Distributed by California Newsreel, Order Dept., PO Box 2284, South Burlington, VT 05407; 877-811-7495 (toll free)
Produced by Lolis Eric Elie, Dawn Logsdon, Lucie Faulknor
Directed by Dawn Logsdon
DVD, color and b&w, 68 min.
Jr. High - Adult
African American Studies, American Studies, History
Reviewed by Patricia B. McGee, Coordinator of Media Services, Volpe Library & Media Center, Tennessee Technological University
Date Entered: 4/25/2008
A brilliant exploration of a rich and complex slice of the African-American experience, Faubourg Tremé, opens with slowly panned shots of rubble strewn streets and derelict buildings. It is, according to the narrator and co-producer journalist Lolis Eric Elie, “the New Orleans tourists rarely saw,” probably the oldest black neighborhood in America; the neighborhood that in the late nineteenth century “led a civil rights movement that changed the course of American history.” The faubourg, French for suburb, grew up around Congo Square and was racially mixed from its founding; a majority of the homeowners were African Americans. Because New Orleans allowed slaves to work and purchase their freedom, Tremé became home to the largest number of free blacks in the South.
According to John Hope Franklin, during the time directly after the Civil War, Faubourg Tremé, with its black owned daily newspaper and lively social and intellectual atmosphere, developed a “tradition of freedom and political sophistication.” New Orleans had desegregated schools and residents forced integration of the public transit system. African Americans served in the state legislature and Louisiana had a black governor. With the end of federal Reconstruction, a rigid system of racial segregation was imposed upon the citizens, black children were denied educational opportunities, and black voters were purged from the voter rolls. It was the activist residents of Tremé who brought the meticulously planned Plessy vs. Ferguson challenging the segregation of public transit. Despite being denied equal justice under the law, residents maintained a sense of identity and a vivid awareness of their African heritage that was to be reflected the development of jazz music.
The twentieth century brought many difficulties to the neighborhood: drugs, poverty, destruction of period houses through construction of an interstate highway, and the rise of dehumanizing and segregated housing projects. But even the resilient people of Faubourg Tremé may not be able to recover from the catastrophic damage of Hurricane Katrina. While Lolis Eric Elie has moved back and is rehabilitating his home, he acknowledges, “it’s Reconstruction all over again in my city and things are not going well. …Many of us fear the nation has once again abandoned us.”
Skillfully crafted from modern and contemporary footage, vintage photographs and graphics, with thoughtful narration, interviews with both the famous and the not so famous, and underlain by a rich jazz score, Faubourg Tremé is a fascinating and engrossing examination of African American history. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries, and a must have for all African American Studies programs.