A Trove of Photographs of African-American Community Life in Jazz-Age New Orleans

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Jan. 28 2014 12:15 PM

A Trove of Photographs of African-American Community Life in Jazz-Age New Orleans

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These pages come from The Crescent City Pictorial, a 28-page booklet that contains photographs of African-American New Orleans in 1926. It’s recently been digitized by Tulane University’s Amistad Research Center, and the full document is available through Tulane’s digital library.

The Amistad Center’s blog writes that publisher Orlando Capitola Ward Taylor intended the 50-cent booklet to be a souvenir, and a way to boost the prospects of the African-American community. (The front of the booklet reads: “Dedicated to the colored citizens of New Orleans, Louisiana, ‘America’s Most Interesting City.’”)

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In the 19th century, historian Elizabeth Fussell writes, the city’s residential pattern was racially mixed, as African-Americans working in white homes often lived nearby their employers for ease of access. In the early 20th century, white citizens moved to newly-drained swamplands on the edges of the city, while stricter enforcement of “Jim Crow” laws segregated public facilities.

The pages of the booklet aim to show off the diversity and breadth of life in the black community. Photographer Villard Paddio, who owned a studio in the Treme area of the city, took pictures of the interiors of businesses, social clubs, community centers, “old folks’ homes,” and hospitals. The booklet contains four pages of the exteriors of homes of its citizens, and two pages of churches.  

A collage of images of the Pythian Temple features a group shot in the roof garden, which functioned as a dance hall (you can see a close-up photo of the dance hall in action here). The page also shows the range of professionals and businesses that leased offices in the temple’s space: doctors, attorneys, and the Liberty Industrial Life Insurance Company.

Thanks to Chris Harter of the Amistad Research Center. Click on the photos to reach zoomable versions, or visit the booklet's page in the Tulane Digital Library.

CrescentCity1Final
The Crescent City Pictorial, page 10. "Pythian Temple."

Tulane University Digital Library.

CrescentCity2Final
The Crescent City Pictorial, page 18. Pharmacies.

Tulane University Digital Library.

CrescentCity3Final
The Crescent City Pictorial, page 23. Other sites "of interest."

Tulane University Digital Library.

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The Crescent City Pictorial, page 26. Xavier University.

Tulane University Digital Library.