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Blake Pontchartrain: Central City street names

Oretha Castle Haley, Robert C. Blakes Sr., and the Rev. John C. Raphael


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Hey Blake,

I work in Central City and am curious about the names of three streets there. Who were Oretha Castle Haley, Robert C. Blakes Sr. and Rev. John Raphael?

Dear reader,

  Oretha Castle moved to New Orleans from Tennessee in 1947, when she was 7 years old. She became involved in the civil rights movement by picketing Canal Street department stores and participating in sit-ins at segregated cafeterias. She later co-founded the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and served as its president from 1961 to 1964. In 1967 she married Richard Haley, who became an attorney for CORE. Oretha was arrested several times for taking part in protests, including a march on City Hall at which police carried her out of the building on a chair. She also was one of the leaders of a lawsuit that helped end racial discrimination at Charity Hospital. She helped organize political campaigns, including one for Dorothy Mae Taylor, the first African-American woman to be elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives. After Oretha died in 1987, Taylor led the effort to rename the first eight blocks of Dryades Street in her honor. The change was made official in 1989.

  The City Council's decision in 2015 to rename sections of streets after Robert C. Blakes Sr. and John C. Raphael Jr., both Central City pastors, was more controversial. There was debate over the decision, partly because it went against a city ordinance that says those honored through the naming of streets must be deceased for at least five years. The ministers had died just two years earlier in 2013. Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Planning Commission supported the change, which eventually was approved by a 4-3 council vote. Carondelet Street between Felicity and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. was renamed Robert C. Blakes Sr. Drive. LaSalle Street between Earhart Boulevard and Simon Bolivar Avenue was renamed Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way.

  Blakes, known as "the Prophet," became pastor of New Home Missionary Baptist Church on Jackson Avenue in 1965. In the 1970s, he founded New Home Ministries in a former synagogue on Carondelet Street. By 2000, his congregation had grown to 7,000 and the ministry expanded as far as Houston.

  Raphael spent 14 years as a New Orleans Police officer before becoming pastor of New Hope Baptist Church. He was well-known for his vigils and fasting against violence as well as his walking ministry in which he personally confronted young men and warned them to turn away from a life of violence.


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