The Friends of the Cabildo Oral History Program Begins

Since 1972, the Friends of the Cabildo has recorded hundreds of interviews with New Orleans citizens, including numerous members of the local preservation and history communities. 

The Friends of the Cabildo (FOC), a non-profit organization incorporated in 1956, provides financial and volunteer support to the Louisiana State Museum.¹ In 1972, FOC board member Dorothy Schlesinger created an oral history program with the aim of gathering and preserving the history of New Orleans. Her inspiration was local author Grace King, who wrote about her grandmother’s recollections of the American Revolution in her 1932 memoir, Memories of a Southern Woman of Letters.² Schlesinger hoped to capture memories of earlier life in New Orleans before those who remembered it were gone. She chose oral histories as her medium because “[t]he sound of the voices,” she said, “contributes so much to the history and the way the story is told.”³ Her first interview subject was Martha Gilmore Robinson, a grande dame of the preservation community. 

Since then, the program has gathered over five hundred oral histories that cover a wide range of topics, from civil rights to Carnival to Storyville and jazz. Preservation-related stories include the battles to preserve historic neighborhoods such as the Vieux Carré, Faubourg Marigny, and Tremé; plantation life; the Vieux Carré Commission; Creole customs; and the Louisiana Landmarks Society. Among the participants are historian and author Leonard Huber, Vieux Carré activist Mary Meek Morrison, preservation architect and educator Eugene D. Cizek, and preservation architect and author Samuel Wilson Jr.⁴ In 1997, Schlesinger and FOC member Dorothy Mahan edited a new directory of the collection for public access.⁵ This valuable resource is maintained in hard copy at the Louisiana State Museum Collections Historical Center and Tulane University’s Louisiana Research Collection, and is also available digitally on the New Orleans Public Library’s website. The interviews themselves, which are recorded on cassette tapes, are available for listening at the New Orleans Public Library’s Louisiana Division at 219 Loyola Avenue.

 

1. Friends of the Cabildo, "About Our Members."

2. Millie Ball, “Reminiscences of an Earlier N. O. Preserved in Cabildo Tapes,” Times-Picayune, September 5, 1976.

3. Ibid.

4. New Orleans Public Library, “Friends of the Cabildo Oral History Program: Directory.” 

5. Library of Congress American Folklife Center, “The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories.”

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