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People of African descent have shaped New Orleans from its earliest days into the vibrant city it is today. From the slaves and indentured servants who drained the swamps, erected the buildings, constructed the levees, and dug the canals to the Freedom Riders who fought for racial equality in a segregated South, New Orleans' history and black history in America are intricately connected.
Historian Keith Weldon Medley recounts the rich history of African and African-American cultural influence on one of America's most-beloved cities. This in-depth account is one of personal significance for the author, who was raised in New Orleans' Faubourg Marigny and whose family history is tied to the area. Through fifteen self-contained chapters, Medley takes a chronological and focused look at some of New Orleans' most prominent people and places.
Rife with detailed histories of Faubourg Tremï¿½, Congo Square, and many other pivotal locations, Medley's subjects include the Mardi Gras Indians, the Zulu Parade, and Louis Armstrong and his upbringing in black Storyville. Tales of many other prominent New Orleanians also fill the pages, such as educator and civic leader Fannie C. Williams, founder of the People's Defense League Ernest Wright, and civil rights attorney A.P. Tureaud.
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Two hundred years ago, on a barren plot of land just outside New Orleans proper, slaves and free blacks would gather on Sundays to freely practice religions both ancient and new. It was a sight unseen anywhere else in the country.
On drums made from hollowed-out logs and animal skins, drummers beat out the rhythms of their ancestors as dancers spun across the ground holding vibrant pieces of cloth that waved and flapped above their heads. Others shook pebble-filled gourds and tambourines or plucked away on intricately carved homemade instruments. From tables set up beneath billowy cotton awnings, women in headscarves sold pralines, pies, cakes, and lemonade. And as the morning's church bells faded, the thumping drums and tribal chants of the revelers filled the air, bounding down the city's wood-planked streets, unceasing, past the setting sun. This was Congo Square, where the heartbeat of New Orleans was born.
The story of the impact peoples of African descent have had upon one of America's most dynamic cities does not end there. It is only the beginning. In this well-researched, articulate, and personal work, author and historian Keith Weldon Medley takes readers on an in-depth journey through New Orleans' African roots, from the early days of jazz through the Civil Rights Movement, highlighting the hardships and triumphs of a culture so integral to the city's unique identity.
Raised in Faubourg Marigny and a graduate of St. Augustine High School in the Treme neighborhood, Keith Weldon Medley earned his bachelor's degree in psychology and sociology from Southern University at New Orleans. As an author, photographer, and historian, Medley focuses his research on his home city of New Orleans and its African communities. As a result of his expertise in the field, Medley is often invited to speak at historical and cultural events. He is a two-time recipient of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities' Louisiana Publishing Initiative Grant, and his articles have appeared in such publications as the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Smithsonian, American Legacy, Southern Exposure Magazine, and New Orleans Tribune. He has appeared on a variety of radio and television programs, including NPR's Weekend Edition and BBC's How the World Got Mixed Up, and worked for a time as a New Orleans tour guide, educating visitors with stories of the city's history and culture. Medley lives in the town he loves, his hometown of New Orleans.From the Back Cover:
"Those who study New Orleans without seeking its African and African-American influences invariably miss what it means to know New Orleans."
-Keith Weldon Medley
From the steamy streets of old Treme, across Congo Square's eclectic mix of music and spirituality, past Mardi Gras Indians, and alongside Louisiana Freedom Riders, New Orleans author and historian Keith Weldon Medley brings New Orleans' black history to life through this well-crafted narrative.
Medley takes readers on a personal journey through the city's history to uncover some of the most significant events and introduce influential African and African-American leaders. Each chapter focuses on a topic of historic importance, providing a timeline of events as well as an in-depth look at the people and places that helped shape New Orleans into the city it is today. Take a step back in time to old New Orleans and walk the streets of Black Storyville with a young Louis Armstrong, dance to the beat of Congo Square, and stroll the midway of Lincoln Beach. Black history is New Orleans history.
Keith Weldon Medley, author of We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson, is a New Orleans-based writer, photographer, historian, and speaker. His works include numerous published articles and appearances related to his research into the history of New Orleans and the city's African-American communities.
Praise for We as Freemen:
"Rich in family and community history and local lore, Medley's work details the world of New Orleans's free people of color . . . this remarkable read is recommended for public and academic library collections on U.S., African American, and local history."
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