I tried out a new assignment this spring for my students in the History of New Orleans class that I teach at Loyola University New Orleans. Since this is a popular 200-level course that students from across our institution take, I wanted to make sure that I designed something that not only everyone could complete successfully, but also feel as though they learned something about both method and interpretation. Keeping this goal in mind, oftentimes the motto is “less is more,” and certainly this was the case.
I decided that I would get my students to collectively map the sort of real estate advertised in the city of New Orleans upon the segregated basis, a practice common until the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made such discriminatory advertising language illegal. Simply teaching students how to get into a historical newspaper database often provides them with a new skill they didn’t know they had, but then pointing out the everydayness of segregated language in midcentury print culture opens eyes a bit wider.
Their task was to find five properties advertised in the Times-Picayune either for rent or for sale between 1946 and 1952 to a “colored only” audience and then to collectively use a Google Map to plot this data spatially. I assigned each student a month from which they could randomly select a date, although I told them (since print newspapers themselves are an alien landscape) that they should consider looking at the Thursday paper, the week’s fattest and fullest of advertising in that era. Using the instruction video to walk them through the process, students had no trouble finding these advertisements. Likewise, with few exceptions, they were able to place the data on Google Maps, although most had surprisingly never used the custom map option.
Students not only enjoyed taking part in “making” something – the idea that they all had made contributions to an exercise that yielded discernible conclusions was satisfying for me and them. It opened up some good conversations about the options of black veterans, as several found ads that spoke directly to this audience. It also made them think about the postwar landscape of New Orleans, something we don’t really emphasize in local history but one with which they engage in ways that I think they had not before considered.
Clusters of settlement emerge in places that, in retrospect, make a great deal of sense. The Ninth Ward, Seventh Ward, Gert Town, and the then-developing areas around Leonidas and the part of Hollygrove above what is today Airhart Expressway but was then part of the Illinois Central railroad line stand out, but none more than the significant cluster of homes located in Central City. While discussing an article by Bala Batiste about the first Black New Orleans disc jockey, Vernon Winslow, we considered the cultural significance of the Dew Drop Inn, and it occurred to me that we should add it to our map.
(Map key: Yellow = houses for sale, Blue= houses for rent.) Each pin contains the text of the advertisement.)
Indeed, the clear migration of new people to Central City speaks to an era of postwar cultural vibrancy and the birth of New Orleans R&B, something that played out in significant ways on the stage at the Dew Drop.