Tremé: Race and Place in a New Orleans Neighborhood

Tremé: Race and Place in a New Orleans Neighborhood

Tremé: Race and Place in a New Orleans Neighborhood

Tremé: Race and Place in a New Orleans Neighborhood

Synopsis

Across Rampart Street from the French Quarter, the Faubourg Trem neighborhood is arguably the most important location for African American culture in New Orleans. Closely associated with traditional jazz and "second line" parading, Trem is now the setting for an eponymous television series created by David Simon (best known for his work on The Wire). Michael Crutcher argues that Trem's story is essentially spatial--a story of how neighborhood boundaries are drawn and take on meaning and of how places within neighborhoods are made and unmade by people and politics. Trem has long been sealed off from more prominent parts of the city, originally by the fortified walls that gave Rampart Street its name, and so has become a refuge for less powerful New Orleanians. This notion of Trem as a safe haven--the flipside of its reputation as a "neglected" place--has been essential to its role as a cultural incubator, Crutcher argues, from the antebellum slave dances in Congo Square to jazz pickup sessions at Joe's Cozy Corner. Trem takes up a wide range of issues in urban life, including highway construction, gentrification, and the role of public architecture in sustaining collective memory. Equally sensitive both to black-white relations and to differences within the African American community, it is a vivid evocation of one of America's most distinctive places.

Excerpt

In the summer of 1992, prior to my senior year at the University of Kentucky, I found myself in Baton Rouge on the campus of Louisiana State University. I was participating in a program, sponsored by the Association of American Geographers, designed to encourage “talented minority and disadvantaged students” to pursue graduate degrees in geography. As in most academic disciplines, geography faculties have been overwhelmingly white and predominantly male. In some fields, however, such as sociology, social work, and education, African Americans have a significant faculty presence. Geography—and in particular, cultural geography—not only lags those fields in terms of African American faculty representation but is burdened by a disciplinary history that has supported racist science, policies, and practices, most notably in its contributions to the philosophy of environmental determinism. The importance of those issues has been magnified as human geography and other social science and humanities fields have become increasingly “critical” (that is, engaged in lines of inquiry into the production and reproduction of various inequalities, such as race, class, and gender/sexuality). Consequently, geographers have sought to increase the field’s diversity since the 1970s. The summer institute program of the 1990s was one such effort.

While my participation in the summer program steered me toward a career in academia and eventually an interest in New Orleans, the basis for my critical approach to urban issues comes from my upbringing. I grew up during the 1970s and 1980s in a lower-middle-class black family in Lexington, Kentucky. Although Lexington had fewer than 250,000 people, it was clearly urban, especially when compared to the surrounding counties. The city’s racial geographies were plainly visible; African Americans lived almost exclusively on the north side of town. Indeed, “the North Side” was a local metaphor for black population in the same way that “urban” is now a metaphor for blackness. In Lexington, I observed racialized spatial practices in action on a daily basis, most visibly in residential segregation and public school busing.

I experienced this de facto segregated experience largely from the outside because I did not live on the North Side or attend black schools. Occasional trips to the barbershop and various Baptist churches were the extent of my . . .

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