New Orleans: The Real City That Never Sleeps

Never mind Katrina and the Gulf oil spill. There's a reason the rallying cry here is, "Laissez les bon temps rouler." It's all about letting the good times roll -- by any means necessary.

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New Orleans has other cultural traditions all its own. One example is the Mardi Gras Indians -- black men, predominantly, and some women -- who dress in elaborate costumes that they have spent all year designing and constructing. The costuming originated as a tribute to Native American communities to acknowledge the support they provided to black people during the times of slavery. For example, native communities served as stops on the Underground Railroad, offering refuge for those escaping from slavery.

If you want to celebrate civil rights history, New Orleans offers a lot to choose from. The largest uprising of enslaved people in the U.S. happened in 1811 just outside the city limits. After the Civil War, Louisiana had the first African-American governor in U.S. history, P.B.S. Pinchback, who served for a mere four weeks in office. In 1892 a black New Orleanian named Homer Plessy participated in a direct action that brought the first (unsuccessful) legal challenge to the doctrine of "separate but equal" -- the challenge that became the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson.

In 1970 the local chapter of the Black Panther Party had a standoff with the police in the Desire housing development, and hundreds of residents came out and forced the police to retreat. You can connect with some aspects of this history through Louisiana's African American Heritage Trail, which even has its own iPhone app.

In short, New Orleans is a city to visit whether you want to celebrate a history of civil rights struggles or dance all night to live music. A city of stunning architecture, music and food unlike anywhere else in the world. A place you may never want to leave.

And when you do leave, note that our airport is named Louis Armstrong International Airport. Who is your city's airport named after?

Jordan Flaherty is a journalist based in New Orleans. His new book is Floodlines: Community and Resistance From Katrina to the Jena Six (floodlines.org).

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