mister instead of boy offered the positive reinforcement needed to elevate their collective mindsets. St. Aug has maintained a tradition of discipline. This reputation was created by their use of corporal punishment. Time magazine reported in 1965 that “the atmosphere at St. Aug’s is warm but strict. Misbehaving students are whacked with an Oak Paddle.” The founding principle of the school said that they achieved discipline using the “Board of Education” because learning wasn’t possible without it.

Frenchmen Street

The last landmark worth mentioning is one of my favorite streets in the entire city. Frenchmen Street is where all of the locals go to get away from the tourist trap that is Bourbon Street. Frenchmen is best known for its live music venues like Blue Nile, Snug Harbor, and the Spotted Cat. Frenchmen also has an assortment of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and local businesses. This area once belonged to Bernard Marigny the rich Creole and Political leader of old New Orleans. Many of the houses in the Faubourg Marigny are over 100 years old. Frenchmen Street got its name from six French men who were executed after an uprising. Frenchmen sits on some of the cities highest ground and was left virtually untouched after Hurricane Katrina.

Creoles

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the word Creole in New Orleans. I’m going to attempt to shed a little light on the history associated with Creole people.

There was a time in New Orleans when the majority of its residents were French speaking Creoles. This was the norm until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. This led to the arrival of the English speaking Anglo-Americans and a divide that would last through the years.

The two different groups lived on opposing sides of the city. The Creoles lived in the Faubourg Marigny and Treme. This area was known for it’s Creole of Color population and most of them were free Blacks. Due to the Creole and Americans living on opposing sides of the canal, residents began calling the median that ran through the middle the “neutral ground”. Till this day New Orleans residents refer to medians as neutral grounds and I’m sure you know where we got our name from now.

Many people confuse Creoles with Cajun. Cajuns are the descendants of French Canadian refugees banished by the British from Nova Scotia in the 1750s. Someone who identifies as Creole in today’s time is likely to be of mixed ancestry, with deep New Orleans roots, and with family members who are most likely Catholic with French surnames. Many Black Creoles still reside in the 7th Ward not far from where their ancestors resided.

St. Bernard Projects

Although the 7th Ward is known for being relatively progressive there was a lot of poverty and violence within its borders.

When researching the dark side of the 7th Ward it won’t take long for you to come across the St. Bernard Projects. The St. Bernard was named after Bernard Marigny and was known as the second-largest housing project in New Orleans. During the height of the Crack epidemic the St. Bernard was averaging about 12 murders per year. This prompted locals to start referring to the St. Bernard as Dodge City. Between 2002-2003 there were over 25 homicides within the walls of the St. Bernard.

In 2000 the census reported close to 7,000 people living within the neighborhood. Ten years later that number has drastically decreased. In 2010 it was reported that there were 974 people residing within the neighborhood. The Projects were renamed Columbia Parc. Since the name change the crime rate has dropped by 73% as of 2013. I’ll go into more detail in our St. Bernard Documentary because of how deep rooted the story is.

Notable Residents

Now let’s go into some notable people in society that call the 7th Ward home. I’m about to list a few names and then go into details about a few of my favorites! Famous 7th Ward New Orleanians Include Leonard Fournette, Luke James, A. P. Tureaud, Ray Nagin, Tyrann Mathieu, Mia X, Mannie Fresh, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton & Anthony Mackie, and Young Greatness.

The first person that I want to highlight is the Mama Mia X. She is a multi-platinum-selling recording artist, Mother, and Chef. Mia X rose to fame through the historic No Limit Records run led by Master P. Mia X managed to make a name for herself in a male-dominated industry cementing herself in hip-hop history. She is also a very talented Chef and has her own seasoning available for purchase at wipthempots.com.

The next person on the list is of course Mannie Fresh. He is single-handedly responsible for the sound of Cash Money Records. He also let everyone outside of New Orleans know what a 7th Ward Hard Head was. Mannie Fresh doesn’t get enough recognition in my opinion. He paved the way for most of the producers in the game today and helped give New Orleans a fighting chance in music.

A P Tureaud was a leader who will always be remembered in New Orleans and Black History. He was the lawyer for the NAACP in New Orleans during the Civil Rights Movement and was responsible for the end of Jim Crow segregation in New Orleans. A P Tureaud’s story is powerful because it shows the possibility of systemic change through education and knowledge implementation.

Jelly Roll Morton is next on the list. The Creole ragtime and jazz pianist paved the way for many artists of his day and his story deserves an individual video piece. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Morton started out playing the piano in brothels and took on the name Jelly Roll which was Black slang for the female private part. He was born in the Faubourg Marigny and was put out of the house when his grandmother found out he was playing in a brothel. She said that he had disgraced the family name. He went on to become one of the most influential jazz pianists in history.

The next mention on the list is Young Greatness. Young Greatness born Theodore Joseph Jones III was a 7th ward rapper from New Orleans. He was one of the few new rappers from New Orleans to see commercial success. After Katrina Young Greatness moved to Houston, Texas to find refuge. He stayed in Houston for 3 years and he loved it. Houston became a second home to him. After meeting his manager he signed a deal with  Coach K and over at Quality Control Records an Atlanta Power Label rooted in Cash Money & No Limit Culture. Shortly after in 2015 his single Moolah produced by Jazzy Pha went gold and reached 85 on the Billboard Hot 100. Things turned bad for YG in 2018 a year later when he was hit outside of a Waffle House while getting something to eat in New Orleans one night. He didn’t make it. The city took this loss hard. He was one of the few to make it out of the city and to see it end like this was disheartening. This story is really detailed and I have another video about it so make sure to visit that.

The last mention on my list is Super bowl Champion Tyrann Mathieu. Tyrann Mathieu is a New Orleans native from the 7th Ward who always had dreams of making it to the big leagues. He is a 27-year-old Safety from New Orleans who attended St. Augustine High School where he first received national attention. During his senior year alone he recorded 32 tackles, five interceptions, one sack, and a fumble recovery. After his grandfather passed away, he was adopted by his Uncle Tyrone and his Aunt Sheila. Things were smooth until Hurricane Katrina hit and they lost everything. They were homeless for a year. Mathieu would eventually become a top prospect for LSU’s Tiger football program until he was removed and shamed for failing two marijuana drug tests. He would eventually get drafted to the NFL and play for two teams before winning the ring. Check out our full story on this subject linked above as well.

Claiborne Avenue Bridge

This brings us to what I call the end of the 7th Ward’s potential. The story of the N. Claiborne Avenue is etched into our memories as New Orleanians. Claiborne was once a neutral ground for Treme, the oldest Black neighborhood in the United States. In the 1950s Claiborne was known for it’s azalea gardens and oak trees. During Mardi Gras Claiborne would be filled with campers waiting for the parades to emerge. The Black business district emerged on Claiborne when Jim Crow laws prevented Blacks from shopping at their stores. Research from the New Orleans tribune revealed the forgotten “funeral for American slavery that took place on Claiborne after the 13th Amendment was passed. Pioneers like Walter L Cohen and James Vance Jr. laid the foundation for Claiborne’s transformation into a thriving business district for Black culture and enterprise. Leaders like Cohen and Vance saw the need for Black political representation in New Orleans. Once these two men passed there weren’t any people behind them to ensure our representation in local politics.

The government took advantage of our lack of representation. Most of the plans to elevate the highway over N. Claiborne were already in motion before residents could act. This was all apart of the government’s plan to replace black neighborhoods with large-scale infrastructure projects. What many people don’t know is that White residents were able to prevent an elevated highway in front of the St. Louis Cathedral. There were countless protests but it was too late. Now the only thing that remains on Claiborne are paintings on the pillars depicting what once was.

Conclusion

In conclusion the 7th Ward has a very rich history that will be revisited in a sequel to this documentary. I was only able to briefly explain the subjects due how extensive the 7th Ward is. What would you like to hear me discuss for a second installment of Hard Head History? Also what other Wards should I cover?

Sources:

https://nolaplans.com/plans/Lambert%20Final/District_4_Final_7thWard.pdf

https://acloserwalknola.com/places/houstons-school-of-music/

https://acloserwalknola.com/places/jelly-roll-mortons-house/\

https://www.neworleans.com/things-to-do/multicultural/cultures/creoles/#:~:text=In%20the%201700s%2C%20most%20people,need%20to%20identify%20as%20such.&text=Creoles%20tended%20to%20live%20in,(free%20people%20of%20color).

Claiborne Story

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