On a rainy day in February at the Holy Name of Jesus Christ Catholic Church, Councilmember Heather Hutt held a press conference to announce the dedication of a new cultural landmark in Los Angeles.
Said Hutt, “I’m here to introduce legislation that will declare a stretch of Jefferson [Boulevard] that goes from Tenth Avenue all the way down to Western as “New Orleans Corridor”.
The dedication is the brainchild of former Tenth District councilman Martin Ludlow, who has spearheaded the naming push in collaboration with Hutt and New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell. Three years in the making, the event is part of a larger vision that will join the two cities in the launch of an inaugural Los Angeles Jazz Festival next year, linking New Orleans and L.A. in culture and history.
“New Orleans Corridor will be a destination for people that will underscore two great migrations—one in the 1890’s and the second one was in the Jim Crow South between the 1940’s and all the way to the 70’s,
“Hutt remarked “. That stretch of time was really important because it was post slavery. Black people were in a position where they didn’t have any equity or equality. But Los Angeles was considered the new “Ellis Island”.
Hutt’s father-in-law was one of millions who travelled what is known as the “Sunset Route” to Los Angeles to escape the virulent racial violence of “Jim Crow” laws in Louisiana.
Created by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1883, the transcontinental “Sunset Route” connected New Orleans directly to California. This line, the second transcontinental connection between the Southeast and the Pacific, brought not only new commerce to the rapidly growing West and shifted migratory patterns in a way that changed the relatively new state of California.
In particular, Los Angeles’s present-day black population has creole influences that directly result from migration along this “Sunset Route,” which is now a railroad line operated by Amtrak.
Between 1940 and 1970, roughly five million Black Americans from the south migrated westward in a period known as the “Second Great Migration.” During the Great Migration, Louisiana was the second-largest source of Black migrants in Los Angeles, just behind Texas. Approximately 15,000 Creole people traded the Gulf Coast for the West Coast, settling in Los Angeles and creating the largest Creole community in the United States outside of Louisiana.
According to researcher Faustina DuCros, a professor and researcher at San José State University, Creoles settled around Catholic parishes like Holy Name of Jesus Christ Catholic Church, Transfiguration Catholic Church and St. Brigid, in neighborhoods like Jefferson Park, Leimert Park, and West Adams and along Jefferson Boulevard in a Creole stronghold that came to be known to many as “the Jefferson Connection”.
By the 1950s, the Los Angeles enclave was located in the center of the city within the larger Black concentration, with most of the businesses located on or near Jefferson Boulevard, in proximity to the intersection of Exposition Boulevard and Crenshaw Boulevard. Of the estimated 212,000 black Angelenos in 1950, DuCros reports that 18 percent were from Louisiana.
The residential settlement stretched north toward West Adams Boulevard, east toward Central Avenue, south toward the city of Inglewood, and west toward South La Brea Avenue.
Some attributed the “Jefferson Connection” to the fact that parts of New Orleans were in Jefferson Parish. But for whatever the reason, it was Jefferson Boulevard— lined with bustling Creole businesses from markets and cleaners to barbershops and beauty salons—that became the hub.
Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education member George McKenna remembers it all too well. He was one of those transplants.
“I’m a New Orleans native who saw in Los Angeles the promise of new opportunities. My early life in New Orleans shaped my approach to career, family and life,” McKenna recounts. “I migrated in the sixties to get away from the segregation of Louisiana after I received my degrees from New Orleans’ Xavier University.”
He recalls the Jefferson corridor as a place of fun and entertainment.
“I know this corridor very well,” he adds. “This [Los Angeles] became a haven for us. It wasn’t Heaven but it was an escape from the oppression of Louisiana. There were still some challenges here. There were some codes here in Los Angeles where you couldn’t buy property in certain places unless you were of a certain ethnic group.
“My own family—the McKennas—Horace McKenna ran the St. Bernard Meat Market and you could buy Louisiana hot links (the real stuff) and fish and you could buy other stuff too, but I won’t talk about that.
“Harold & Belle’s was right up the street—another Louisiana family transplanted here that has thrived right there on that corner for many years and was patronized by people from Louisiana and by other folks who discovered it.”
Harold and Belle’s was in fact opened in September of 1969 by Harold Legaux and wife Mary Belle who wanted a place where friends and family from New Orleans could gather.
Today it is run by third generation owner Ryan Legaux and his wife, Jessica, who consider the restaurant as not only “a piece of family history, but American history.”
“Creole is the only cuisine that was truly born and bred in the United States, so it means a lot to carry on that legacy,” Legaux told a reporter in 2021.
It is that history and legacy that Hutt hopes to memorialize with the dedication of New Orleans Corridor on Saturday, June 17. The naming event will involve a press conference, an official sign unveiling, a musical performance by a New Orleans-raised Grammy-Award-winning artist, remarks, appearances from key dignitaries and an open invitation to all Angelenos whose family story involves “The Great Migration” from New Orleans to Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, as well as Los Angeles Councilmembers Heather Hutt, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Curren Price, will join New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell – who herself was born in South Los Angeles – in officially naming the stretch of Jefferson Blvd in front of Holy Name of Jesus Christ Catholic Church, as “New Orleans Corridor” – creating a new cultural landmark highlighting the rich history and cultural impacts of those early migrants and their descendants on Los Angeles.
Following the ceremony, civic and community leaders will participate in a traditional “Second Line” procession during a 10-block walk from Holy Name to the iconic Harold & Belles Creole restaurant near Jefferson & Crenshaw Boulevards.
There the celebration will continue with live musical performances by multi-Grammy nominated Los Angeles super band – ‘1500 or Nothin’, Grammy nominated L.A. jazz artist, Terrace Martin and New Orleans’ own Grammy Award-winning artist, Irvin Mayfield.
Said Mayfield, “Being from a creole jazz tradition, it is only natural that the cultural implications of jazz music and the Creole community in Los Angeles, benefit and are recognized for the contributions that have shaped the music scene here. I’m grateful for the trailblazers that went before me in jazz musicianship and honored to witness and take part in such an impactful celebration of our ancestors.”
The “New Orleans Corridor” naming event will be the first, permanent Los Angeles City commemoration of this unique history and the cultural contributions of South Los Angeles’ afro-creole community.
“The story of Los Angeles must acknowledge the contributions of the many families that migrated away from the oppression in the South to new opportunities in Los Angeles,” Hutt said. “It is the quintessential American story. One that I am happy to share.”
While most of the Creole businesses that once lined Jefferson Boulevard during the 50’s and the 60’s are gone, Louisiana culture continues to influence California. There are the festivals, including an annual Mardi Gras celebration at the Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles, near the Grove shopping complex. In May, there is a Cajun and Creole Zydeco festival in Simi Valley. And in June, there’s the Long Beach Bayou and Blues Festival.
Aside from Harold & Belle’s, there’s La Louisianne, which serves up Creole food and jazz, Uncle Darrow’s in Carson, the Bayou Grille.
“Here in the West, there is such an incredible history that is yet to be told and with this dedication, this incredible story is going to come out,” said Martin Ludlow, founder and president of the Los Angeles Jazz Festival.
Taking place during on the “Juneteenth” holiday, the event will serve as a cultural precursor for the Jazz Festival, which is expected to bring 190,000 visitors from around the world to Los and provide a robust economic boost to local tourism.
For Ludlow, the history of the New Orleans culture and jazz are inextricably intertwined.
“To me, jazz is one of the purest cultural expressions of Black life and you cannot tell that story without New Orleans,” said Ludlow, whose passion it is to to bring people together through music and live events focused on telling the stories of communities of color and how we’ve evolved as a people.
“We’re going to be debuting the Los Angeles Jazz Festival in August of 2024 and what is really extraordinary about it is when you look around the world, there are 15 major international jazz festivals. They all have a couple of things in common. Number one, the genre of jazz was created in Congo Square in New Orleans. It is undeniably an African and African-American genre that has changed the face of music worldwide and it’s one of the fastest growing genres anywhere in the world.
“Most of what we think about with jazz festivals are what we see in local communities but those international jazz festivals—whether you’re in New Orleans (365,000 people) in Montreaux, Switzerland (170,000 people). In Montreal, Canada, 1.2 million people come together every year to celebrate this genre and the largest we’ve had here in L.A. is about 18,000 seats a day so with the work of everyone here and a large coalition that will bring it together, we anticipate in year one that over 190,000 people will be here, which will make it the fifth largest in the world.
The festival—which marks the first full-scale international jazz festival in the history of Los Angeles—will involve 29 days of free music events, including a Caribbean Street festival (which will feature a New Orleans Stage); concerts in public parks and performances inside local restaurants.
It will also include a youth camp, Coastal Cultural Tours which tell the story of “coastal racial push-out”, and a two-day Jazz Industry Conference.
“The culminating weekend of 29 days of jazz in Southern California will be on Dockweiler Beach. That in and of itself—when you think about Jim Crow and racial pushout—is one of the locations where Black and Brown families were denied access to as a public resource up until the 1960’s.”
Ludlow and his team secured a first-ever partnership between the City of New Orleans and the Los Angeles Creole cultural community to expand music and cultural programming for at-risk youth in Los Angeles and in New Orleans to increase awareness of the African American history which binds the two cities together.
“I’m grateful for the leadership of Los Angeles City Councilwoman Heather Hutt, Mayor Karen Bass and New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell,” Ludlow said. “They are the first elected officials in history to permanently acknowledge this intersection of history and culture.”
Said Hutt, “Post-pandemic, we need feel good moments and we also need gatherings that will remind us of our roots and that’s exactly what this will do.”