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New Orleans close to finalizing several Black Catholic street renamings

New Orleans' City Council Street Renaming Commission has given its final recommendations for replacing racist figures enshrined in the city's public works.

New Orleans’ plan to rename various public spaces is nearing completion, and the slight changes from the original suggestions leave no shortage of Black Catholics still set to receive boulevards.

The final recommendations from the renaming commission (CCSRC) were announced last week, and will soon be voted on by the city council.

The plans cover 34 streets and 3 parks across the nation’s Black Catholic mecca, and concern those named after various flavors of White Supremacists (from Confederates to their donors to segregationists).

Though various plans were debated, and a few rebuffed entirely (including an eye-popping proposal to change one street to two different new names, depending on the racial makeup of the neighborhood), virtually all of the Black Catholics renamings originally suggested are still on the slate.

These include a number of deceased figures, including Reconstruction-era activist Louis A. Martinet, Civil Rights attorneys Lolis Elie, Sr. and Nils R. Douglas, musicians Henry James "Red" Allen and Dolly Adams, and the enslaved African-Spanish activist Juan San Malo.

Two other such Black honorees, musician Allen Toussaint and educator Morris F.X. Jeff Sr, were raised Catholic but appear to have converted to other Christian faiths.

Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle is the only living person nominated to receive a street, and is a Black Catholic himself. (He recently threw the ceremonial first pitch at XULA’s first baseball game in 60 years.)

The sole (and quite notable) omission from the original plan is the late Leah Chase, the pioneering chef who brought Black New Orleans cuisine into the mainstream of the culinary world.

She was suggested to receive perhaps the most prominent renaming honor, that of Lee Circle in the city’s business district, which had its statue of Robert E. Lee removed by the city in May 2017.

The commission instead ended up recommending the name “Égalité Circle”, in honor of the city’s French and Haitian (revolutionary) heritage.

Though most or all of the street renamings faced fierce opposition during the public comments phase of the commission meetings, a major factor in the Circle decision was that Chase’s name may soon be placed on all or part of Orleans Ave, which runs through her neighborhood—the oldest Black one in the country—and on which her restaurant remains.

That decision would come from the city council itself rather than the CCSRC, in like manner as the renaming of Jefferson Davis Parkway to Norman C. Francis Parkway earlier this year.

It would appear that, whatever the outcome of that process and the upcoming city council vote, chances are good that the chancery will be pleased.

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).