“There is no State in the Union, hardly any spot of like size on the globe, where the man of color has lived so intensely, made so much progress, been of such historical importance and yet about whom so comparatively little is known. His history is like the Mardi Gras of the city of New Orleans, beautiful and mysterious and wonderful, but with a serious thought underlying it all. May it be better known to the world some day.”
– Alice Dunbar Nelson
Step into the footprints of our ancestors. Tradition may weaken, but cannot disappear.
Le Musée de f.p.c., a historic house museum, is one of the country’s few attractions dedicated exclusively to preserving the material culture of and telling to the story of free people of color.
The founders of this repository strive through their collection of documents, paintings and decorative arts to present, interpret and preserve the history and culture shared by so many free people of African descent in New Orleans and throughout the country.
Free people of color, often abbreviated f.p.c., is the term used to refer to Blacks who were born free or manumitted prior to the Civil War. Also referred to as gens de couleur libres, their presence in New Orleans is recorded as early as 1722. Although there were enclaves of free people of color who numbered well over a quarter million residing throughout the United States during the antebellum period, New Orleans and south Louisiana were home to one of the oldest and largest populations of such. On the eve of the Civil War, in New Orleans alone, there resided 18,000 who owned and paid taxes on $15 million of property.
This remarkable community of resilient, resourceful and enterprising people produced artists, artisans, entrepreneurs, educators, physicians, journalists, and countless business owners and professionals prior to the Civil War. And in the midst of Reconstruction, the former free people of color led the entry of Blacks into politics. Perhaps most forgotten is the activists role they played in the Civil Rights Movement as early as 1862 and in the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896.
Le Musée, the Greek Revival residence at 2336 Esplanade Avenue, and its vicinity, centered in the area known as upper Treme, were originally part of the plantation of Domingo Fleitas. Fleitas, a Spanish colonial who had fought with Galvez in the American Revolution, had grandchildren born free people of color.
This stretch of Esplanade Avenue, mid-way between the Mississippi River and Bayou St. John, was not developed until the 1850s when Benjamin Rodriguez, a Jewish speculator who also owned the Esplanade omnibus, began acquiring lots in the area. Rodriguez first built his home at 2306 Esplanade, where the Musson family later lived for a period of time and their cousin Edgar Degas, the acclaimed French artist, visited. In 1859, Rodriguez contracted with Joseph Jouet, the same builder who constructed the famed French Hospital, to build the house at 2336.
Though this residence was never owned by persons of color until its present ones, because of their dominance in the building trades, it can be assumed that they participated in the construction.
Esplanade Avenue has always been noted for its gracious homes and abundant greenery. Little known is that free people of color owned numerous properties along the avenue and its intersecting streets in the antebellum period.