Tremé is one of the oldest predominantly Black neighborhoods in America. Founded in 1763, it was the only area in New Orleans where free people of color could legally buy property.
Tremé originally was a plantation owned by the Morand family. In the late 18th century it was bought by Claude Tremé, a French hatmaker and his wife Julie Moreau, a free woman of color. The couple divided the land to sell to free people of color, according to Denise Augustine, a tour guide who grew up in Tremé. The neighborhood nurtured many of the musicians who pioneered and sustained jazz along with tradesmen, craftsmen, and entrepreneurs.
The HBO series “Tremé,” which aired for four seasons, celebrated the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, capturing some of the music, culture and character of the neighborhood.
But the Tremé of yesterday is no longer.
Urban renewal projects, including the building of Interstate I-10 in the 1960s and the creation of Armstrong Park, named after famed jazz musician Louis Armstrong, displaced hundreds of families. Further development and gentrification also affected the culture of the neighborhood. Fewer than half of the original families are still residing in Tremé.
Sabrina Mays, who is from the 7th Ward, is working to help preserve the historic legacy of Tremé. As a 17-year-old, she helped fight to save Armstrong Park.
“I don’t see Black kids out here anymore … there are no Black children in Tremé,” says Mays. “And so I say we need to be able to archive our stories so that when people talk about Tremé, there are authentic stories.”
To help preserve the Tremé culture, Mays conducts story circles where the remaining families with a long history in the neighborhood are urged to talk about the Tremé they were raised in.
“In all the interviews that I’ve done, as children, they remember the smells and the sounds of Tremé — people cooking and how they could go to anybody’s house and get something to eat and how the doors were left open. But they [remember] mainly about the rhythm, the spirit of Tremé.”
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J’Brionne Helaire is a senior mass communication major at Dillard University. She is the editor-in-chief of Dillard University’s newspaper, The Courtbouillon. Helaire has interned for The Times-Picayune,...
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