Wendell Pierce recalls growing up in a National Historic District

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NEW ORLEANS— Nestled in Gentilly is a historic gem, and our city’s most recent nomination to the National Registry of Historic Places. The place is the neighborhood of Pontchartrain Park, and we spoke to one of it’s most acclaimed inhabitants, Wendell Pierce, about what it was like to grow up in ‘The Park.’

Pierce exclaimed, “Pontchartrain Park was like the Black Mayberry.  You could ride everywhere on your bikes, it was an adventure. Everyone knew you.  I was Mrs. Pierce’s son, Lil Amos.  It was the best childhood growing up by knowing that you were in the loving arms of a community that loved you.”

Pontchartrain Park neighborhood sign (WGNO-TV)

That community came about as a separate but equal enclave, built in the late 1950’s as a suburban-style subdivision designed to provide home ownership for middle class blacks.

“That came from that generation that created this, A.P. Tureaud. As he fought against the oppressive Jim Crow segregated law that said blacks could only have access to a beautiful green space like this one day a week in New Orleans. Wednesday was ‘negro day,’ said Pierce.

Churches of different denominations, schools, parks, and a world class golf course provided amenities not found in many neighborhoods in town.

Driving pilings to build Ponchartrain Park (Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans-Image courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library.)

What that environment bred was success from government leaders, to medical professionals, famous musicians, to the working class, all hoping to raise a family in a safe and nurturing setting.

Pierce explained, “We had across the board, men and women who showed us the best of human nature and the best of New Orleans in spite of all the difficulties that were placed in front of them. I was always taught that there are those that don’t have our best interest at heart, but we’re from Pontchartrain Park so we create and exercise our right of self-determination.”

Many thanks to the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans on submitting the National Historic District’s application through an extensive process. And also thanks to the families of Pontchartrain Park for the beautiful archive pictures, helping to tell their story.

Click here for PRC’s announcement of Pontchartrain Park neighborhood named to the National Register of Historic Places.


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