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New Orleans city council renames two parks, street after Black Catholics

Pioneers in jazz, rock and roll, and New Orleans public recreation are the first to be honored by Crescent City legislators' renaming commission.

As part of the New Orleans city council’s plan to rename nearly three dozen public spaces after unproblematic local pioneers, three parks and a street have been renamed today—three of which will involve Black Catholics.

The unanimous decisions came today during the council’s regular meeting, after a promising online forum conducted in late May.

Behrman Park in the city’s Algiers neighborhood, formerly named after a segregationist mayor from the early 21st century, will become Morris F.X. Jeff Sr. Park—in honor of the pioneering recreation official who helped create safe and equitable public spaces for the city’s sizable Black population.

The “F.X.” in his name, of course, stands for St Francis Xavier, and Jeff is buried in one of the city’s famed St. Louis Catholic cemeteries, having passed in 1993.

Palmer Park, named after an influential secessionist and minister from the late 19th century, becomes Marsalis Harmony Park, named after jazz great Ellis Marsalis Jr. and less than a mile from the Uptown parish where his wife Dolores was funeralized in 2017.

Ellis died from COVID-19 early last year.

Additionally, Caffin Avenue in the city’s Lower 9th Ward is to be named after Fats Domino, the Catholic-raised rock and roll legend who lived on the street for most of his life—including, famously, during Hurricane Katrina.

Domino passed in 2017 as well, and his former home is now a historic landmark. (The Josephite parish with which his family was associated, St David’s, is located around the corner.)

Most of the remaining renamings on the city’s list are streets, which will take longer to come to fruition due to various logistical and community-related concerns.

The Fats Domino thoroughfare, which will officially arrive on the first of next year, was decided via an independent process, as the street in question was not named after a racist. (A similar process resulted in the Norman C. Francis Parkway on the first of this year.)

It is not yet clear when the larger process of change will be completed.

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

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