The D'Anna Family

Partially revealed through the Greco chronicle, the other aspect of the D’Anna family’s narrative underscored the centrality of mutual aid societies.

 Angelo D’Anna immigrated to New Orleans from Trabia in 1883 and embedded himself within the Creole Italian culture. A few years later in 1899, Angelo received his official naturalization record as witnessed by James Smith and John Caruso. Angelo purchased his first St. Philip property in 1905, lot 519 – 521. He bought the next lot, 534 – 538, in 1910. The family retained possession of these properties until around 1930. Angelo D’Anna’s story is one closely connected to mutual aid societies. His involvement began with Dante Lodge No 174, F. & A. M. The first mention of his name in conjunction with the society is in 1891. Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of masons, thus every feast day Dante’s Lodge hosted a celebration. The New Orleans State recorded the event in great detail, the article mentioned Angelo as the secretary of the society. The New Orleans Item also reported in 1909 of a spaghetti super to initiate three new members to Dante Lodge at Messina’s restaurant, named Angelo D’Anna as secretary again. Alongside his commitment to Dante Lodge, Angelo expanded his influence towards the Cristoforo Colombo society—many articles claimed him as president of the society. In 1907 the Times-Picayune covered a Columbus Day celebration by several important Italian Societies. This celebration began at the Metairie Cemetery with the adorning of the statue of Christopher Columbus—which sits atop the Cristoforo Colombo tomb—with a laurel wreath. The “all day and all night hurrah and jollification” culminated with a ball hosted by another society. All the mutual aid societies together formed the Italian Hall Association in 1908 and purchased 1020 Esplanade as their meeting place. They proceeded to collaborate for the Italian Festival which celebrated the Italian Army’s entry into Rome, effectively uniting all of Italy on Sept. 20, 1870. This jamboree featured races of all kinds: horses, cars, and motorcycles. Angelo’s association with these societies, however, was not always of the noble kind.

Both the Times-Picayune and the New Orleans Item featured Angelo D’Anna in scandals and controversies.

In 1911, both Angelo D’Anna and Pletro di Franco faced charges of vote riggingfor the Societa Italians di Mutun Beneficenza’s election of officers. Five members petitioned the court to overturn the election results. The outcome of this accusation remains unknown as research did not discover another article regarding the incident. That same year, he faced allegations of slander. Both the New Orleans Item and the Times-Picayune covered the story. The New Orleans Item titled the article, “Asks $2,500 to Balm Wounded Feelings.” They reported the case in a succinct manner, with the heading highlighting their trivialization of the event. Meanwhile, the Times-Picayune divulged details and names, effectively painting a more complete picture. Boliossare Chiapeita filed the suit. Mutual aid societies provided numerous services, one of which included coverage of medical costs. This alleged incident occurred a year ago. Boliossare claimed an illness and visited Dr. Paul L. Reiss, the encounter resulted with a prescription. He filed a form with the society asking for coverage of the required medicine. Angelo refused the petition claiming that Boliossare was in cahoots with the doctor to con the society. The defamation charge stated that Angelo referred to him as a thief and liar. Similarly with the ballot stuffing, this case maintains an undetermined outcome. Most of the D’Anna family’s lives were not as exciting as Angelo with all of his involvement in mutual aid societies and scandals.

The story of Dorothea Battaglia D’Anna remains a blank canvas, while her children Paolo and Leonardo’s narratives exposed romances that occured on the block. Their chronicles centered around their romantic lives and were mentionedin association with the Bova family. The brief information discovered regarding those two brothers surrounded marriage. Leonardo’s revealed more detail than that of his brother. His journey to California and his struggle to become independent before he married Anna Bova documented through the census and a marriage license. The youngest brother, Clifford, departed from the narrative focuses on romance.

Clifford D’Anna has a unique and turbulent chronicle.

The articles discovered regarding Clifford, a man of medium height and build with brown eyes and dark brown hair, centered around a conviction. An arrest of Clifford occurred on October 10, 1936 claiming him a “dangerous and suspicious character.” A William Binkley, an admitted direct of the Communist Party, sat in the jail of the Third Precinct for possession of seditious literature. Clifford knew the man from business and paused his walk just outside the jail window when he observed the familiar face. He lingered long enough for a policeman to notice and question him. After admitting to knowing William, the policeman brought him inside and his Captain declared, “throw him into a dungeon.” The two cases proceeded to trial where they faced a conviction of a 25 dollar fine plus a 25 day stay in the prison, an extra five days if the fine went unpaid. On November 6, Clifford issued an appeal to reverse the judgement. His lawyers highlighted his status as a registered democrat and contended that “in order to justify a conviction under city ordinance there must have been an overt act,” an act lacking from Clifford’s behavior. By November 13, the Judge reversed and annulled the conviction stating that he was not a communist and therefore, unassociated with William Binkley—whose conviction he did not overturn. This case was a rarity and an exciting discovery. Seldom are trials covered by the newspaper this thoroughly. This is the only instance where the entire story is known from his arrest, conviction, appeal, and acquittal. Aside from this case, Clifford’s name only appeared again in his obituary. In 1964, at the age of 66, he passed away due to an illness. He graduated from Tulane and proceeded to create D’Anna Real Estate Company. Angelina Merenda became his wife and had two sons: Clifford and Gary. This is the last of the D’Annas research.

The D’Anna family’s narrative mixes together romance, through Paolo and Leonardo’s chapters, and business, highlighted by Angelo’s section, and scandal, stemming from Angelo and Clifford’s entanglements with the law.

  Angelo’s employment as an officer of a mutual aid society positioned him centrally to the Creole Italian experience. Sicilians’ immigration and settlement pattern reflect coping strategies of displaced people. The pinnacle of this strategy is the formation of mutual aid societies. These societies functioned as a benevolent brotherhoods that in exchange for a modest due, provided benefits in times of crisis such as illness, death, and unemployment—as long as the crisis was unrelated to bad habits. They also donated money to organizations that served underprivileged Sicilians like orphanages, schools, and clinics. As such, these societies preformed a vital functions to the general population. Angelo’s chronicle highlighted different facets of the mutual aid societies. Many articles discussed events, whether festivals or fundraisers, that they hosted for the general Italian population. None of his sons followed in his path of involvement in mutual aid societies, that is known. Clifford’s story recounts the beginning of the high tensions of the time period regarding communism. Most perceived it as a critical threat to freedom, the country, and their individual person. This mentality of fear led to hasty and rash decisions against neighbors, as demonstrated through Clifford’s ordeal.

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