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Dillard Neighborhood Snapshot

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

The Dillard neighborhood, whose boundaries are Mirabeau Avenue, Elysian Fields Avenue, Benefit Street, Paris Avenue, and Pratt Drive, is a mixed residential and commercial area. Small establishments nestle on corners in large residential sections while larger establishments are positioned on the main thoroughfares, especially Gentilly Boulevard and Elysian Fields Avenue. The community is composed of primarily African American families of low and middle-income levels (Census 2000). The housing stock is predominately low sprawling post-World War II houses.

© GNO Community Data Center

  View of downtown from the London Avenue Canal.

Native Americans Were First

Prior to the Europeans, the Native Americans used the higher grounds along various bayous in the area. Europeans arrived as early as the late 1600s.

European's Arrival

Alexander Milne, a Scottish footman, who landed in the United States just before 1776, made a fortune from first a hardware business and then from brick making. He believed that future development would be along Lake Pontchartrain. He bought a large expanse of swampy real estate in this area. By 1830 he owned most of the lakeshore. Milne was right in his prediction. But even with the existence of the London Avenue Canal and the building of the Pontchartrain Railroad (Elysian Fields Avenue), it was not enough to draw homesteaders to the area. Throughout the 1800s, the railroad, that connected the city to Lake Pontchartrain, brought crowds of people from the city to the Milneburg resort in Lake Terrace/Lake Oaks neighborhood. A railway station was at the intersection of Gentilly Boulevard and Elysian Fields, where the railroad intersected Bayou Sauvage on the Darcantel Plantation.

It was not until the New Orleans Lakeshore and Land Company joined its drainage system at Florida Avenue with the Orleans Pumping Station that some scattered development did occur in the early 1900s.

With evidence of the earliest settlement in 1830, after the start of the Pontchartrain Railroad, sparse residential development started in 1905. Creoles were the first to inhabit the area after leaving the French Quarter/Esplanade area. The majority of development occurred from 1920 until 1950.

Sugar Hill

Dillard University, from which the neighborhood is named, opened in 1930 and moved to its existing site in 1935. During the 1940s, professional African Americans moved adjacent to the university and the area was called "Sugar Hill." Huge oak trees lined the streets from Gentilly Boulevard to Benefit Street. Similar to the destruction of the Treme and 7th Ward's thriving African American businesses and the removal of longstanding homes, this prosperous neighborhood was destroyed by the construction of the I-610 built straight through its middle, demolishing the trees and many houses.

Dillard University

© GNO Community Data Center
  The entrance to Dillard University  

Dillard University selected its name to honor Dr. James Hardy Dillard, whose distinguishable service in the education of African Americans in the South established an important chapter in the history of American education.

Her Rich History

Dillard University was formed from a merger of Straight University and New Orleans University.

The American Missionary Association of the Congregational Church established Straight University in June 1869. The Freedman's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church founded Union Normal School in July 1869. Straight University was later renamed Straight College and Union Normal School's name changed to New Orleans University. Initially, both institutions provided instruction at the elementary, secondary, collegiate and professional levels.

Straight College administered a law department from 1874 to 1886. New Orleans University began its medical department, including a school of pharmacy and a school of nursing, in 1889. The medical department was given the name Flint Medical College and the affiliated hospital was called the Sarah Goodridge Hospital and Nurse Training School. The medical college closed its operation in 1911, but the hospital, including the nursing school, continued and was renamed Flint-Goodridge Hospital of Dillard University and was located in Central City. The University ran the hospital from 1932 to 1983.

New Orleans University and Straight College merged in June 1930 and opened Dillard University. From 1930 to today Dillard has followed a policy "in making no distinction as to race, religion or sex in the admission of students or in the selection of faculty."

The trustees of Dillard decided to close Gilbert Academy, the secondary school that was a part of the New Orleans University complex. However, the academy continued as a separate institution under the leadership of the Board of Education of the Methodist Church until 1949.

Some outstanding accomplishments

Dillard instituted the first speech department in an African American university, the first undergraduate general education curriculum in the South, the first college in Louisiana to offer a nationally-accredited collegiate program in nursing, and the first among historically Black colleges and universities and any university in south central United States to offer a Japanese Studies program.

Dillard, University History

Carl Holmes Executive Development Institute hosted by Dillard University


© GNO Community Data Center

  Mystical, Magical New Orleans Mural  

Dillard University's present location, since 1935, sprawls across 48 acres with its buildings fashioned in turn-of-the-19th century architecture. Marcus Akinlana, a local artist, displayed his talents on the London Avenue Canal Wall that borders the campus with a mural called "Mystical, Magical New Orleans." This historically black private, four-year, liberal arts, coeducational university is a member school of the United Negro College Fund.

A Taste of Some Outstanding Graduates and Associates

Beginning in 1941, Dr. Albert Dent led Dillard University as its president for twenty-eight years. Dent grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, during segregation. He refused to ride segregated public transportation and said "As a boy I walked all over Atlanta. Where ever I wanted to go, I walked." Albert Dent affected many African American students who later became activists and leaders in the local civil rights movement.

Revius O. Ortique, Jr. was a student of both Xavier and Dillard Universities. Dr. Albert Dent and A. P. Tureaud, local counsel for the NAACP, made a significant impact on the young Revius. As an attorney, he became involved in the civil rights movement in the 1950s. He helped organize the McDonogh Day Boycott (in the McDonogh neighborhood) in 1954 and various public protests demanding civil rights. In the 1950s, he led the Urban League and fought job discrimination. He was elected judge in 1979.


Image courtesy New Orleans Public Library ( Permission for reuse required
  Tom Dent [LA Division Photograph Collection: Portraits]  

Thomas C. Dent, writer, civil rights activist and dramatist, was the oldest son of Dr. Albert Dent and Ernestine Jessie Covington Dent, a former concert pianist. He began his writing career at Morehouse College as an undergraduate and lived and worked in New York for many years before returning to New Orleans. During his time in New York, he served as press liaison for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund during a most volatile time in United States civil rights history. Thurgood Marshall, then NAACP attorney and later Supreme Court Justice, appointed him to this position.

His writings in New York contributed greatly to the renaissance of published works that fueled the energy of the day and spoke to the power and struggles of African Americans.

In 1965, Dent returned to New Orleans and helped start the Free Southern Theater (FST). FST was a collective of artists, activists and thinkers who fought against racism and segregation through dramatic productions. Out of FST, Dent cofounded BLKARTSOUTH, a writer's workshop to develop young writers and "create a cultural base for them in the city."

AARC Notable African Americans from Louisiana Thomas C. Dent

Tom Dent A New Orleans Writer. Black Collegian Magazine Online

Dent cofounded literary journals, such as Nkombo and Callaloo, produced collections of poetry and essays, collected interviews about the civil rights movement and jazz in New Orleans, was an oral historian, and wrote his final book, Southern Journey, A Return to the Civil Rights Movement.

Norman Mayer Library

The Norman Mayer Library or "Gentilly Library" as many call it, is part of the New Orleans Public Library System. It opened in March 1949 with only 7,000 volumes. The library was named after a New Orleans cotton broker, whose wife bequeathed her and her husband's entire estate, over one million dollars, to educational and charitable institutions. Approximately $250,000 from that estate was used to build the Norman Mayer Library. Today, the library contains over 30,000 books and has added hundreds of video and audiocassettes to its collection.

New Orleans Public Library Norman Mayer Branch

Hebrew Rest Cemetery

On Pelopidas Street is one of the three sites that make up the Hebrew Rest Cemetery, the largest of several Jewish burial grounds in New Orleans.

The Jewish people have made a significant impact on various aspects of the city's culture and commerce. Through the generosity of Jewish philanthropists, the city benefited from major contributions to the New Orleans Museum of Art, establishment of institutions such as Tulane University and Touro Infirmary, support extended to Dillard University, and donations that helped parks and tourist attractions. Successful Jewish merchants, particularly during the 1800s and early 1900s, strengthened the city's economy. Synagogues serving Jewish populations were built to serve the growing congregations in New Orleans and cemeteries were established for their dead.

Mount Olivet Cemetery & Mausoleum

© GNO Community Data Center
  St. John Berchman Manor

Mount Olivet Cemetery & Mausoleum, on Norman Mayer Avenue, holds the remains of some of New Orleans' most noted. Henry Roeland "Professor Longhair" Byrd, singer, pianist, and Rock & Roll pioneer, Walter C. Wright, educator and Negro Leagues baseball player and historian ; and Louis Westerfield, the first tenured African American law professor at Ole Miss University and the first dean of its law school. He grew up in the Fischer Housing Development and received his law degree from Loyola University.

Today, Dillard is a residential neighborhood with many conveniences nearby. A high density of commercial establishments, large and small, satisfies most of the needs of the community. Liberty Bank, on Gentilly Boulevard, is one of the ten largest black-owned commercial banks in the United States. St. John Berchman's Manor, run by the Holy Family Order of nuns, operates a Catholic preschool and a home for the elderly population.

For more information:

Gentilly/Dillard Relocate New Orleans

A House Divided

A House Divided

Judeo-Alsatians in the Deep South

Find A Grave, Henry Roeland "Professor Longhair" Byrd

Walter C. Wright

Simpson, Melanie. "Louis Westerfield is Remembers as Hero." The Daily Mississippian, September 16, 1996

Liberty Bank Home Page

1999 Land Use New Orleans City Planning Commission Planning District Six Gentilly

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).

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 5, 2002