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The Story of the Murals

June 17, 2010

The oak trees on the North Claiborne Avenue neutral ground in February 1966. Photo: THE TIMES-PICAYUNE ARCHIVES

In the 1950s Interstate 10 was constructed over Claiborne Avenue.  The creation of this massive structure devastated one of the first free African-American communities.  This thriving business district in the Treme neighborhood was one of the wealthiest African-American neighborhoods in the city that supported many local businesses and residential homes.   The neutral ground in the middle of Claiborne Avenue held four rows of stunning live oaks.  All of this was destroyed with the construction of I-10.

Today there are several beautiful murals painted on the pillars under this section of Highway 10.  The murals are brightly colored with large images telling the history of the people who lived in the surrounding neighborhoods.  The outside pillars have large oak trees painted on them to represent the trees that once lived there.  Many of the images depict important moments of history in the fight for civil rights.  There are pictures of happy families sitting at tables covered with crawfish, corn, mushrooms, potatoes and garlic.  There are paintings of the shops owned by African Americans and pictures of Mardi Gras Indians.  The murals are there to remind people in the present day that there was a strong vibrant community that was torn apart by the building of the highway.

Paintings representing the live oaks that once lined the street. Photo: Linda Pfeiffer

Photo: Linda Pfeiffer

The murals were painted on the bridge in 2002 to represent and honor the community that part of the city used to sustain. The construction of the highway completely destroyed the market and meeting place of several of the neighborhoods in that part of town. The area under the massive highway used to be a place everyone came to meet, socialize, buy and sell goods. The construction of the highway has contributed to degradation of the surrounding neighborhoods. A large part of the community structure has been destroyed.

The neighborhoods that surround the highway are suffering.  They struggle in the same ways that neighborhoods made up of mostly minority populations are struggling all over the United States.  They have lost their sense of togetherness.   By dividing these communities, the sense of a connection with like-minded people gets cut off.   The collective goal of people who have the same needs gets diluted.  The ability to support each other and provide services is greatly disrupted.  The construction of this highway has undermined the success and progress of the African-American community in this neighborhood.  They have lost the ability to utilize the strength of a common struggle.  Their chance of finding out how they can become a part of a system, that has continuously worked against them from the start, is torn apart.

Photo: Linda Pfeiffer

Last Saturday a couple few of us visited this area of the Treme neighborhood.  We had the privilege to participate in interviews of a couple of older men who remembered the thriving community.  They shared with us their sadness of was had happened to their neighbors and friends since the construction of the highway. They spoke of a place that is unrecognizable in present day.

Photo: Linda Pfieffer

There is a call of action by different organizations to remove this section of highway to allow the communities to become one again.  Interstate 610 was built in the 1970s and is a more direct route for through traffic.  The Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) is a multi-level planning process that is attempting to coordinate community needs with governmental agencies in the recovery and rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.  The UNOP has identified that removing this unnecessary section of I-10 would have a serious impact on the community.  The complete removal of this section of highway would cause the city to gain 35 to 40 city blocks and allow for a blighted area the chance for economic prosperity once again.

Photo: Linda Pfeiffer

Photo: Linda Pfieffer

Photo: Linda Pfieffer

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 11, 2013 5:53 pm

    Thank you for posting this. A very well-written summary of what happened to that neat old neighborhood.

    To my advantage, Katrina destroyed a shopping area near the murals and there is now a terrific RV park within walking distance of everything. Visited the murals almost every morning walking my dog. First the mule stables and then the morals. I travel full time in a small motorhome, having left New York City four years ago.

    Your post made me so happy to know I will be return to NOLA again in a few years.

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