Plessy & Ferguson Foundation leads effort for historic recognition
NEW ORLEANS—The Plessy & Foundation seeks to showcase places that reflect the full tapestry of New Orleans history and culture.
“We are very proud to be unveiling this state historic plaque honoring the Pythian Building,” says Plessy & Ferguson co-founder Pastor Brenda Billips Square. “The building was built by an African American organization in 1908 during the height of the Jim Crow era of segregation, and that’s incredible enough, but the fact that it became so central to the city’s African American community makes it vitally significant to New Orleans history.”
The Plessy & Ferguson Foundation will unveil the plaque, which officially recognizes the Pythian Building as a historic landmark by the Louisiana Office of the Lieutenant Governor—Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, on April 6, at 4:30 pm. The unveiling ceremony will take place at Duncan Plaza, across the street from the Pythian Building (234 Loyola Avenue) and feature members of the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation; civil rights pioneer A.P. Tureaud Jr. ; New Orleans City Council-member LaToya Cantrell; Council-member-At-Large Jason Williams and civil rights activist Dodie Smith-Simons.
Under the leadership of S.W. Green, a formerly enslaved man and a self-made millionaire, the Colored Knights of the Pythias of Louisiana (officially known as the The Grand Lodge Knights of Pythias of Louisiana. Jurisdiction: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia) commissioned the Pythian’s construction in 1908. Reporting on the building’s dedication ceremony in 1909, the Times Picayune described it as “the biggest enterprise ever attempted by the colored race of the United States.”
During its heyday, the Pythian Temple—called so because it was the order’s official headquarters—hosted a number of African American businesses such as Green’s Liberty Independent Life Insurance company (Homer Plessy was an employee), a bank, the Negro Board of Trade and the Louisiana Weekly newspaper; a theater, which hosted a number local and traveling theater troupes; and a rooftop garden music venue, which featured a number of jazz legends including Louis Armstrong and Manuel Perez.
Square says this is the fourth state historical marker sponsored by the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation, and that part of the foundation’s mission to identify and mark significant moments in New Orleans civil rights history that have been lost, distorted, or ignored.