Backstreet Culture

Sylvester Francis runs the show at the Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme. He’s a film maker, photographer and historian. A world of New Orleans African-American culture awaits inside the museum, located at 1116 St. Claude, across the street and down a little ways in the same block as St. Augustine church.


Mr. Francis has dedicated himself to preserving two big traditions from African-American New Orleans: the Mardi Gras Indians and the Second Line. I talked to him a little while when I dropped in last week. We were talking about how the Mardi Gras Indian tradition got started. He said the traditional explanation was that a Buffalo Bill Wild West show came to New Orleans, a spectacular featuring hundreds of cowboys and Indians, and the African Americans were inspired to mask as Indians. Not so. “It comes from the black man wanting to do his own thing, something on Carnival other than pulling floats and carrying lights.”

He let me take some photos inside, above is a sample. Most of those costumes were given to the museum by Big Chief Victor Harris of the Mandigo Warriors and Spirit of Fi-Yi-Yi and Fi-Yi-Yi.

I told him I’d never seen an Indian on Mardi Gras day. He told me to come back on Carnival. The Indians all stop by around 12:30.

So, for the first time in a long while, I went downtown for Carnival. Nolanotes joined me, she wrote a post about the whole thing today that’s more than I could have come up with. Here are some more pictures from today: Indians, costumed passers-by and a walking club called the Northside Skull Gang. Pretty scary get-ups, but as Nola notes, everyone was super friendly.



The Skulls were leading a gospel tribute to Antoinette K-Doe, who died Mardi Gras day.



All in all, it was a great Carnival season, thanks to Nola and family’s hospitality and the company of some bloggers–Daisy Duke, in from Chicago, Stacey, Lisa (from Pennsylvania), Katie and Loulou, who came all the way from France to enjoy Mardi Gras.

3 Responses to Backstreet Culture

  1. Loulou on February 25, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    I loved meeting you all! Hope to see you again next year!
    Wonderful photos.

  2. Nola on February 25, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    So awesome. Can’t wait to go back next year!

  3. charlotte on February 27, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    Great post & pix! I wanna go with y’all next year!

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