French Quarter plaque honors first black-owned newspapers in the American South

NEW ORLEANS -- Tuesday, June 19, is also known as Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States.

It was June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, to spread the word that the Civil War was over and slaves were now freed.

But three years before Juneteenth, Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez founded a publication in the French Quarter that carried the written voice of the black community to places near and far.

Roudanez's great-great grandson, historian Mark Roudané, says Dr. Roudanez was born in St. James Parish and first came to New Orleans in the 1830s. He moved to Paris to earn his medical degree and even fought in the 1848 French Revolution before returning to New Orleans and founding L'Union newspaper amid the turmoil of the Civil War.

L'Union was a bilingual paper that published three days a week and had sections in both English and French.

Two years later, in 1864, The New Orleans Tribune was formed, replacing L'Union and becoming the first black-owned daily newspaper in America.  It published 3,000 copies a day during its five-year run, reaching areas of the Deep South and even intellectual communities in France (The New Orleans Tribune that exists in New Orleans today was founded in 1985).

"They advocated for unity between Creoles of color and the newly freed and emancipated slaves," Roudané says, in addition to rights for black soldiers, integrated schools and the right to vote.

On Saturday (June 16), historians, ancestors and activists gathered at the Williams Research Center at the Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter to unveil a plaque commemorating the two newspapers and their important work.

Elizabeth Rose, president of the Louisiana Creole Association, said bringing the plaque to fruition was a six-year process.

"We worked really hard to get this building marked.  It took a long time," she said. "To be perfectly honest with you, I had to channel the ancestors to find the strength, to keep going."