Sunday, November 18, 2007


Men pass away, but their deeds abide.
-- Augustin-Louis Cauchy

Reverend Louis Harrell

Pierre's Living Witness is a Pentecostal congregation on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. Founded in 1981 by Elder Louis Harrell, the church struggled in its early years in a desolate neighborhood.

"We'd attend church there, and often we'd come out and find our batteries missing and our cars had been vandalized," he said. Streetwalkers occasionally propositioned church members; drug dealers plied their trade in plain view.

"Pastor Harrell really got angry with the devil and said we've got to do something about it," Pierre said.

First they brought their evangelizing to the street. "Pretty soon, like roaches do when you turn on the light, they began to scurry," he said.

Then the church began organizing programs for the neighborhood, starting with a simple emergency food pantry.

Soon enough, Living Witness founded a residential drug rehabilitation program for men called the Nehemiah Restoration Center.

Public money pays for clinical counselors and case managers, Pierre said. At the same time, the thrust of the program is explicitly Christian.

If Alcoholics Anonymous has its 12-step program that urges alcoholics to acknowledge their helplessness to an unnamed higher power, however they understand it, Living Witness' Christ-centered program is based on 15 biblical principles, Pierre said.

The program does not work for everyone; indeed, some drop out repeatedly and seek re-entry, Pierre said.

When successful, though, "at the end of the program, you don't just have somebody who's off of drugs: You have somebody who's been introduced to Christ.

"So they're a new creature in Christ. That's our treatment modality."

Reverend Avery Alexander
Rev. Avery Caesar Alexander

June 29, 1910 - March 5, 1999
Rev. Avery C. Alexander was an important leader in the struggle for civil rights for black Louisianians. He was born Avery Caesar Alexander on June 29, 1910 in Terrebone Parish, LA. By 1927, seven years after his father's death, the family relocated to New Orleans. He gained his high school diploma in 1939 from Gilbert Academy where he had taken night classes. He studied at several universities and graduated from Union Baptist Theological Seminary. He was ordained into the ministry in 1944.

A member of the NAACP, Rev. Alexander traveled statewide participating in voter registration drives in the years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. In New Orleans, he helped to organize several boycotts against white businesses to hire blacks for jobs above the "broom and mop" level. He also led a successful boycott against New Orleans Public Service, Inc. to hire the first black bus drivers.

Rev. Alexander participated in marches with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., including the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and the first and second marches on Washington. He also was involved in sit-ins to integrate lunch counters all over New Orleans. In one incident, during a sit-in being held at the eating facilities at City Hall, he was arrested and dragged by the heels up the steps from the basement of that building. Films of that event became the story of the day nationwide.

In 1975, Rev. Alexander was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives (Democrat, District 93) holding that office until his death. During his life he was also a real estate broker, insurance agent and longshoreman, becoming the manager of the longshoreman's welfare system from 1958-1962. In 1990, he established the Church of All People, a non-denominational ministry.

He continued his fight for civil rights until his death at the age of 89 on March 5, 1999.

Professor Longhair

Longhair's career in music began in the 1930s, dancing for tips. He learned guitar and piano and began to take music seriously when he found he could get out of work by playing piano for his fellow members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. He also worked as a boxer, cook, and professional card player.

In the late 1940s, he sat in on piano at the Caledonia Club while Dave Bartholomew's band was taking a break. He was an immediate hit and Bartholomew, later famous as Fats Domino's bandleader and collaborator, was fired. The band all had long hair and were dubbed Professor Longhair and the Four Hairs.

He began recording the following year. His signature song, "Mardi Gras in New Orleans" (still the theme song of New Orleans Mardi Gras) was recorded in 1949...

His career greatly slowed down in the 1960s, with "Big Chief" his biggest hit. He returned to card playing and even worked as a janitor in a record store until located by Allison Miner, Parker Dinkins and Quint Davis, who rehabilitated him and prepared him for a performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The 1971 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival marked a comeback, and he began making a series of critically acclaimed albums throughout the 1970s.

He was the headliner at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973, and in 1975, Paul McCartney flew him to play a private party on the Queen Mary.

He died of a heart attack in 1980, and was subsequently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The famed New Orleans night spot, Tipitina's, is named after one of his songs. Albert Goldman recorded Longhair at Tipitina's in 1978.

Mahalia Jackson

October 26, 1911-January 27, 1972

Mahalia Jackson was one of America's greatest gospel singers. She was born in New Orleans on October 26, 1911 to Charity Clark, a laundress and maid, and Johnny Jackson, a Baptist preacher, barber and longshoreman. She attended McDonogh School No. 24 until the eighth grade.

Influenced by the music of the Sanctified Church she began singing at the young age of four in the children's choir of Plymouth Rock Baptist Church.

In 1927, Mahalia migrated to Chicago and while working as a maid, laundress and date packer studied beauty culture at Madam C. J. Walker's and Scott Institute of Beauty Culture. She opened a beauty shop after this training. When the director of the choir at Greater Salem Baptist Church in Chicago heard her sing she became the choir's first soloist. Her beautiful voice made her popular.

During the 1930s, she toured the "storefront church circuit" singing to congregations. Jackson bridged the gap between the sacred and the secular in her performances, often using scriptures to justify her use of hand clapping and stomping while singing.

The next two decades found Mahalia recording songs and touring the United States and Europe. She became closely associated with the civil rights movement during the 1960s often singing at benefits for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the boycotters and student sit-ins.

Jackson died of heart failure at the age of sixty in Chicago. She was honored with funerals in Chicago and New Orleans and is buried in Providence Memorial Park in Metairie.

Reverend Abraham Lincoln "A. L." Davis

November 2, 1914-June 25, 1978
Abraham Lincoln Davis was a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the first African American city councilman in New Orleans. He was born in Bayou Goula, Louisiana and moved to New Orleans in 1930 to live with a sister and attend high school. Reverend Davis graduated from McDonogh 35 High School, received his B. A. degree from Leland College and his theological degree from Union Baptist Theological Seminary. He became the pastor of New Zion Baptist Church in 1935 where he became known as the Rev. A. L. Davis. He served as pastor of New Zion for forty-three years.

In 1957, Rev. Davis and a group of civil rights activists met at New Zion to organize the SCLC. The group chose as its first president Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Davis became its first vice president. In 1975, he was elected to the City Council. Rev. A. L. Davis died at the age of 63 of pancreatic cancer and is buried in Bayou Goula.

Gertrude Geddes Willis

March 18, 1880-February 20, 1970

Mrs. Gertrude Pocte Geddes-Willis was one of the first American female funeral directors in New Orleans. In 1940, Mrs. Willis was the founder and president of two corporations, Gertrude Geddes Willis Life Insurance Company and Gertrude Geddes Willis Funeral Home. Mrs. Geddes-Willis was a lifetime member of the NAACP and the YWCA and a member of several benevolent societies and professional organizations. She was also active in the Ladies Auxillary Council of the Knights of Peter Claver.

One of her special interests was youth development. Throughout her career her entrepreneurship gained the respect of both local and national business leaders.

Mrs. Willis died on February 20, 1970. She is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3.

Marion J. Porter

A native of Donaldsonville, La., Porter grew up in New Orleans and attended Straight College. He did photographic work for the Louisiana Weekly and for Black Data Weekly and also served as the local photographer for such national publications as Ebony, Jet, and Black Enterprise. He also owned Porter's Photo News. Among his subjects over the years were celebrities such as President John F. Kennedy, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Halie Selassie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, and Jesse Owens. His work documents the full range of African American activity in the Crescent City, from social occasions and sporting events to political rallies and civil rights protests.

Porter was a member of a number of local organizations, including the NAACP, the Urban League, and the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. He was a veteran of World War II, having seen action at the Battle of the Bulge under the command of General George Patton. Marion Porter died of cancer in New Orleans on November 10, 1983 at the age of 74.

In 1995 Porter's widow, Charlene Richard, entrusted local photographer Eric Waters with the surviving inventory of his negatives and photos. Waters, through Ebon Images, Inc., had plans to publish a book of Porter's work, to create a traveling exhibit of his photographs, and to establish the Marion Porter Photography Workshop to support and encourage the development of young black photographers. Eric Waters and Ebon Images, Inc., however, are no longer involved with the Porter photographs.

Waters, in a grant proposal to the city of New Orleans, described the Porter photographs as
... an essential testimony to the history of Black people and Black life in New Orleans for the period 1930-1980. Porter was blessed with an eye that captured not only the images of a photograph but also the spirit and message of the moment. He was a people person, possessed of a wealth of knowledge and contacts who had a generous commitment to Black people. He was an authentic man with no pretense and a man of strong commitment. He touched many people and captured telling moments in their lives on film. The value of his body of work in documenting a half century of Black life in New Orleans is beyond estimate.

Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.

--Helen Keller

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