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December 7, 2022 / Jim Fenton

Civil Rights Journey Day 2: Exploring the French Quarter

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

With the official part of our tour beginning at 3 pm, we had much of the day to explore the French Quarter of New Orleans on our own. We met up with our friends Liz and Peter and started at Café du Monde for their traditional breakfast of beignets and coffee. Beignets are fried choux pastries with piles, and I mean piles, of powdered sugar on top. While we were eating, a brass band assembled on the sidewalk next to the Café and started playing. They were very good, a classic New Orleans moment.

The four of us headed over to the nearby Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve Visitor Center. We got there in time for their 10 am talk. It began with an interesting discussion of the Acadian expulsion from the Canadian Maritimes, and subsequent arrival of many of them in the New Orleans area. This was followed by a talk we were less interested in, discussing medicinal properties of native plants. Afterwards we enjoyed a number of interesting exhibits in the visitor center.

While we were listening to the talks, Liz and Peter went through the Louisiana state museum in The Cabildo, a notable building next to the iconic St. Louis Cathedral. This is the location where the Louisiana Purchase was signed. We understand admission was $10, and not necessarily worth the cost.

We met up with Liz and Peter again for lunch. We had planned to get muffuletta sandwiches, but weren’t sure where to get them since the traditional place, Central Grocery and Deli, was closed due to damage from Hurricane Ida. We found a place in the French Market, Alberto’s, that had good muffulettas but perhaps not quite as rich in olives as those at Central Grocery.

After lunch, we all went to the Historic New Orleans Collection museum on Royal Street near our hotel. Admission was free, and there was plenty to see. Visiting this museum helped us better follow the series of events as control of New Orleans passed from France to Spain, back to France, and finally to the United States. Definitely worth the visit.

At 3 pm our tour officially started. We gathered in a conference room of the hotel for introductions and a brief orientation. We then walked north to Congo Square, just outside the French Quarter. Congo Square was the location where slaves who might be given a Sunday off (due to the strong Roman Catholic influence in the area) would gather, dance and sing, and trade wares. We met up with Luther Gray and Jamilah Peters-Muhammad of the Congo Square Preservation Society who told us of the considerable history of the Square. They taught us drumming and dancing in the traditional style, or at least as close as we could come to that.

We were then met by Erin, an official New Orleans tour guide, who led us on a whirlwind walking tour of some of the French Quarter. Erin had a lot of information, and talked fast to get as much of it to us as possible.

After a few minutes to get cleaned up, the group walked to Galatoire’s, a well known (and fancy) restaurant in the French Quarter. Our group had a private room and a selection of menu items to choose from. I had to try the turtle soup, which resembled a thin chili and was very tasty. My fish entrée and Kenna’s crab hollandaise were both quite good.

This article is part of a series about our recent travels to the US South. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

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