The theme for this year’s Black History Month is “Resistance.” Throughout the month, Verite will explore how resistance has taken shape in New Orleans and Louisiana – from our culinary roots to our music traditions to our role in the civil rights movement and more.
Resistance has been part of the lived experience of Black Americans since they arrived on the shores of a coastal port in Virginia in 1619. In the more than 400 years that Black people have been in America, resistance has taken on many forms — from slave revolts and insurrections to boycotts, protests and marches.
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History noted that, “By resisting, Black people have achieved triumphs, successes, and progress as seen in the end of chattel slavery, dismantling of Jim and Jane Crow segregation in the South, increased political representation at all levels of government, desegregation of educational institutions, the passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964, the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in DC and increased and diverse representation of Black experiences in media. Black resistance strategies have served as a model for every other social movement in the country, thus, the legacy and importance of these actions cannot be understated.”
Resistance is Harriet Tubman leading slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. It is Ida B. Wells writing about lynchings in the Deep South and Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Birmingham, Alabama.
Resistance is Mamie Till insisting on an open casket so the world could see her son Emmett’s disfigured body after a lynching in Mississippi. It is Tyre Nichols’ family pushing for the release of the video of their son being brutally beaten by Memphis police officers.
Resistance is Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit” and Daisy Bates helping nine teens in Arkansas desegregate Little Rock Central High School. It is Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their black-gloved fists at the 1968 Olympics and Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National anthem at professional football games.
Resistance is college students traveling to Mississippi during the height of the civil rights movement to register Black voters. It is drinking from the whites-only water fountain.
Resistance is Fannie Lou Hamer declaring, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired” at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the Black Panthers providing healthy breakfast meals to inner city youth.
Resistance is Bree Newsome removing the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state house. It is members of the Black Lives Matter movement blocking traffic to protest police brutality and college football players refusing to play because of campus racism.
Resistance is The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which had the audacity to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
New Orleans has had its own history of resistance. From enslaved Black people gathering in Congo Square to the 1811 Slave Revolt, one of the largest slave uprisings in U.S. history. St. James AME Church was part of the Underground Railroad and in 1892 Homer Plessy refused to move to the “colored” section on a train. Fifty years before Plessy, Henriette Delile, founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, after being rejected by two orders of nuns because of her color.
More than a decade before Rosa Parks’ historic resistance on a segregated Birmingham bus, teenager Bernice Delatte refused to give up her seat on a New Orleans bus in 1943. And while many people have heard the story of how a young Ruby Bridges became the first Black student to integrate an elementary school in the Deep South, the story of the McDonogh Three was lesser known nationwide.
In 1961, when the Freedom Riders arrived in New Orleans, they struggled to find a place to stay. Dr. Norman C. Francis, then dean of men at Xavier University, fought to allow the group to stay in the men’s dorm on campus for a week.
And when the New Orleans Police Department tried to arrest members of the Black Panther Party, residents of the Desire housing development formed a circle of protection around them.
Throughout history, New Orleans’ food and music have served as tools of resistance. For example, the legendary Chef Leah Chase used her culinary skills to feed civil rights activists on the frontlines of social justice and is said to have hosted interracial gatherings on the second floor of her restaurant.
And there are many more stories of resistance.
Our series will demonstrate the resilience of a people who not only struggled for freedom and justice but whose resistance leaves a legacy of triumph.
more from verite
Help inform our coverage as we build a newsroom for and by the people of New Orleans:
Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us by answering each question.