"Rampart Street in New Orleans Town/ Known to Everyone for Miles Around": Black Girls and Street Harassment

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:20 PM
Washington Room 4 (Marriott Wardman Park)
LaKisha Michelle Simmons, University at Buffalo (State University of New York)
For black girls growing up in segregated New Orleans, Rampart “was known to be a street where you could get meddled.” But, it was best known as a black entertainment area with restaurants, bars, and a thriving nightlife. Peter Dave described Rampart of the 1940s: “[Soldiers] would migrate on Rampart Street because that’s where all the prostitutes were and gambling joints was, for black people.  Canal and Rampart was a central location…” The image of Rampart as a geography of black leisure has been immortalized in popular music such as Ida Cox’s “Blues for Rampart Street” (1923) and Louis Jordan’s “Saturday Night Fish Fry” (1947). Cox claimed Rampart for black New Orleanians:

Rampart Street in New Orleans town,

Known to everyone for miles around.

Colored music and real jazz bands,

That’s the best spot in all the land.

But Rampart was not just a leisure district; important black institutions were also located on the street, such as the city’s only colored public high school.  Black girls, then, had to navigate Rampart despite threats of street harassment.  This paper argues that black girls’ movement along Rampart Street illustrates the development of a gendered and classed sense of place. Once schoolgirls got to Rampart Street, the black men working, playing and living on the road made the girls’ class distinctions even clearer by marking their bodies as unpolluted from vice and worthy of protection.