A place to play, a chance to laugh and swim or simply sit under a tree and breathe fresh air – these are attainable goals for every citizen if public officials will recognize their need. For I know of no public works investment that pays greater dividend per dollar than recreation facility. . . . Organized, supervised, well-though-out recreation is a permanent function of local government. It must not be made to stand at the end of the line begging for a handout. It must not be forgotten and abused.

-- Mayor deLesseps S. Morrison, 1949

Mayor deLesseps S. “Chep” Morrison spoke these words in an address before the National Recreation Congress in New Orleans in September 1949. The New Orleans Recreation Department, better known as NORD, was Morrison’s brainchild, and it had just completed its first thirty months of operation. NORD made huge strides in this first year and a half, and the program was widely acclaimed as a model for the rest of the country. Life magazine published a pictorial study of the Department in that same month and proclaimed that the New Orleans program was “the most progressive in the U.S.” Life also pointed out that since its creation in 1946, “NORD built 58 new play centers and eight swimming pools. It used whatever facilities it could, including a firehouse, public meat markets and two abandoned city jails.” And, NORD claimed, it lowered the city’s juvenile delinquency rate by nearly 50%.

We can’t forget, however, that in 1946, New Orleans was still a strictly segregated city, and like every other public institution, NORD had separate facilities and programs for black and white participants – separate but, of course, not quite equal. While the city did add playgrounds, swimming pools, recreational complexes, ball fields and other new facilities for African American citizens (the most notable of which was Shakespeare Park – called “the finest playground in the South for Negroes”), neither the number nor the quality ever equaled that of those available to the white population. Some of the photographs in this exhibit illustrate this fact.

Over the next twenty years, as the grip of segregation loosened, the phenomenon of white flight came to have a dramatic effect on the Recreation Department and on other public institutions, which fell into a steep decline. Then, Hurricane Katrina all but finished off the NORD system entirely. But recently, NORD's fortunes have begun to look up. In October, 2010, New Orleanians voted to ammend the Home Rule Charter to reinvent NORD as the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, a public-private partnership designed to manage -- and reform -- the city's recreation program. NORDC is just getting started on the road to bringing about a renaissance of public recreation in the Crescent City.

This exhibit is not intended to be a history of NORD. It is designed simply to recall the people, activities, and facilities of NORD during its first two years of operation, 1947-1948 -- to show New Orleanians in that "place to play" that NORD attempted to provide. The exhibit uses photographs from two scrapbooks in the City Archives collection. The photos document the “Negro Division” as well as the Department at large. They came to the Archives in 1999, thanks in large part to long-time NORD staff member, Benny Jefferson, who recognized their importance to the history of his agency and insured that they would be preserved.

The exhibit was designed and mounted by staff of the Louisiana Division/City Archives. The physical exhibit will remain on view on the 3rd floor of the Main Library, through 2013.

To see all of the photos in the NORD scrapbooks, go HERE.