Faubourg Treme The Untold Story of Black New Orleans
A film by Dawn Logsdon & Lolis Eric Elie

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As seen on PBS!

The past and present collide in this award-winning film about New Orleans’ fabled neighborhood, Faubourg Treme, home to the largest community of free black people in the Deep South and the birthplace of jazz.


"...a powerful reflection of Treme as a place of creative ferment and political resistance for some 300 years."
- Salon.com


Winner Peter C. Rollins Award for Best Documentary - Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association

Winner Best Documentary - Society for Visual Anthropology, American Anthropology Association

Winner, Best Film about Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Times Picayune Readers Poll

Selected Film Festival Prizes:
Best Documentary - San Francisco International Film Festival, Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, and SF Black Film Festival
Special Jury Award - Bermuda International Film Festival
Best Documentary Honorable Mention - Pan African Film Festival

Critical Comment

"A stunning and powerful historical experience...Celebrates how black New Orleans, in the face of white hostility, managed to carve out a unique and expressive culture and history that would enrich America and the world."
- Leon Litwack, President, Southern Historical Association; Professor Emeritus, UC Berkeley

"A powerful piece of work on our beloved New Orleans! Don't miss it!"
- Cornel West, Center for African American Studies, Princeton University

"Flat out brilliant...This is a great piece of storytelling, filmmaking and testifying. It is also arguably the most poignant film ever made about New Orleans…Perhaps Faubourg Treme is the first of new masterpieces to emerge from this cauldron of suffering. It has certainly raised the bar extremely high. It is richer and far more nuanced than Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke and much more accurate than the post-Katrina documentaries produced by many of the national and international news organizations, despite their well-meaning intentions”
-The New Orleans Tribune

"A moving and rich history.. essential viewing for fans of the HBO series"
- New Orleans Times Picayune

"Our jazz idiom, the Creole tradition of political dissent, the craftsmanship behind our vernacular architecture-all had roots in Faubourg Tremé. Anyone still wondering what it might mean to lose New Orleans should see this powerful and poignant documentary film."
- Lawrence N. Powell, Professor of History, Tulane University; Co-Director, Deep South Regional Humanities Center

"This film is a modern history book that perfectly captures the spirit and culture of Tremé."
- Marc Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League

"The film uses a richly textured mix of archival images, documents and historical footage to define a history of community resilience in the face of repeated challenges and threats. New Orleans gets short shrift in most discussions of civil rights and other aspects of historical and contemporary race relations, so this DVD fills an important gap and the jury urges its use in the classroom."
- Society for Visual Anthropology, Award of Commendation 2009

"A brilliant documentary film that should be seen by every man, woman and child who desires to understand the world we live in and, ultimately, how to change it for all. It is a multi-use, exceedingly accessible, and deeply moving video with a sociological imagination. Students of sociology will be challenged to think more comprehensively and critically than they ever have regarding the intricate links between race and class, history and biography, and the future of people and their communities.”
- David L. Brunsma, Teaching Sociology

“Just saw the film at the National Council for the Social Studies annual conference in Houston, TX and I can't stop thinking about it. This documentary is powerful -- it perfectly captures all that is unique about New Orleans and reminds us why its culture is so worthy of preservation. I can't wait to share it with educators all over the state! Job very well done.”
- Jennifer Powers, President, Louisiana Council for Social Studies and Louisiana Dept of Education

"An outstanding, sensitive film with great images and fine historical background about this unique New Orleans neighborhood. It looks reality straight in the face."
- Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Professor Emerita of Latin American & Caribbean History, Rutgers University, New Jersey/Advisory Board, Harriet Tubman Resource Institute for the Study of Global Migrations of African Peoples

“It’s history come alive. I enjoyed every second. The music, the second-line dancing, the characters, are wonderfully presented. The camera catches many telling moments that reveal the pulse and texture of a very special place. The historical footage istremendous. The tragedy of Katrina hits home hard. Sad as it is, we come out the other end feeling hope for the future and glad to have shared in such a rich history.”
- Les Blank, Filmmaker

"A deep piece of work...so powerful, compelling and devastating...beautifully rendered."
- Davia Nelson, National Public Radio

" Faubourg Treme is a celebration of the venerable African-American history of New Orleans...passion for the subject infuses the film...remarkable footage and charming interviews"
- Variety

“Documentaries about post-Katrina New Orleans have not been in short supply. But one film stands out for its sensitivity to the city's cultural character, before and after the storm. "Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans" draws a poignant portrait of what may be the oldest black neighborhood in America...New Orleans Times-Picayune writer Lolis Eric Elie gently guides viewers through the neighborhood's glorious past and inglorious suffering after Katrina, illuminating customs that distinguish New Orleans from every city on earth.”
- Howard Reich, Jazz Critic, Chicago Tribune

"...a moving and revelatory film..."
- Christian Science Monitor

"...timely and essential...charming yet hard-hitting."
- The Village Voice

"...a powerful reflection of Treme as a place of creative ferment and political resistance for some 300 years."
- Salon.com

About The Film

68 and 56 min versions available, 2008,  closed captioned
Executive Producers: Wynton Marsalis & Stanley Nelson
Director: Dawn Logsdon; Writer: Lolis Eric Elie
Producers: Lucie Faulknor, Dawn Logsdon & Lolis Eric Elie
Composer: Derrick Hodge

Faubourg Treme is considered the oldest black neighborhood in America, the origin of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, and the birthplace of jazz. Five years before Hurricane Katrina hit, two New Orleanians, one white and one black- filmmaker Dawn Logsdon and writer Lolis Eric Elie - began documenting the rich living culture of Faubourg Treme, then a little known neighborhood overshadowed by the adjacent famous French Quarter.  Their tapes miraculously survived the flooding that devastated their city. Now the completed film uncovers Treme’s unique and hidden history and situates it within three centuries of African American struggle - from slavery through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights, to the recent threat of Hurricane Katrina. Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans is one of those rare films that transcends a local story to expand our national understanding of the American experience.

Long ago during slavery, Faubourg Treme was home to a large, prosperous, and artistically flourishing community free black people. It was also a hotbed of political ferment. Here black and white, free and enslaved, rich and poor co-habitated, collaborated, and clashed to create much of what defines New Orleans culture up to the present day. In so many ways its story reflects the tortuous path taken by African American history over the centuries.

Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans was largely shot before the Katrina tragedy but edited afterward, giving the film both a celebratory and elegiac tone. It is a film of such effortless intimacy, subtle glances and authentic details that only two native New Orleanians could have made it.

Our guide through the film is writer and former newspaperman Lolis Eric Elie (now a writer for David Simon's new HBO TV series, Treme) who decided that rather than abandon his heritage after Hurricane Katrina he would invest in it by rehabilitating an old house in the Treme district.

His 75 year-old contractor, Irving Trevigne, whose family has been in the construction business there for over 200 years, becomes a symbol of the neighborhood’s continuity and resourcefulness; Irving Trevigne represents a man who, unlike many Americans, is deeply rooted in his community and its traditions. 

Louisiana Poet Laureate Brenda Marie Osbey and noted historians John Hope Franklin and Eric Foner explain on the DVD what made Treme different, and such a fertile ground for African American life. New Orleans was a French and Spanish city before it was incorporated into the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Latin and urban attitudes towards slavery tended to be more relaxed than in the plantation South; slaves were allowed to walk freely through the city, to work for themselves and hence often to buy their freedom. New Orleans had the largest number of free people of color in the South, a dangerous anomaly in a slave society.

As the city outgrew its walls, a new district, Faubourg (suburb in French) Treme was constructed, a mixed neighborhood, a majority of whose residents were free people of color. The district developed its own institutions, for example, St. Augustine’s Church, the oldest predominantly black Catholic parish in the country. The district grew up around Congo Square where African American commerce flourished and a unique Creole culture emerged. Even today when Treme’s children go ‘second lining’ behind one of the city’s storied brass bands, their dances immediately reveal their African origins.

A century before the Harlem Renaissance and the modern Civil Rights Movement, Treme was a center of black cultural and political ferment. In 1862, after Northern troops captured the city, Paul Trevigne, an ancestor of Irving, edited the oldest black-owned daily newspaper in the U.S., The Tribune, which became an eloquent advocate for African Americans’ civil rights. Before the 14th,15th and 16th Amendments, it demanded the right to enlist in the Union army, to vote and to be subject to equal treatment under the law. During the heady days of Reconstruction, black New Orleanians employed sit-down strikes to integrate the city's streetcars; it became the only city in the South with desegregated schools. At one point, more than half the state legislators were African Americans, as well as the governor.

With the withdrawal of Federal troops in 1877, however, white supremacists rapidly rolled back black gains. Separate and unequal schools were re-established and 99% of black citizens were purged from the voting rolls; anyone who protested was likely to be lynched by the Ku Klux Klan. As a last stand in 1892, a ‘Citizens Committee’ deliberately challenged a law resegregating all public transportation, the infamous Plessy vs. Ferguson case. There the Supreme Court upheld the law as constitutional, legalizing 60 years of American-style apartheid.

The black population was devastated but precisely during this dark period, a new kind of music was born in Faubourg Treme: jazz. Legendary jazz great and New Orleans native, Wynton Marsalis observes on the DVD that this music gave African Americans, excluded once again from mainstream American society, a free cultural space to voice their grief and hopes. The film pulsates with the resilient spirit of the residents of this quintessential New Orleans neighborhood, which has swept the world as America’s most lasting contribution to music.

Treme was a hotbed of New Orleans’ civil rights struggles in the ‘50s and ‘60s but with its success prosperous residents began to move out. The familiar pattern of inner city urban decay set in poverty, crime, drugs. Urban re-development rammed an interstate highway through the business center of the neighborhood and historic homes were replaced by demoralizing segregated housing projects. Faubourg Treme even lost its name; now it was simply known as the Sixth Ward.

Then in late August, 2005, Katrina hit. The filmmakers revisited Treme to survey the destruction and find out what had happened to the characters they had met during the film. The indifferent, incompetent federal response to the catastrophe left many residents angry and discouraged; once again, as with slavery and Jim Crow, America seemed to have rejected its African American residents. Some, like Lolis Eric Elie, returned and rebuilt. But Irving Trevigne, his life’s work in ruins, moved to Vermont where he died the next year. St. Augustine’s church was given 18 months to recover its congregation or close.

A deeply moved but defiant Brenda Marie Osbey concludes Faubourg Treme: “This catastrophe is not greater than we as a people. Everywhere we go we must take with us the spirit of this city, the spirit of its heroes and the will to live and fight again.”

Faubourg Treme does not just commemorate, it reminds us that American society still confronts the same battles that the residents of Treme have waged through two centuries - demands for economic justice, voting rights, equal education, decent public services, in short, full citizenship for African Americans.

Chapter Listing

  1. Intro - Spirit of Treme
  2. Resistance: Slavery & Free Black People
  3. First Black Daily in the US
  4. Reconstruction: From Promise to Defeat
  5. Plessy Court Case
  6. Jazz is Born
  7. Urban Renewal and Displacement
  8. Katrina and Its Aftermath

A Serendipity Films, LLC production © 2014
Wynton Marsalis presents the Faubourg Treme Documentary Project