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Multicultural History
 

African American History in New Orleans

The African American community has played a vital role in creating the authentic masterpiece of a city that New Orleans is today.

Background

Gens de Coleur
Gens de Couleur Libre, or Free People of Color, lived in the Treme, the oldest African-American neighborhood still in existence
Code Noir
Code Noir
Congo Square, Circa 1900
Congo Square, Circa 1900
Congo Square today
Treme Brass Band

Under French rule of colonial Louisiana in 1724, the Code Noir (“Black Code”), was created to restrict the rights of the slaves forcibly brought over from Africa. But this population of enslaved workers somehow managed to preserve their heritage in the New World, even after Louisiana moved to Spanish control in 1763 and then to American control forty years later. So instead of being stamped out, aspects of African culture persisted in New Orleans and were eventually absorbed into the city’s overall culture.

Old and New Traditions

A vital place for this development was Congo Square, a formerly grassy area that is now part of Armstrong Park on the edge of the French Quarter. Especially on Sundays, hundreds of African slaves and laborers congregated to play music, dance, and socialize. Because many slaves in New Orleans came from culturally similar regions in western Africa, they formed new variations of common traditions and bonded with those who could speak in their native tongues. This newly connected community was also able assert its heritage and make new traditions during the city’s annual Mardi Gras celebrations.

The African American Community

This population of African Americans began to grow in the city, including Creoles descended from unions of Africans with the French and Spanish. The Creoles often were labeled as “gens de couleur libres (free people of color) who lived in the Treme, the oldest African-American neighborhood still in existence. Some slaves also were able to earn their freedom, and others came to New Orleans from present-day Haiti, fleeing a slave revolt there and bringing voodoo and other traditions with them.

Music

Of all the African-American contributions to New Orleans culture, music is the star that shines exceedingly bright. Most famously, the Crescent City is the birthplace of jazz, the American musical idiom whose dawn at the turn of the twentieth century can be traced back to those Sundays at Congo Square. But New Orleans African-American musicians have been leaders in everything from hip hop to funk, from gospel to a distinctive style of rhythm & blues that has exerted a huge influence on rock ’n’ roll. New Orleans remains famous for its still vibrant music scene rooted in its musical legacy, a legacy that is African-American at its core.

African Influence in Mardi Gras

Many of New Orleans’ beloved Mardi Gras traditions are African-American, most prominently the Mardi Gras Indians and the Zulu parade that rolls behind Rex on Mardi Gras Day. The Krewe of Zulu grew out of social aid and pleasure clubs, and its traditions ridicule white Mardi Gras krewes’ self-importance as well as white stereotypes of African-Americans, with the riders dressed in blackface and grass skirts while handing out spears and coconuts.

New Orleans is home to two historically African American colleges, Dillard University and Xavier University, which is the only African-American Catholic university in the country.

Points of Interest

In addition to the beautiful Congo Square, you can visit the African American Museum in Treme to learn about the oldest surviving black community in the United States. You can also visit the Backstreet Cultural Museum for amazing assortment of memorabilia indigenous to Mardi Gras, jazz funerals and other traditions found only in New Orleans.

And if you’re looking to experience this culture through cuisine, check out our list of African and African American dining venues below:

 
New Orleans Soul Food Restaurants
Brown Butter Southern Kitchen and Bar
231 North Carrollton Avenue Suite C , New Orleans, LA 70019 [Map It]
(504) 609-3871
www.brownbutterrestaurant.com

Neighborhood: Mid-City
Attire: Casual
Open For: Lunch (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: American, Soul Food, Louisiana

Description: A New Orleans hotspot for Contemporary Southern American cuisine. Brown Butter is comfy, cozy, and a great place for a quick lunch, fine dinner, Sunday brunch, special event, or just a beer and small plates for the game.
Cafe Reconcile
1631 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70148 [Map It]
(504) 568-1157
www.cafereconcile.com

Neighborhood: Uptown/Garden District
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Lunch (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: Soul Food, Creole

Description: Cafe Reconcile is a non-profit project of Reconcile New Orleans and the St. John Francis Regis Hospitality School, a program of Fr. Harry Tompson, S.J., and Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church. The cafe provides at-risk teens and young adults with the skills they need to succeed in jobs in the restaurant business.
Chef Scott's Creole BBQ Bar & Smoke Box
2660 Saint Philip St, New Orleans, LA 71019 [Map It]
(504) 484-9892
www.facebook.com

Neighborhood: Treme
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Lunch, Dinner, Late Night (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: Barbecue, Soul Food
Dooky Chase's Restaurant
2301 Orleans Ave., New Orleans, LA 70119 [Map It]
(504) 821-0535

Neighborhood: Treme
Attire: Business Casual
Cuisine Type/s: Soul Food, Creole

Description: Led by world famous chef, Leah Chase this family restaurant serves up an incredible array of creole and soul food in a restaurant atmosphere full of local art.
Fiorella's
45 French Market Pl., New Orleans, LA 70116 [Map It]
(504) 528-9566

Neighborhood: French Quarter
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Lunch, Dinner (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: American, Soul Food

Description: This restaurant has been around since 1906. Try the daily special, the crispy fried chicken, or a bowl of traditional gumbo. While eating play version of vintage bingo.
High Hat Cafe
4500 Freret St., New Orleans, LA 70115 [Map It]
(504) 754-1336
www.highhatcafe.com

Neighborhood: Uptown/Garden District
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $$
Open For: Lunch, Dinner (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: Seafood, Soul Food, Louisiana

Description: Genuine southern cuisine from the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana may seem like the norm in New Orleans, but High Hat Café is truly dedicated to serving the best of the best southern eats. With classics such as BBQ shrimp, fried catfish platters, gumbo, and smoke roasted chicken plates, High Hat Café is as authentic as it gets. The restaurant is proud to serve only U.S. farm raised catfish, and shrimp and fish from the local region. High Hat is a must-go on your trip to NOLA – how could you pass up fried catfish paired with fries, slaw, and hush puppies?
Hobnobber's
139 Carondelet St., New Orleans, LA 70130 [Map It]
(504) 525-5428
www.neworleanshobnobber.com

Neighborhood: Central Business District/Downtown
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Breakfast, Lunch (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: Soul Food, Delis & Sandwiches

Description: Hobnobber’s Variety Bar is regarded as one of the best local spots to eat original NOLA cuisine. The restaurant serves authentic dishes, including shrimp po-boys and gumbo, in addition to a specialty menu that changes daily. Special dishes include BBQ ribs, red beans and rice, southern fried chicken, and a fried catfish seafood plate. The menu at Hobnobber’s is lengthy and diverse, and guaranteed to surprise diners on any day of the week. The restaurant also serves indulgent, homemade deserts and sides that rotate daily, including baked macaroni, peach cobbler, and potato salad.
Honey Whip Donuts
4801 General Meyer Ave., New Orleans, LA 70131 [Map It]
(504) 398-0950

Neighborhood: Algiers/Westbank
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Lunch, Dinner (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: Soul Food, Bakery
JK Sandwich
1100 Poydras St., New Orleans, LA 70163 [Map It]
(504) 582-2433

Neighborhood: Central Business District/Downtown
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Breakfast, Lunch (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: Soul Food
Koz's
515 Harrison Ave., New Orleans, LA 70124 [Map It]
(504) 484-0522
www.kozcooks.com

Neighborhood: Lakefront/Lakeview
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Lunch, Dinner (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: Soul Food, Delis & Sandwiches, Creole, Louisiana
Leni's Restaurant
741 Baronne St., New Orleans, LA 70113 [Map It]
(504) 523-0069

Neighborhood: Central Business District/Downtown
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Breakfast, Lunch (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: American, Soul Food
Lil Dizzy's Cafe
1500 Esplanade Ave., New Orleans, LA 70116 [Map It]
(504) 569-8997

Neighborhood: Esplanade Ridge
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Breakfast, Lunch (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: Cajun, Soul Food

Description: Owned by Wayne Baquet of the Baquet family, one of the great Creole restaurateur families in New Orleans, this relaxed neighborhood joint serves up a popular lunch buffet.
McHardy's Chicken & Fixin
1458 N. Broad St., New Orleans, LA 70119 [Map It]
(504) 949-0000

Neighborhood: Esplanade Ridge
Attire: Casual
Open For: Lunch, Dinner (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: American, Soul Food
The Pelican Bay Restaurant
1701 Elysian Fields Ave, New Orleans, LA 70117 [Map It]
(504) 940-1111
www.pelicanbaynola.com

Neighborhood: Gentilly/New Orleans East/Chalmette
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Lunch, Dinner (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: American, Bar/Pub Food, Seafood, Soul Food, Vegetarian, Desserts, Louisiana

Description: The Pelican Bay Restaurant serves traditional American, New Orleans, and soul food made from the freshest ingredients. Also, features daiquiris, cocktails, and over 40 televisions for sports events. Family and vegan friendly.
The Praline Connection
542 Frenchmen St., New Orleans, LA 70116 [Map It]
(504) 943-3934
www.pralineconnection.com

Neighborhood: Faubourg Marigny/Bywater
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Lunch, Dinner (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: Cajun, Soul Food

Description: The Praline Connection offers a variety of "soul food" recipes from three generations of great family chefs, including New Orleans gumbo, jambalaya, red beans & rice, smothered pork chops and famous pralines.
Red Gravy Café
125 Camp St., New Orleans, LA 70130 [Map It]
(504) 561-8844
www.redgravycafe.com

Neighborhood: Central Business District/Downtown
Attire: Casual
Open For: Breakfast, Lunch (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: American, Coffee Shops, Continental, Italian, Soul Food, Vegetarian, Delis & Sandwiches, Breakfast

Description: This home-style Italian restaurant is a true expression of New Orleans culture and the city’s passion for delicious food. Red Gravy Café is owned by Roseann Melisi Rosetoker, an original New Jersey resident and food enthusiast who fell in love with New Orleans after several vacation visits and decided to open her own restaurant in 2010. Red Gravy is a reflection of Roseann’s love for the city and her family. The Italian specialty dishes on the menu are named after important people in her life, including her husband, parents, siblings, and children. Roseann likes to say she “always makes too much” so diners will leave Red Gravy satisfied and full of great food made with love.
Sammy's Food Service & Deli
3000 Elysian Fields Ave, New Orleans, LA 70122 [Map It]
(504) 947-0675
sammysfood.com

Neighborhood: Gentilly/New Orleans East/Chalmette
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: American, Soul Food

Description: Sammy’s Food Service & Deli, located in New Orleans’ historic Gentilly neighborhood, is regarded by regulars as a “can’t miss” lunch spot. With a line out the door everyday during lunch, Sammy’s prides itself on New Orleans home-cooked fare. Breakfast plates are hefty and the lunch menu consists of po-boy’s, burgers, and meat or seafood fried plates. The atmosphere is low key and family-style, filled with a diverse blend of locals on any day.
Tee-Eva's Old Fashioned Pies & Pralines
5201 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA 70115 [Map It]
(504) 899-8350
www.tee-evapralines.com

Neighborhood: Uptown/Garden District
Attire: Casual
Open For: Lunch (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: Soul Food, Desserts, Creole, Louisiana, Snowballs

Description: Her heavenly concoctions are famous. But the woman who makes them is just as legendary. For decades Miss Tee-Eva, the unofficial Praline Queen of New Orleans, has welcomed celebrities, locals and travelers into her shop with open arms. Known for her signature pralines (creamy, pecan candies that melt in your mouth), her shop offers other sweet and savory Creole dishes. If you're looking for authentic Southern flavors and hospitality, Tee-Eva welcomes you to stop in for a visit.
Willie Mae's Scotch House
2401 St Ann St., New Orleans, LA 70119 [Map It]
(504) 822-9503

Neighborhood: Treme
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Lunch (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: American, Soul Food

Description: Willie Mae's is a local and international favorite, known for its simple menu and famous fried chicken.

Willie Mae Seaton started serving her delicious chicken over 30 years ago. She continued to run her homie Treme restaurant as it grew in popularity and even made her way back to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to keep her secret recipe alive.

In 2005 Willie Mae won the "American Classics" James Beard Award for local restaurants that keep regional culinary traditions alive.

With international acclaim and the love of an entire city, Willie Mae Seaton passed away in the fall of 2015. Her great-granddaughter, Kerry Seaton, continues to run the restaurant and preserve this incredible local gem.

Wing Snack
759 North Claiborne Ave., New Orleans, LA 70116 [Map It]
(504) 943-1869

Neighborhood: Treme
Attire: Casual
Price Range: $
Open For: Lunch, Dinner (Call ahead for hours)
Cuisine Type/s: Soul Food
 
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