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Blake Pontchartrain: MLK in New Orleans

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made several visits to the city throughout the civil rights movement

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Hey Blake,

I enjoyed your story about the ILA Hall on South Rampart Street (Aug. 22). I have a flyer promoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the ILA auditorium on South Claiborne Avenue on Sept. 21, 1959. What can you tell me about his other appearances in New Orleans?

Dear Mark,

  The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s most important link to New Orleans is that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group he led as president, was formed here in 1957. Meetings to organize the group, which coordinated nonviolent protest activities across the South, were held at the New Zion Baptist Church at LaSalle and Third streets.

  In 1955, King led a service at Dillard University's newly-opened Lawless Memorial Chapel. Dillard's president, Albert Dent, offered King the position of chaplain, but King declined because of his work organizing a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. King returned to Dillard in 1959 to deliver the baccalaureate address.

  In 1957, King spoke at the Coliseum Arena on South Claiborne Avenue. As you mentioned, in 1959 he appeared at the International Longshoremen's Association union hall at 2700 S. Claiborne Ave. "A new baby is being born in the South, the baby of freedom and equality for all," he told the crowd. In 1961, he was scheduled to speak at the Municipal Auditorium but the South Louisiana Citizens' Council called on the city and the courts to cancel the appearance because it said King was a "trained agitator." Instead, he spoke at Union Bethel AME Church at 2321 Thalia St. According to The States-Item, he addressed the venue change saying, "You may cancel a meeting, but you can't cancel the date New Orleans and the South has with destiny."

  Any mention of King's visits must include Dooky Chase's Restaurant, where legendary chef and restaurateur Leah Chase and her late husband, Edgar "Dooky" Chase Jr. served King and other civil rights leaders, who held strategy sessions in an upstairs dining room.

  About 10 years after King's 1968 assassination, the New Orleans City Council voted to rename a street in his honor. In 1977, Melpomene Street from Baronne to S. Gayoso streets was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. His name was added from St. Charles Avenue to Baronne Street in 1989. In 1976, the city unveiled a bronze monument at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Dryades Street. Another monument featuring a bust of King was unveiled at South Claiborne Avenue and Felicity Street in 1981.


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