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Black Catholic Boulevards: Confederate memorials give way in the Crescent City

A slew of streets and monuments in New Orleans are up for renaming. As could be expected, Black Catholics feature prominently in the new choices.

A litany of streets in New Orleans could soon be renamed after Black Catholics.

On Tuesday, November 24th, the City Council Street Renaming Commission (CCSRC) officially voted on changes to a number of streets named after figures connected to the Confederacy.

They met again yesterday to discuss a handful of the recommendations, and a final report will be issued after a public meeting later this month.

Discussions included the regular suspects, but also some perhaps unexpected faces—including Saint Louis, King of France, who, though not a Confederate, may be up for removal in a future round of renamings. (From the street signs, not the nearby parish or 226-year-old cathedral downtown.)

The current slate of changes includes renaming Robert E. Lee Boulevard after famed Black Catholic jazz musician Allen Toussaint (d. 2015), and renaming Lee Circle—a different monument across town—after Leah Chase, a legendary chef whose funeral Mass last year was held at historic St. Peter Claver Catholic Church.

Tulane Avenue, named after a major Confederate donor, is slated to be renamed after revolutionary Mardis Gras Indian Allison "Tootie" Montana, a regular parishioner at St Augustine Church, the oldest Black Catholic parish in America.

Other prominent Black Catholics up for consideration are Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle (the only living candidate), attorney Lolis Elie, Sr., trumpeter Henry James "Red" Allen, pianist Dolly Adams, Morris F.X. Jeff Sr., and Juan San Malo.

The commission was formed in June following the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests across the country—which eventually began to target monuments to racists and terrorists from (and often sponsored/protected by) the White community.

The #TakeEmDownNOLA movement, however, which in many ways has spearheaded local efforts, dates back to 2015, when a petition for a Toussaint renaming garnered over 13,500 signatures—that time for Lee Circle.

The city is peppered with such monuments—including streets, statues, parks, schools, and a major university—many of which have been listed on the CCSRC website.

Apart from the CCSRC, the City Council already approved one such change—the renaming of Jefferson Davis Parkway after legendary Black Catholic educator (and longtime XULA president) Norman Francis—brother of Bishop Joseph Francis.

That change is due to go into effect on New Year's Day.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder of Black Catholic Messenger, a priesthood applicant with the Josephites, and a ThM student w/ the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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