Oretha C. Hayley Blvd, New Orleans, LA
Formerly Dryades street, Oretha Castle Boulevard is the main street running through Central City, New Orleans. Prior to the 1970’s, the boulevard functioned as a main thoroughfare for an area that was once a thriving community of multiracial business and commerce, composed of African, African American, Caribbean, as well as Jewish American cultures. The 1970’s brought with it a massive suburban movement for white people, thus opening up other forms of commerce for African Americans, as the demand for business in the area fell, unfortunately resulting in neglect of the boulevard which, in turn, resulted in higher crime rates and building condemnation.
Oretha Castle Hayley, was the wife of fellow civil rights activist Richard Hayley, was a founding member and leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), becoming a crucial part of the organization and leadership required to employ direct action and civil disobedience in the civil rights movement of 1960’s New Orleans.
In addition to her protest activities, Hayley was an active participant in the Citizen’s committee, a coalition of black organizers who negotiated with white merchants and political leaders to end segregation.
Despite its turbulent past, Oretha C. Hayley Boulevard is in the process of a significant turnaround. With help from such organizations as the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, Neighborhoods Partnerships Network, and Zeitgeist Theater, and Caf Reconcile, Oretha C. Hayley Boulevard will one day be restored to its former glory, reflecting the strength and cultural significance of the woman whose name it honors.
Oretha C. Hayley Boulevard bears the scars of a neighborhood that has seen its fair share of heartbreak. As we learned from a gentlemen while walking down the street, the area was once home to a thriving African American population, composed of a variety of merchants and businesses. The area has since fell victim to a variety of tragedies including building condemnation and increased crime and poverty. Thanks to the work of the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, as well as a number of Churches and a few businesses that have moved into the area, Oretha Castle Hayley Boulevard is undergoing somewhat of a neighborhood renovation, aspiring to bring attention back to Central City as a center of cultural and artistic significance.
The Blvd. certainly has a rich and varied history. From thriving business corridor to an area filled with transgender prostitutes, and ultimately to its current state: A neighborhood scared by its recent history attempting to turn around and do good. The organizations that do open their doors to Oretha Hayley Blvd are primarily social service oriented: churches, Ashe, community gardens, the Youth Empowerment Project (save for one restaurant, an auto repair shop and a screen printing company). If the street does not continue to become a collection of empty fields/lots, and continues to harbor organizations bent on its revival…it has a very good chance at a bright future.