In my 1987 book “The Mayor of New Orleans: Just Talking Jazz,” two fictional characters argue about whether New Orleans is an auditory or visual culture. As the author, I could enjoy the argument, knowing that our city is both — as beautiful as our flowering pink crepe myrtles along the avenues or dazzling Mardi Gras Indians emerging through green-slatted blind doors and as musical as vegetable truck singers or the announcement of noontime by factory whistles and church bells.

I cherished childhood afternoons of hearing opera singer Debra Brown rehearse with her long porch windows open and then seeing her emerge, silk-encased, from her house for an event. Our neighborhood diva. New Orleans culture is so rich, I have been compelled to write about it. But, let me not continue with my descriptions, I want to look at books that show how beautiful we are.

Freedom’s Dance: Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans” by Karen Celestan and Eric Waters is a coffee-table-sized book of photographs with text that incorporates the elegance and uplift of the people we know as our neighbors. The second-line clubs, many of which took inspiration from the 19th-century mutual aid movement during Reconstruction, are all around us. No matter how you feel about the traffic, you know that this tradition in these times provides joy and beauty as evident in the LSU Press volume.

Picturing Black New Orleans: A Creole Photographer’s View of the Early Twentieth Century” by Arthé A. Anthony shows images of our local citizens at their best in the photo studio of Florestine Perrault Collins (1895-1988). The book, which arrived on my desk in hardcover in 2012, has taken on a new life in paperback from the University of Florida Press. Perrault’s work is particularly relevant now that the mainstream is taking a greater interest in the identities of Black Americans.


New Orleans: Then and Now” by Lester Sullivan, the deceased longtime archivist at Xavier University of Louisiana was an early volume celebrating the city’s memorable cityscapes. It was further enhanced by Sullivan’s knowledge of history.

The book pictures several locations that played important roles in past events — like the Mechanics Institute. That building was the site of a voting rights convention in 1866 where many Black people were killed by a rioting mob of policemen and white supremacist citizens. This is not a beautiful memory, but an important archival photo, among many gentler ones, that you should experience. The building is now occupied by the Roosevelt Hotel, 130 Roosevelt Way, in case you want to pass by and say a prayer.

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Fatima Shaik is the author of seven books including "Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood," the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities 2022 Book of the Year. She is a native of...