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in the city. By the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, there were over 1,000, Ms. McKenna said. They were a largely educated population who learned to read and write in their homes or were taught by nuns; often children were sent to abroad to be educated. “They were doctors, lawyers, educators, musicians, artists, crafts- men,” Heglar said. “Slaves and free people of color built many of the structures in the Vieux Carré and Tremé.” They were the early civil rights activists, Ms. McKenna empha- sizes, because even though some had managed to throw off the yokes of bondage and were no longer enslaved, free people of color still weren’t truly free. Always second-class citizens, free people of color thrived despite segregation by working hard, educating themselves and creating a strong community. Its pioneers are de- picted in paintings, documents and other artifacts throughout the museum. The museum is dedicated to the memory and spirit Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez, a physician and activist who founded the first daily black newspaper in the country in 1864. Through its editorials, the historic New Orleans Tribune, published in both English and French, was a strong voice for the oppressed, both enslaved and free. A beautiful oil painting of Dr. Roudanez was donated to the museum by renowned Haitian born artist Ulrick Jean Pierre last summer on the occasion of the paper’s sesquicen- Le Musée de f.p.c. (free people of color) at 2336 Esplanade Ave. ing the right to vote. These activists chose two delegates to take the petition to tennial celebration. Other treasures on display include an armoire and daybed by famed furniture maker Dutreuil Barjon, a man of Haitian ori- Washington, DC, where they presented it personally to President Abraham Lin- gin; a painting by Ted Ellis depicts Jordan Noble, the black drummer boy who coln. But it was still 100 years before the voting rights act was passed. led troops to battle in the Battle of New Orleans and went on to have a highly “Myths have been perpetuated about free people of color because they sell,” decorated military career; and a surviving portrait of a beautiful woman of Ayler said. “Our story is not really written and told.” Ms. McKenna’s favorite color that some attribute to Julien Hudson, a famed 19th-century artist who African proverb — one she says helped guide her in the founding of both destroyed most of his own work. It is an iconic image of the museum as a the modern day New Orleans Tribune and the museum — is, “Until the lion writes his own story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” particularly rare treasure, Ms. McKenna said. The museum is decorated like a typical middle- to upper-class family home Above all, the museum’s pieces celebrate the vast accomplishments and con- of a free family of color would have been in their golden age, which is thought tributions of this population of influential, resourceful people. McKenna and of as the 1830s and ‘40s. “By the 1850s, 10,000 free people of color had com- her husband spent 30 years accumulating the pieces before they even realized bined assets of over $15 million in New Orleans,” docent Jeanne Ayler said. a museum would someday exist. “We were interested in the material culture, “But the more power, influence and wealth they gained, the more restrictions art and documents of these people and thought it was important to own them were put in place. Between 1845 and 1848, Louisiana passed restrictive rules so as to help interpret and share, within our circle, and the broader community saying free people of color could no longer serve on boards or represent them- as well, our story,” she said. The collection survived Hurricane Katrina, and to selves in court. A 9 o’clock pm curfew was established. They had to carry pa- them that was a sign that they should open their collection to the public. They owned an 1859 Greek Revival double-gallery home at 2336 Esplanade pers showing they were free. It was an oppressive environment.” Scientist Norbert Rillieux revolutionized the sugar refining process, but had Ave. that was in desperate need of revitalization; this would be the perfect to go to Paris to get the vacuum pan he invented patented. Musician Edmond location, they decided, for Le Musée de f.p.c. “We knew this was a perfect fit Dede left New Or- for our collection. It sits here in upper Tremé, and we know people of color leans to conduct an have had a profound influence on the area. The McKenna family had resided orchestra in Bour- in Tremé and the 7th Ward for hundreds of years. And it is well documented deaux, France. that 80 percent of properties in this area have been owned by free people of And families sent color since the Spanish colonial days,” she said. their children to The extensive restoration was a start-and stop- process that took five-years France and Mexico as McKenna juggled the renovations with other responsibilities and projects. to ensure that they But the architectural elements on the façade and interior warranted special could be educated, care — today the Ionic and Corinthian porch columns, plaster medallions and and in an environ- original hardwood floors sparkle. ment where they Upon entering the foyer, visitors are met by an Ed Dwight sculpture of a manacled slave titled “Lest We Forget,” and the well-known image of en- were free. “This museum slaved cargo packed in the bowels of a ship. This solemn, provocative setting tells the story that with artifacts reminiscent of Africa and the cruelty of slavery was purpose- many of these indi- fully chosen to remind visitors that the story actually begins on the shores viduals took a stand, of west Africa. resisted the injus- Next, guests step into a front parlor filled with paintings, sculptures, pe- tices foisted upon riod furniture, framed documents and placards. Docents lead tours of the them by the ruling first floor, split into several gallery rooms, and outside to a spacious patio and class, and started beautifully landscaped garden. Le Musée de f.p.c. also holds lectures, book the early civil rights signings and other special events. It is open to tourists Friday through Sunday, movement,” Heglar or by appointment. says as she points School children often tour the museum. “I love saying to them, or people to a copy of a peti- new to the city who visit, ‘Put your hands on a building and feel the heat,’” Above: An important plum pudding mahogany armoire and day tion signed by 1,000 Heglar said. “Feel the warmth of generations of a people who sacrificed and bed fashioned in the workshop of Dutriel Barjon, a master crafts- free men of color in left their mark. Little did they know when building this building that it would man and furniture maker from Haiti. Barjon’s workshop was located in the 200 block of Royal Street mid-19th century. New Orleans seek- stand for 200 years, and that it would be a testament to their lives.” P february 2015 www.prcno.org • Preservation in Print 23