The Trail They Blazed

New Orleans Public Library, Main Branch
On view June 5–August 23, 2024
219 Loyola Avenue
New Orleans, LA


Built collaboratively with living individuals who bravely participated in the local Civil Rights Movement as well as those working today to preserve the legacy of the movement, The Trail They Blazed engages visitors in a multisensory experience that explores stories straight from the people who lived them. The exhibition includes 1,000 square feet of historic visuals and more than three dozen audio offerings that highlight boycotts, public school desegregation, the Congress of Racial Equality, the 1963 March on City Hall, the many individuals who supported the movement, voter registration and education efforts and activism in the Desire neighborhood. 

The Trail They Blazed is accompanied by a website with NOLA Resistance initiative oral histories, videos and educational resources intended to expand the reach of the project to both exhibition visitors and researchers everywhere. The website will be a lasting resource about the history of the New Orleans Civil Rights Movement.

The Trail They Blazed was produced with assistance from the African American Civil Rights grant program, administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior.


Purchased Lives panel exhibition at the River Road African American Museum

The Historic New Orleans Collection's panel version of Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865 is currently on view at the River Road African American Museum in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Based on content in the exhibition of original artifacts, the vibrant and informative panels feature reproductions of the artifacts, along with text detailing the many facets and effects of the domestic slave trade.

Curated by former THNOC historian Erin M. Greenwald, Purchased Lives examines the period between America’s 1808 abolition of the international slave trade and the end of the Civil War, during which an estimated two million people were forcibly moved within the confines of the United States. The domestic trade wreaked new havoc on the lives of enslaved families, as owners and traders in the Upper South—Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, DC—sold and shipped surplus laborers to the developing Lower South—Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Many of those individuals passed through New Orleans, which was the largest slave market in antebellum America.

The exhibition’s narrative is not limited to New Orleans, however. It examines a complex and divisive period of American history, helping viewers learn about the far-reaching economic and heartbreaking personal impact of the domestic slave trade.

During its 2015 run at THNOC’s Williams Research Center, Purchased Lives deeply impacted visitors, many of whom returned for two, three, four or more visits. In total, more than 15,000 people visited the display, with the final day seeing 667 people. By comparison, that same space saw 14,000 people during all of 2014.