Times don’t change, just the merchandise.
Sarah Graves, Federal Writers’ Project Slave Narrative
On a sunny summer day early in the twenty-first century, trains on the Norfolk Southern line rattle from the freight yards above St. Claude Avenue down Press Street toward the river. Along the levee, the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad runs between oil tankers and warehouses, passing the front porch of the meticulously restored Lombard Plantation—“one of the best-preserved West Indian-style Creole residences in the state”—featured in an 1882 Scribner’s article by Lafcadio Hearn on the scenes of George Washington Cable’s “romances.”1 The Desire streetcar line has come and gone, the sweep of its tracks still visible in the asphalt. The fields where sugarcane grew in the 1700s and 1800s have been replaced by shotgun houses, bars, Catholic churches, and public schools that saw bitter struggles over desegregation when Plessy was reversed in 1954. In 1960, white students marched down St. Claude bearing the Confederate flag, singing “Glory, Glory Segregation” to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic to protest the integration of what was the all-white Francis T. Nicholls High (named for a Confederate soldier), which became the almost all-black Frederick Douglass.2
Cruise ship passengers standing at the rails of their gleaming vessels gaze out across the city blocks spread below them. As they travel slowly toward Caribbean destinations, they get a glimpse of the Chalmette Battlefield, a scene from the War of 1812, fought against a backdrop of cane fields, slave cabins, and big houses with carefully landscaped gardens.3 Today, the site is marked by an imposing stone obelisk. A cemetery containing the graves of