New Orleans (, , or ; ) is a major United States port and the largest city and metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana. The population of the city was 343,829 as of the 2010 U.S. Census. The New Orleans metropolitan area (New Orleans–Metairie–Kenner Metropolitan Statistical Area) had a population of 1,167,764 in 2010 and was the 46th largest in the United States. The New Orleans–Metairie–Bogalusa Combined Statistical Area, a larger trading area, had a 2010 population of 1,452,502.
The city is named after the Duke of Orleans, who reigned as Regent for Louis XV from 1715 to 1723, as it was established by French colonists and strongly influenced by their European culture. It is well known for its distinct French and Spanish Creole architecture, as well as its cross-cultural and multilingual heritage. New Orleans is also famous for its cuisine, music (particularly as the birthplace of jazz), and its annual celebrations and festivals, most notably Mardi Gras, dating to French colonial times. The city is often referred to as the "most unique" in the United States.
New Orleans is located in southeastern Louisiana, straddling the Mississippi River. The city and Orleans Parish are . The city and parish are bounded by the parishes of St. Tammany to the north, St. Bernard to the east, Plaquemines to the south, and Jefferson to the south and west. Lake Pontchartrain, part of which is included in the city limits, lies to the north and Lake Borgne lies to the east.
Beginnings through the 19th century
La Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans) was founded May 7, 1718, by the French Mississippi Company, under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, on land inhabited by the Chitimacha. It was named for Philippe d'Orléans, Duke of Orléans, who was Regent of the Kingdom of France at the time. His title came from the French city of Orléans.
The French colony was ceded to the Spanish Empire in the Treaty of Paris (1763). During the American Revolutionary War, New Orleans was an important port for smuggling aid to the rebels, transporting military equipment and supplies up the Mississippi River. Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez successfully launched a southern campaign against the British from the city in 1779. New Orleans remained under Spanish control until 1801, when it reverted briefly to French oversight. Nearly all of the surviving 18th-century architecture of the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) dates from the Spanish period, the most notable exception being the Old Ursuline Convent.
Napoleon sold Louisiana (New France) to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Thereafter, the city grew rapidly with influxes of Americans, French, Creoles, and Africans. Later immigrants were Irish, Germans, and Italians. Major commodity crops of sugar and cotton were cultivated with slave labor on large plantations outside the city.
The Haitian Revolution ended in 1804 and established the second republic in the Western Hemisphere and the first republic led by black people. It had occurred over several years in what was then the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Thousands of refugees from the revolution, both whites and free people of color (affranchis or gens de couleur libres), arrived in New Orleans, often bringing African slaves with them. While Governor Claiborne and other officials wanted to keep out additional free black men, the French Creoles wanted to increase the French-speaking population. As more refugees were allowed in Louisiana, Haitian émigrés who had first gone to Cuba also arrived. Many of the white Francophones had been deported by officials in Cuba in retaliation for Bonapartist schemes in Spain.
Nearly 90 percent of these immigrants settled in New Orleans. The 1809 migration brought 2,731 whites; 3,102 free persons of African descent; and 3,226 enslaved persons of African descent, doubling the city's population. The city became 63 percent black in population, a greater proportion than Charleston, South Carolina's 53 percent.
As a principal port, New Orleans played a major role during the antebellum era in the Atlantic slave trade. Its port also handled huge quantities of commodities for export from the interior and imported goods from other countries, which were warehoused and transferred in New Orleans to smaller vessels and distributed the length and breadth of the vast Mississippi River watershed. The river in front of the city was filled with steamboats, flatboats, and sailing ships. Despite its role in the slave trade, New Orleans at the same time had the largest and most prosperous community of free persons of color in the nation, who were often educated and middle-class property owners.
Dwarfing in population the other cities in the antebellum South, New Orleans had the largest slave market in the domestic slave trade, which expanded after the United States' ending of the international trade in 1808. Two-thirds of the more than one million slaves brought to the Deep South arrived via the forced migration of the domestic slave trade. The money generated by the sale of slaves in the Upper South has been estimated at 15 percent of the value of the staple crop economy. The slaves represented half a billion dollars in property. An ancillary economy grew up around the trade in slaves—for transportation, housing and clothing, fees, etc., estimated at 13.5 percent of the price per person. All of this amounted to tens of billions of dollars (2005 dollars, adjusted for inflation) during the antebellum period, with New Orleans as a prime beneficiary.
According to the historian Paul Lachance,
the addition of white immigrants [from Saint-Domingue] to the white creole population enabled French-speakers to remain a majority of the white population until almost 1830. If a substantial proportion of free persons of color and slaves had not also spoken French, however, the Gallic community would have become a minority of the total population as early as 1820.
After the Louisiana Purchase, numerous Anglo-Americans migrated to the city. The population of the city doubled in the 1830s and by 1840, New Orleans had become the wealthiest and the third-most populous city in the nation. Large numbers of German and Irish immigrants began arriving in the 1840s, working as laborers in the busy port. In this period, the state legislature passed more restrictions on manumissions of slaves, and virtually ended it in 1852.
In the 1850s, white Francophones remained an intact and vibrant community; they maintained instruction in French in two of the city's four school districts (all were white). In 1860, the city had 13,000 free people of color (gens de couleur libres), the class of free, mostly mixed-race people that developed during French and Spanish rule. The census recorded 81 percent as mulatto, a term used to cover all degrees of mixed race. Mostly part of the Francophone group, they constituted the artisan, educated and professional class of African Americans. Most blacks were still enslaved, working at the port, in domestic service, in crafts, and mostly on the many large, surrounding sugar cane plantations.
As the French Creole elite feared, during the Civil War their world changed. In 1862, following the occupation by the Navy after the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, Northern forces under Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, a respected state lawyer of the Massachusetts militia, occupied the City. Later New Orleans residents nicknamed him as "Beast" Butler, because of a military order he issued. After his troops had been assaulted and harassed in the streets by Southern women, his order warned that future such occurrences would result in his men treating such "ladies" as those "plying their avocation in the streets," implying that they would treat the women like prostitutes. Accounts of this spread like wildfire across the South and the North. He also came to be called "Spoons" Butler because of the alleged looting that his troops did while occupying New Orleans.
Butler abolished French language instruction in city schools; statewide measures in 1864 and, after the war, 1868 further strengthened English-only policy imposed by federal representatives. With the predominance of English speakers in the city and state, that language had already become dominant in business and government. By the end of the 19th century, French usage in the city had faded significantly; it was also under pressure from new immigrants: English speakers such as the Irish, and other Europeans, such as the Italians and Germans. However, as late as 1902 "one-fourth of the population of the city spoke French in ordinary daily intercourse, while another two-fourths was able to understand the language perfectly," and as late as 1945, one still encountered elderly Creole women who spoke no English. The last major French language newspaper in New Orleans, L’Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans Bee), ceased publication on December 27, 1923, after ninety-six years. According to some sources, Le Courrier de la Nouvelle Orleans continued until 1955.
Large numbers of rural ex-slaves and some free people of color from the City volunteered for the first regiments of Black troops in the War. Led by Brig. Gen. Daniel Ullman (1810-1892), of the 78th Regiment of New York State Volunteers Militia, they were known as the "Corps d'Afrique." While that name had been used by a militia before the war, that group was composed of free people of color. The new group was made up mostly of former slaves. They were supplemented in the last two years of the War by newly organized United States Colored Troops, who played an increasingly important part in the war.
Violence throughout the South, especially the Memphis Riots of 1866 followed by the New Orleans Riot in July of that year, resulted in Congress passing the Reconstruction Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, to extend the protections of full citizenship to freedmen and free people of color. Louisiana and Texas were put under the authority of the "Fifth Military District" of the United States during Reconstruction. Louisiana was eventually readmitted to the Union in 1868; its Constitution of 1868 granted universal manhood suffrage and established universal public education. Both blacks and whites were elected to local and state offices. In 1872, lieutenant governor P.B.S. Pinchback, who was of mixed race, succeeded Henry Clay Warmouth for a brief period as Republican governor of Louisiana, becoming the first governor of African descent of an American state. The next African American to serve as governor was Douglas Wilder, elected in Virginia in 1989. For a time, New Orleans operated a racially integrated public school system.
From 1868, elections in Louisiana were marked by violence, as white insurgents tried to suppress black voting and disrupt Republican gatherings. Violence continued around elections. The disputed 1872 gubernatorial election resulted in conflicts that ran for years. The "White League", an insurgent paramilitary group that supported the Democratic Party, was organized in 1874 and operated in the open, violently suppressing the black vote and running off Republican officeholders. In 1874, in the Battle of Liberty Place, 5,000 members of the White League fought with city police to take over the state offices for the Democratic candidate for governor, holding them for three days. By 1876, such tactics resulted in the white Democrats, the so-called Redeemers, regaining political control of the state legislature. The federal government gave up and withdrew its troops in 1877, ending Reconstruction.
White Democrats passed Jim Crow laws, establishing racial segregation in public facilities. In 1889, the legislature passed a constitutional amendment incorporating a "grandfather clause" that effectively disfranchised freedmen as well as the propertied people of color free before the war. Unable to vote, African Americans could not serve on juries or in local office, and were closed out of formal politics for several generations in the state. It was ruled by a white Democratic Party. Public schools were racially segregated and remained so until 1960.
New Orleans' large community of well-educated, often French-speaking free persons of color (gens de couleur libres), who had been free prior to the Civil War, sought to fight back against Jim Crow. They organized the Comité du Citoyens (Citizens Committee) to work for civil rights. As part of their legal campaign, they recruited one of their own, Homer Plessy, to test whether Louisiana's newly enacted Separate Car Act was constitutional. Plessy boarded a commuter train departing New Orleans for Covington, Louisiana, sat in the car reserved for whites only, and was arrested. The case resulting from this incident, Plessy v. Ferguson, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896. The court ruled that "separate but equal" accommodations were constitutional, effectively upholding Jim Crow measures. In practice, African-American public schools and facilities were underfunded in Louisiana and across the South. The Supreme Court ruling contributed to this period as the nadir of race relations in the United States. The rate of lynchings of black men was high across the South, as other states also disfranchised blacks and sought to impose Jim Crow to establish white supremacy.
Throughout New Orleans' history, until the early 20th century when medical and scientific advances ameliorated the situation, the city suffered repeated epidemics of yellow fever and other tropical and infectious diseases.
New Orleans' zenith as an economic and population center, in relation to other American cities, occurred in the decades prior to 1860. At this time New Orleans was the nation's fifth-largest city and was significantly larger than all other American South population centers. New Orleans continued to increase in population from the mid-19th century onward, but rapid economic growth shifted to other areas of the country, meaning that New Orleans' relative importance steadily declined. First to emerge in importance were the new industrial and railroad hubs of the Midwest, then the rapidly growing metropolises of the Pacific Coast in the decades before and after the turn of the 20th century. In the post-World War II period, other Sun Belt cities in the South and West surpassed New Orleans in population. Construction of railways and highways decreased river traffic, diverting goods to other transportation corridors and markets. Thousands of the most ambitious blacks left New Orleans and the state in the Great Migration around World War II and after, many for West Coast destinations.
From the late 1800s, most U.S. censuses recorded New Orleans' slipping rank among American cities. Reminded every ten years of its declining relative importance, New Orleans would periodically mount attempts to regain its economic vigor and pre-eminence, with varying degrees of success.
By the mid-20th century, New Orleanians recognized that their city was being surpassed as the leading urban area in the South. By 1950, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta exceeded New Orleans in size, and in 1960 Miami eclipsed New Orleans, even as the latter's population reached what would be its historic peak that year. As with other older American cities in the postwar period, highway construction and suburban development drew residents from the center city to newer housing outside. The 1970 census recorded the first absolute decline in the city's population since it joined the United States. The New Orleans metropolitan area continued expanding in population, however, just not as rapidly as other major cities in the Sun Belt. While the port remained one of the largest in the nation, automation and containerization resulted in significant job losses. The city's relative fall in stature meant that its former role as banker to the South was inexorably supplanted by competing companies in larger peer cities. New Orleans' economy had always been based more on trade and financial services than on manufacturing, but the city's relatively small manufacturing sector also shrank in the post–World War II period. Despite some economic development successes under the administrations of DeLesseps "Chep" Morrison (1946–1961) and Victor "Vic" Schiro (1961–1970), metropolitan New Orleans' growth rate consistently lagged behind more vigorous cities.
Civil Rights Movement
During the later years of Morrison's administration, and for the entirety of Schiro's, the city was a center of the Civil Rights struggle. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was founded in the city, lunch counter sit-ins were held in Canal Street stores, and a prominent and violent series of confrontations occurred in 1960 when the city attempted school desegregation, following the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). When six-year-old Ruby Bridges integrated William Frantz Elementary School in the city's Ninth Ward, she was the first child of color to attend a previously all-white school in the South. The Civil Rights Movement's success in gaining federal passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided enforcement of constitutional rights, including voting for blacks. Together, these resulted in the most far-reaching changes in New Orleans' 20th century history.
Though legal and civil equality were re-established by the end of the 1960s, a large gap in income levels and educational attainment persisted between the city's White and African-American communities. As the middle class and wealthier members of both races left the center city, its population's income level dropped, and it became proportionately more African American. From 1980, the African-American majority has elected officials from its own community. They have struggled to narrow the gap by creating conditions conducive to the economic uplift of the African-American community.
New Orleans became increasingly dependent on tourism as an economic mainstay by the administrations of Sidney Barthelemy (1986–1994) and Marc Morial (1994–2002). Relatively low levels of educational attainment, high rates of household poverty, and rising crime threatened the prosperity of the city in the later decades of the century. The negative effects of these socioeconomic conditions contrasted with the changes to the economy of the United States, which were based on a post-industrial, knowledge-based paradigm where mental skills and education were far more important to advancement than manual skills.
Drainage and flood control
In the 20th century, New Orleans' government and business leaders believed they needed to drain and develop outlying areas to provide for the city's expansion. The most ambitious development during this period was a drainage plan devised by engineer and inventor A. Baldwin Wood, designed to break the surrounding swamp's stranglehold on the city's geographic expansion. Until then, urban development in New Orleans was largely limited to higher ground along the natural river levees and bayous. Wood's pump system allowed the city to drain huge tracts of swamp and marshland and expand into low-lying areas. Over the 20th century, rapid subsidence, both natural and human-induced, resulted in these newly populated areas declining to several feet below sea level.
New Orleans was vulnerable to flooding even before the city's footprint departed from the natural high ground near the Mississippi River. In the late 20th century, however, scientists and New Orleans residents gradually became aware of the city's increased vulnerability. In 1965, flooding from Hurricane Betsy killed dozens of residents, although the majority of the city remained dry. The rain-induced flood of May 8, 1995 demonstrated the weakness of the pumping system. After that event, measures were undertaken to dramatically upgrade pumping capacity. By the 1980s and 1990s, scientists observed that extensive, rapid and ongoing erosion of the marshlands and swamp surrounding New Orleans, especially that related to the Mississippi River – Gulf Outlet Canal, had the unintended result of leaving the city more exposed to hurricane-induced catastrophic storm surges than before in its history.
New Orleans was catastrophically affected by what the University of California Berkeley's Dr. Raymond B. Seed called "the worst engineering disaster in the world since Chernobyl," when the Federal levee system failed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. By the time the hurricane approached the city at the end of August 2005, most residents had evacuated. As the hurricane passed through the Gulf Coast region, the city's federal flood protection system failed, resulting in the worst civil engineering disaster in American history. Floodwalls and levees constructed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers failed below design specifications and 80% of the city flooded. Tens of thousands of residents who had remained in the city were rescued or otherwise made their way to shelters of last resort at the Louisiana Superdome or the New Orleans Morial Convention Center. More than 1,500 people were recorded as having died in Louisiana, most in New Orleans, and others are still unaccounted for. Before Hurricane Katrina, the city called for the first mandatory evacuation in its history, to be followed by another mandatory evacuation three years later with Hurricane Gustav.
The city was declared off-limits to residents while efforts to clean up after Hurricane Katrina began. The approach of Hurricane Rita in September 2005 caused repopulation efforts to be postponed, and the Lower Ninth Ward was reflooded by Rita's storm surge.
Because of the scale of damage, many people settled permanently outside the city in other areas where they had evacuated, as in Houston. Federal, state, and local efforts have been directed at recovery and rebuilding in severely damaged neighborhoods. The Census Bureau in July 2006 estimated the population of New Orleans to be 223,000; a subsequent study estimated that 32,000 additional residents had moved to the city as of March 2007, bringing the estimated population to 255,000, approximately 56% of the pre-Katrina population level. Another estimate, based on data on utility usage from July 2007, estimated the population to be approximately 274,000 or 60% of the pre-Katrina population. These estimates are somewhat smaller than a third estimate, based on mail delivery records, from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center in June 2007, which indicated that the city had regained approximately two-thirds of its pre-Katrina population. In 2008, the Census Bureau revised its population estimate for the city upward, to 336,644. Most recently, 2010 estimates show that neighborhoods that did not flood are near 100% of their pre-Katrina populations, and in some cases, exceed 100% of their pre-Katrina populations.
Several major tourist events and other forms of revenue for the city have returned. Large conventions are being held again, such as those held by the American Library Association and American College of Cardiology. College football events such as the Bayou Classic, New Orleans Bowl, and Sugar Bowl returned for the 2006–2007 season. The New Orleans Saints returned that season as well, following speculation of a move. The New Orleans Hornets (now named the Pelicans) returned to the city fully for the 2007–2008 season, having partially spent the 2006–2007 season in Oklahoma City. New Orleans successfully hosted the 2008 NBA All-Star Game and the 2008 BCS National Championship Game. The city hosted the first and second rounds of the 2007 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament. New Orleans and Tulane University hosted the Final Four Championship in 2012. Additionally, the city hosted the Super Bowl XLVII on February 3, 2013 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Major annual events such as Mardi Gras and the Jazz & Heritage Festival were never displaced or cancelled. Also, an entirely new annual festival, "The Running of the Bulls New Orleans", was created in 2007.