Less than two weeks before Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Saints won their first super bowl appearance and residents elected the first white mayor to the majority black city in more than 30 years.
New Orleans is in transition.
I noticed it the last time I was there in August for my grandmother’s funeral. She lived within walking distance of the French Quarters and while Bourbon Street was still appropriately bawdy with scantily clad women hawking their product from doorways, the town in general was different. A lot of the warehouses that used to dot the streets around my grandma’s neighborhood had been converted into lofts and art studios. Except for the architecture and the cobbled streets, the town felt more like New York City’s Chelsea or Soho pre 1990s. Even grandma’s church had changed. She’d been a longtime parishioner of Grace United Methodist, an all black church until Katrina forced it to close and merge with First Methodist, a mostly white church.
On the one hand, it is nice to see the revitalization of this important American city, but I feel anxious about the changes, what culture might be swept out to make way for the new, what old touchstones might be lost.
I want to be able to walk down the streets that my ancestors walked and see what they saw.
I wonder what my grandmother would think of the new white mayor or what my ancestors Colonel Stuart and his father would think of the town’s prominent black population. I hope to uncover some of their ideas in the collection of my third great grandfather’s papers, which I’m making my way through (About 200 pages read so far…only 400 more to go!)
It reminds me that I should take a picture of our house and put it in a time capsule so future generations, if they are as sentimental as I am, have a picture of what their people’s neighborhood looked like way back when. What local history would you like to preserve?