NEW ORLEANS — When Jacci Gresham blew into New Orleans roughly 40 years ago, she opened what is now the oldest tattoo shop in the city, Aart Accent Tattoos & Piercings on Rampart Street.
She was also the first black female tattoo artist in not only the city, but the entire country.
“Black people should have been in tattooing a long time ago,” she says.
Gresham’s story is one of many News with a Twist is telling as part of MLK 50, a yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.
She was 30 years old when she went to San Francisco to get her first tattoo from Ed Hardy himself. Now, she’s got “too many to count.”
Gresham moved to New Orleans from Detroit as a laid-off engineer for General Motors.
“Black people had tattoos in New Orleans, but most of the time they were hand-stuck,” she recalls. “Part of the problem is – I think – the proprietors were unfriendly to us. When you went to a studio and this biker was sitting there, you could tell he wasn’t happy doing that.”
Gresham remembers being kicked out of a bar in Chalmette because of the color of her skin, but she remained fearless in her trade. She even tattooed a member of the KKK.
“I don’t think it was hard, because I was young. I was 29 then and men like woman, so did didn’t matter,” she says.
She’s still hard at work, more than 40 years after she got her start. What’s her secret to keeping the patrons coming?
“I think people are getting smarter. Why not? You only go around once. It’s there for life. That’s the best thing about skin rather than paper, and you can’t lose it!” she says with a smile.