Some Sources on People of Color at Tulane’s Louisiana Research Collection

Louisiana Research Center, Tulane University

Louisiana Research Center, Tulane University

It has been some time since we have highlighted a research repository on the blog. So, in the spirit of the New Year we present to you an overview of the Louisiana Research Center at Tulane University. The Louisiana Research Center (LaRC) is located on the second floor of the imposing and impressive Joseph Merrick Jones Hall on Freret Street. The LaRC traces its history to an 1889 donated letter written by Thomas Jefferson to a M. du Plantier regarding the land holdings of the Marquis de la Fayette. This letter was donated to the Howard Memorial Library, which was merged with Tulane’s Tilton Memorial Library and the Newcomb College Library in 1938 to become the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library. In its more than century-long existence, LaRC has become the largest center for research on New Orleans and the second largest for Louisiana, after the Hill Memorial Library at LSU. According to the center’s website its collection strengths are art, business, Carnival, the Civil War, Jewish studies, LGBT studies, Louisiana politics, medicine, social welfare, literature, waterways, and women’s studies.

While not listed among the center’s strengths, it contains many holdings of value to researchers of Louisiana’s African American history. There are a few collections such as the St. Rosalie Plantation Papers and the Meullion Papers which are identified in their finding aids as being created by or focusing on persons of color. The former, for example, contains the ledger book (1840-68) of an antebellum plantation owned by free man of color Andrew Durnford in Iberville Parish; while the latter contains legal and business papers spanning seventy years related to the family of Jean-Baptiste Meullion of St. Landry Parish.

The vast majority of the information related to African Americans is to be found among disparate collections. The largest groups of material would be the Judge Minor Wisdom Collection and the large Rosemond and Emile Kuntz Collection. Both of these collections were amassed by Louisianans who were antiquarians, collectors, and lovers of Louisiana history. They contain several hundred items related to slaves and free people of color including bills of sale, estate documents, correspondence, tax receipts, and licenses, etc. Finding aids are available for both of these collections. The Slavery Records Collection, an artificial one, contains several records of manumission for free people of color. The Lemann Family Papers contains ledger books and pay registers for plantations which the Bernard Lemann family operated along Bayou Lafourche, namely Palo Alto, Souvenir, and Peytavin plantations.

The LaRC’s Vertical Files contain a wide range of ephemera and other printed material, including constitution and by-laws books for several benevolent, social, and mutual aid organizations.  The records of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana contain material related to St. Luke’s Parish, the city’s historically black Episcopal parish, and the Gaudet Normal and Industrial School, founded by Mrs. Frances Gaudet in 1905. There is also a small separate collection related to St. Luke’s. The Albert Wicker Papers document the family life and career of the longtime educator who served as principal of the Bienville School, which was renamed in his honor. His papers also include material on the Société des Jeunes Amis, a popular benevolent society, and the historic St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Médard Nelson School collection contains the school rolls and some correspondence for the private school run in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by colored Creole schoolmaster Médard Hilaire Nelson.

The Southern Writers Collection contains a letter written in French to William Beer, librarian of the Howard Memorial Library by educator and writer Paul Trevigne in 1902. Beer had written to Trevigne and perhaps other older residents about the literary tastes of New Orleanians in the antebellum years. Trevigne was the former editor of L’Union and La Tribune de la Nouvelle-Orleans. LaRC also has several compositions by Victor-Eugene Macarty, which seemingly were collected by Beer during the same period as the Trevigne letter. Beer was a passionate bibliophile with a strong interest in Louisiana material, including that of its writers and composers of color. There is a variety of interesting pamphlets and books which relate to Louisianans of color, many of which exist in only one or a few copies. An interesting example is a pamphlet titled Infamous Personal Record of Walter L. Cohen and J. Madison Vance, Jr. (ca. 1910) which was used as propaganda to attack black politicians Walter L. Cohen and James Madison Vance, Jr. in the early twentieth century.

LaRC has copies of the Woods Directories (1912-1913), a business and business leaders directory for black New Orleans published by Allen T. Woods, which contains advertisements and photographs of scores of black businesses and business leaders. In a similar vein, there is Colored New Orleans: High Points of Negro Endeavor (1922), which was a business and social directory published by the Colored Civic League, and likewise contains listings and pictures of several residences, churches, and businesses of black New Orleanians. From 1911, there is a Souvenir Carnival Guide which is labeled as “containing places of interest to colored visitors, with portraits of the leading colored institutions of New Orleans.” The collection includes three works by educator Archie E. Perkins, including his well-known biographical dictionary, Who’s Who in Colored Louisiana (1930) and his Genealogy of the Perkins Family, perhaps one of the earliest published black genealogies.

The sources listed above are meant to provide a glimpse into the holdings of the Louisiana Research Collection as they relate to persons of color. There is more material which likely could be gleaned from many of the collection’s holdings, though these mentioned have stricken the writer as being particularly interesting and representative of the types of records available. This post is also intended to stress to researchers the need for consulting a diverse array of repositories when conducting research.

Content contributed by Jari C. L. Honora

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