Ms. Barbara Pratt
Pieces of history line the walls of Ms. Barbara Pratt’s home at 1926 St. Roch Avenue, where photographs dating back to the turn of the 20th century tell stories that span across five generations in New Orleans.
“Well, I guess it’s true when they tell me, ‘Barbara, you sure have seen a few things in your day’,” says Ms. Pratt.
Born in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood, Ms. Pratt moved with her husband and two sons to 1926 St. Roch Avenue in 1978.
“It was a beautiful neighborhood then. It was peaceful. You never heard about any of the killings like you do now,” she says.
The home’s front porch overlooks Sampson/St. Roch Playground, and Ms. Pratt has witnessed the park’s transition from a safe, healthy community gathering place to a space where youth recreation leagues and neighborhood events compete with the influence of mostly adolescent drug dealers and gang members.
“If only these kids could realize just what we went through to get this far,” says Ms. Pratt, who endured some of the harshest periods of Jim Crow segregation in New Orleans.
Interspersed with the photographs of family and friends that cover Ms. Pratt’s coffee table is a still portrait of the Rev. Avery C. Alexander, the Louisiana civil rights leader, former state congressman, and namesake of the city’s landmark Charity Hospital. Picking up the portrait and holding it in her hands, Ms. Pratt recalls her active involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, and expresses her deep anger over the thug culture that she thinks is too often championed by St. Roch’s African American youth.
“I was spit on, I was dragged by my hair, and I saw signs telling me where I could and could not sit, drink water, or use a restroom because of my skin color. We marched so hard to get them what they have today, and now so many of them don’t do anything but wear their pants down low and kill each other. Words can’t tell you how aggravating that is to watch,” she says.
Even so, Ms. Pratt is thankful to call St. Roch home and is optimistic about the neighborhood’s future. With her husband’s passing and both sons with families of their own in Texas, Ms. Pratt now shares her converted shotgun double home with her brother Lowell. The two were rescued from their flooded home by boat during Hurricane Katrina, but were committed to returning and made extraordinary efforts to do so.
“This is home, and I think things are starting to get back to the way it used to be. When we first moved here, St. Roch was a real family neighborhood. Neighbors greeted each other. Young girls did what I did when I was coming up: they played hopscotch, jumped rope, and rode bikes. You didn’t see 14 and 15 year old pregnant girls like you do now. We’d sit down as a family and eat dinner together, our boys would wash the dishes and wash their clothes, and most families did the same. That doesn’t happen as much here anymore,” says Ms. Pratt.
In discussing the neighborhood’s future development, Ms. Pratt thinks City officials should commit much needed public investment to what she calls the “back of town” part of St. Roch, an area which is colloquially defined as north of Sampson/St. Roch Playground, stretching toward Florida Avenue in the direction of Lake Pontchartrain.
More than anything else, however, Ms. Pratt most looks forward to the day when she can again feel safe in her neighborhood.
“The day I can sit on my front steps or walk down the street without feeling the need to look behind me, that’s when I’ll know St. Roch has made it back,” she says.
*Courtesy of Faubourg St. Roch Project