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Seventh Ward Neighborhood Snapshot

Census 2000 Data Tables: People & Household CharacteristicsHousing & Housing Costs, Income & Poverty, Transportation, Employment, Educational Attainment, Immigration & Language, Disabilities, Neighborhood Characteristics

The Seventh Ward was considered by many to be the quintessential Creole neighborhood in New Orleans. Many educated and accomplished people of color lived here before the Civil War and throughout the time when Jim Crow laws were in effect. But after desegregation, the city built the I-10 interstate right over the Claiborne neutral ground, destroying the 7th Ward’s prosperous business district in the process.

Today the community remembers the beautiful live oaks that were torn down to make way for the interstate by painting images of these trees on the cement pilings that replaced them.

When was the Seventh Ward first developed?

Image courtesy of John DeFraites.


A 1908 map with the 7th ward highlighted before I-10 was built


Among the first owners was Claude Dubreuil whose vast estate stretched from the river to Bayou Sauvage and Gentilly. By the late 1700s, this land had changed proprietorship several times and finally came into the holdings of Bernard Marigny, who successfully subdivided the Faubourg Marigny and continued with what was called Nouveau Marigny (between Elysian Fields and St. Bernard and from St. Claude to Gentilly Rd.). When, in 1830, the Pontchartrain Railroad connected the Faubourg Marigny with the settlement of Milneburg on the lake, these lots became more saleable. The railroad helped Nouveau Marigny to grow almost to Gentilly Ridge.

The area of the Seventh Ward neighborhood that did not belong to Bernard Marigny belonged to Charles de Morand who also owned most of what is now the Tremé neighborhood.

As the Vieux Carre became increasingly overcrowded people were forced to seek residence in other developing areas of the city and Nouveau Marigny was one of them. The area was settled by the second half of the 19th century. A significant number of German immigrants and French Creole families inhabited the neighborhood by the mid-1800s. However, it was the free people of color who came to characterize the Seventh Ward neighborhood.

Les gens de couleur libres

Free persons of color, les gens de couleur libres, began to settle in New Orleans around 1720. By 1810, they composed about one-third of the city’s population. These people were well educated, highly skilled in the building trades, spoke perfect French and called themselves Creole. By the mid-1800s, many free people of color had taken up residence in the Seventh Ward. Creole Seventh Ward families are known for strength in business enterprises, building trades, and music. Successful family-owned businesses, such as insurance companies, laundries, barbershops and funeral homes characterized the neighborhood from the mid 19th to the early 20th centuries.

Jazz flourished in the 7th Ward

Photo from the New Orleans Item. Courtesy of Froggy's New Orleans Jazz

Buddy Petit playing his cornet, 1916.


When Creole musicians who were classically trained in Europe began to jam with recently freed Africans, who over the centuries of enslavement had maintained the traditional rhythms of their homeland– jazz was born. Not surprisingly, the 7th Ward was home to many early jazz greats.

Buddie Petit a very early cornetist considered one of the city’s greatest and revered by Louis Armstrong

Read more about Buddie Petit

Red hot Jazz’ bio of Buddie Petit

Froggy's New Orleans Jazz Website bio of Buddie Petit, with a great story about his band: "Apparently a traveling racist speaker who proclaimed "White supremacy in all things" had telegramed an advance man in New Orleans to hire the best band he could find to draw a crowd for the speaker's arrival. The Black "Eagle Band" was hired."

Lizzie Miles - a big-voiced cabaret and blues singer

Read more about Lizzie Miles

Red Hot Jazz’ bio of Lizzie Miles

The Iceberg's bio of Lizzie Miles

Lorenzo Tio, Jr.from a family of clarinetists of Mexican and Creole descent who introduced Latin rhythms to the young jazz art form

Mr. Tio taught many of the early jazz greats to play including Bigard and Simeon (below).

Read more about Lorenzo Tio, Jr

Albert System Clarinet Pages review of New Orleans clarinetists

All that Jazz’ Early Jazz History


Famous photo of Barney Bigard.


Barney Bigard - an accomplished clarinetist and tenor-saxophone player

Read more about Barney Bigard

Red Hot Jazz’s bio of Barney Bigard

Bio of Barney Bigard by

Omar SimeonJelly Roll Morton’s favorite clarinetist

Read more about Omar Simeon

Red Hot Jazz’s bio of Omar Simeon

Louie’s Juke Joint’s bio of Omar Simeone

Paul Barbarina jazz drummer who worked in many cities but eventually returned to his hometown and actually died second lining on the streets of New Orleans

Read more about Paul Barbarin

Red Hot Jazz’s bio of Paul Barbarin

Bio of Paul Barbarin by Angelfire

Manuel Pereza clarinetist particularly skilled at sight-reading. He was in high demand for leading second lines even before World War I

Read more about Manuel Perez

Red Hot Jazz’s bio of Manuel Perez

Dr. Leonard V. Bechetpracticed dentistry at 1402 St. Bernard Ave

Like his more famous brother, Sidney Bechet, Dr. Bechet was also a musician -- a trombonist and leader of the Silver Bells band.

Armand J. Pironled one of the most popular society bands in the city

Mr. Piron also founded the first African American publishing company in New Orleans in 1915. In 2002, a plaque was placed on the house where he lived at 1818 Columbus St, designating it a historical jazz landmark.

Jim Crow laws hit the 7th Ward

After the Civil War all people of color were lumped together for the first time, and Creole families experienced a significant social demotion – suddenly being denied access to networks and resources that had previously been available to them as free people of color. Because Creoles were of European and African descent, they had a lighter skin color than many of the recently freed Africans. Jim Crow laws reinforced the importance of skin color by declaring that anyone with at least “1/8th black blood” (known as an “octoroon”) was technically “colored.” So Creoles began to attempt to distinguish themselves from darker skinned “colored” people.

Creoles developed a whole language that included French words but also included several references specific to skin and hair type. Those that looked more like Caucasian skin and hair types were considered superior. The “paper bag test” was one way people of color sometimes judged themselves, as writer Faith Dawson recalls in this brief memoir:

This morning I stood in front of a mirror holding a paper bag next to my face. To verify the result of the comparison, I took the mirror and the paper bag over to the window, where I received the same result. And in the afternoon, when the light was different, I went back to the window and tried again. But my skin was still darker than the paper bag.

I was repeating a scene I had enacted about 18 years earlier. At the time, I was a shallow 13-year-old, and my standards of physical beauty were limited to two things: bright skin and good hair, “bright” meaning fair-skinned, “good” meaning straight. Though my own coppery skin failed the infamous paper-bag test then as now, I still thought that if you were a black person, it was certainly better to have light skin and smooth, unprocessed hair. “Better” – whatever that means.

Read more about Creole culture

20th Century in Faith Dawson’s review of the new book The History and Legacy of Louisiana’s Free People of Color

The struggle for civil rights


© GNO Community Data Center.

  A.P. Tureaud Park.  

Many Creoles worked at the forefront of the civil rights movement as lawyers and organizers. Jim Crow laws were not overturned all at once, but painstakingly one at a time. A.P. Tureaud was a prominent civil rights activist who today is honored in the 7th Ward with a park in his name.

A.P. Tureaud was a lawyer for the New Orleans branch of the NAACP. He brought a suit against the state and the Orleans Parish School Board to force the desegregation of public facilities in Louisiana. His successes include the integration of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in 1952. He also filed suits to obtain equal pay for Louisiana's African American teachers. The plaque in the A.P. Tureaud Park reads:

New Orleans Attorney A.P. Tureaud courageously led us toward equal justice and opportunity for all. He boldly challenged each obstacle in our way. He skillfully pried open the gates of segregation that separated us from each other and from our nation’s promise. A.P. Tureaud’s legal victories cleared the way toward reaching the promise of equal protection under the law. These civil rights triumphs encouraged others to lead us forward on the path that A.P. Tureaud made wider, more clear and more certain.

Read more about Alexander Pierre Tureaud. Sr

Southern Institute for Education and Research

When White Was Black - A video of the Life Story of Alexander P. Tureaud, Sr.

Mr. Tureaud was further honored when the Housing Authority of New Orleans’ (HANO) administrative offices in the 7th Ward were named for him. Mr. Tureaud served on HANO’s board of commissioners from 1966 to 1971.

The only high school for African Americans

In 1931, McDonogh #35 was the only four-year high school for African American students. In that year, 800 eager students enrolled, to be taught by twenty teachers. McDonogh #35 remained the only four-year high school for black students in the city until Booker T. Washington opened in 1942.

Prosperous business district

Courtesy MBC/Chicago
  The main characters from Frank's Place  

The Seventh Ward is opposite Esplanade Avenue from the Tremé. At one time, the most prosperous African American business-district in the country stretched along Claiborne Avenue from the Tremé into the 7th Ward. Residents fondly remember the St. Bernard market at the corner of St. Bernard and Claiborne as well as Chez Helene at 1540 N. Robertson. Chez Helene gained national fame when “Frank’s Place,” a critically acclaimed sitcom inspired by this 7th Ward restaurant, aired on CBS in 1988.

Another favorite Creole restaurant was Eddie’s, which opened on Law Street in 1966. Eddie Baquet Sr.’s family had been in the restaurant business since 1940, and his son Wayne followed suit when they opened the famous Zachery’s on Oak Street in 1993.

I-10 is built

© GNO Community Data Center
The cement painting of live oaks  

In the late 1960s, the 7th Ward’s prosperous business district along Claiborne Avenue was deemed dispensable by the city, so it was destroyed to make way for the new I-10 interstate loop. The rows of quadruple live oak trees were cleared from the neutral ground and the interstate cut the neighborhood in half. This, of course, severely diminished the desirability of the properties on either side of the interstate.

Suddenly an area that had been prosperous became quite undesirable. Homeowners moved, and finding their homes neither saleable nor rentable, eventually abandoned them. The irony of destroying this thriving business district in order to facilitate access to the suburbs is not lost on residents.

7th Ward today

Although not as prosperous as it once was, the neighborhood is identified with halls that each reflect a group of professionals, mechanics, skilled laborers or a benevolent society. They still use these halls for business and social functions. The Autocrat Club on St. Bernard Street is one of the liveliest, offering fish fries on Friday evenings and dances every Saturday night.

Read more about the Autocrat Club

Creole Traditions & Celebrations


© GNO Community Data Center

  Hunters field mural

Several historic social halls, such as Perseverance Hall on Villere Street and Francs Amis Hall, are still standing. They now serve as community churches.

Many second lines commit a portion of their parading to the resonant cement surroundings of the Claiborne street overpass, perhaps in memorandum of this once great area. Every year on “Super Sunday”, the Mardi Gras Indians parade through the Tremé, down Claiborne, and converge on Hunters Field in the 7th Ward.

Read more about the Mardi Gras Indians trek to Hunters Field

Sturgis Feathers Mardi Gras Indian

Community residents are painting images of live oaks on the cold cement pilings that support the roaring interstate overhead.

Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law lounge is located in the 7th Ward. Founded by one of the most flamboyant entertainers in New Orleans’ history, the Mother-in-Law Lounge is adorned with many photographs and artwork of the late performer.

Read more about Ernie K-Doe

The Official Ernie K-Doe web site

The Corpus Christi Catholic Parish, established in the 7th Ward in 1915, opened a school in 1917, both of which still function today. Today, this is the largest African American Catholic parish in the United States and the school is staffed by the Sisters of the Holy Family, a community of African American religious.

Read more about the Corpus Christi Parish

Corpus Christi web site

Image courtesy

  St. Augustine's "Marching 100" band

St. Augustine High School, renowned for its fabulous marching band, was founded under the patronage of St. Augustine of Hippo, a preeminent Catholic Scholar of Africa. It is the leading secondary school for Black males in Louisiana, and is nationally recognized.

Read more about the St. Augustine

St. Augustine School web site

Passing Glory is a movie written by former graduate Harold Sylvester about a famous basketball game at St. Augustine.

The Nora Navra Branch of the New Orleans Public Library, which opened in temporary quarters in 1946, was one of the first public library branches to admit people of color. At the dedication of the permanent branch, when it finally became a reality in 1956, the St. Augustine High School band performed and A.P. Tureaud gave a moving address including this excerpt:

Public facilities, which are provided on a racially segregated basis, are not only a drain on our economic resources, but are an outmoded relic of a slave psychology. Libraries tend to free the mind of bigotry and prejudice; they are supposed to be a civilizing influence on the community. We need more of them.

Read more about Nora Navra Branch of the New Orleans Public Library

Nora Navra Branch of NOPL

At Home in New Orleans is a collaborative project of the City of New Orleans and several other agencies, initiated in 1997 to restore and replace up to 500 vacant and blighted properties in a 5-year period. The first 50 homes to be restored are in the 7th Ward and Tremé.

Read more about At Home in New Orleans

At Home in New Orleans

For more information:

African American’s in New Orleans: Making a Living

A Culture Lost and Found

Stories that history tells us: Afro-Créole literature from 19th Century Louisiana

New Orleans Public Library’s exhibit on People of Color in history

The Preservation Resource Center’s description of Esplanade Ridge covers the part of the 7th ward

Neighborhood Profiles Project Document prepared by the City of New Orleans Office of Policy Planning and the City Planning Commission. Published December 1980. Study available at the Williams Research Center (non-circulating collection).

“New Orleans City Guide.” Federal Writers Project. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1938.

Catholic Churches in Louisiana.

“HANO honors Civil Rights Leader A. P. Tureaud” HANO NEWS. Jan/Feb 2001.

Times Picayune article on the naming of Armand Piron’s house a landmark. March 28, 2002.

Census 2000 Data Tables: People & Household CharacteristicsHousing & Housing Costs, Income & Poverty, Transportation, Employment, Educational Attainment, Immigration & Language, Disabilities, Neighborhood Characteristics

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Last modified: October 4, 2002