"History is a guide to a better future and demonstrates that we can become a better society—but only if we collectively demand it from each other."

These words were written just days ago by Lonnie G. Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian, in response to the inequality and racial division being drawn to the forefront of our national consciousness by yet another instance of deadly racist violence against African Americans. 

Secretary Bunch reminds us that history teaches us what we demand of it. If we demand that it teach us how we can become better, it will. Likewise, if we make no such demands, we cannot expect so much.

The holdings of The Historic New Orleans Collection document triumphs that our community celebrates and systemic injustices that we continue to struggle with. They are testaments to the complexity of our shared past but also harbingers of a brighter future. We are committed to making our collections available to all who seek to find, in history, a path towards a better society. We are committed, moreover, to building our collections in a purposeful way, cognizant that the historic record is scarred by the absence of the voices of the oppressed. The steps we take to be active and inclusive in documenting New Orleans today will have a great impact on what we are able to know tomorrow.

We do not and cannot pursue this work alone. It must be done collectively.

This year we are publishing a book of Civil War–era poetry—much of it protest poetry by African Americans—originally printed in French-language New Orleans newspapers run by free people of color. Lines from an 1865 poem by the prolific author Adolphe Duhart, a free person of color and native New Orleanian, have special resonance at this moment:

It shall not be said that, born of the storm, our age
Will never be able to feel upon its visage
The sunlight of Equality.

Il ne sera pas dit que né dans la tempête
Notre âge ne pourra voir briller sur sa tête
Les rayons de l'Égalite.

Duhart and his contemporaries never did bask in the full warmth of the sunlight of equality. Yet the voices of these poets and activists, as documented in the historic record, can and should guide us toward a better and more just society. Let us demand it.  


Daniel Hammer
THNOC President and CEO