CHALMETTE, LOUISIANA– Technology is a sign of our race to the future. It can be also be used to help get a closer look at our past.
Chalmette Battlefield is but a quiet memory of struggle between Brittish forces and the might of troops commanded by Brevet Major General Andrew Jackson. However, the fields of grass inside what is now a National Historic Park were witness to more conflict than just the Battle of New Orleans.
In 1963 the government took possession of the land in order to expand the territory from the cemetery to the battlefield. In order to accomplish this task, a community was displaced; the town of Fazendeville.
Prior to that, Fazendeville had existed for over a hundred years. In 1857, Jean Pierre Fazende, a free man of color inherited a plot of land, after the civil war and divided it by selling the pieces to newly freed slaves. Pecan trees, a church, and 50 black families were uprooted. During this time there were many cases of black towns being moved and many recognize it as an effort to keep blacks from voting and school districts at a time when the country was at the precipice of desegregation.
John Seefeldt is a professor at Loyola University of New Orleans and says, “you know these things were happening during this period of American history. The government was actively breaking up black communities. I just didn’t know the individual human stories.”
Over the past year, a group of researchers across different fields of study Loyola has been working along with the National Park Service to build a model of the town using 3d printing, by examining archival photos and maps. The 3d model is part of an overall effort to preserve the memory of Fazendeville and includes interviews of the town descendants.
Members of the team are John Seefeldt (design, 3D modeling & fabrication), Kelly McMahon (3D modeling assistant), Stanley Yavneh Klos & Dr. Naomi Yavney Klos (research and source material & support), Michael D. Pashkevich (research assistant).
The project is funded and supported by Loyola University New Orleans’ University Honors Program & Department of Design.
“We ended up with folders and folders of these compelling digital photographs, of old maps and aerial photographs as well as surveying photographs that the National Guard took, trying to build a case to tear it down,” says Seefeldt. Seefeldt says that many of the photographs were of the back of houses and suspects that the goal was to misrepresent what was small community and show it as a shanty town that was not worth preserving.
Many of the Fahzendville community relocated to the 9th ward in New Orleans and attend Battleground Baptist Church, a church that started in Fazendeville 151 years ago. “Reverend Williams Gant was the pastor of the church and we would get baptized in the river,” says ex Fazendeville resident and church member, Rosemary Bernard. I remember my grandmother talking about how the church was finished in 1927 and they had to start all over again,” says Eloise Cager Brookes, a church member, and historian.
The overall goal of the researchers is to one day have an interactive exhibit at the Chalmette Battlefield, showing the legacy of the town and John Seefeldt says, “the wonderful thing about having this 3d model is that we can essentially build things like virtual reality apps where people can walk up and put their phone to their eyes and see an actual overlay of the town sitting in front of them.”