THE REPUBLICANS OF NEW ORLEANS
Fertile Ground for Roots of Success
By FRANCES FRANK MARCUS, Special to the New York Times
Published: August 14, 1988
NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 13— Politicians here say it is no concidence that the mayors of the cities playing host to the national party conventions this year come from the same clubby neighborhood in New Orleans. This city's Seventh Ward seems to be something of a nurturing ground for prominent black politicians.
Mayor Andrew Young of Atlanta lived in the neighborhood and Mayor Sidney Barthelemy of New Orleans grew up there, in the northern part of the city, where strong family values, good schools, a passion for self-improvement and the dominating presence of the Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church are all credited with nurturing the roots of success.
So did Ernest N. Dutch Morial, the first black to serve as Mayor of New Orleans, who has also been a state legislator and judge and is now an adviser to Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic Presidential nominee.
Another neighborhood product, Reynard Rochon, is a political consultant who managed the recent re-election campaign of Mayor W. Wilson Goode of Philadelphia and is now an aide to Mayor Eugene Sawyer of Chicago. Mr. Rochon lived outside the district but attended its prestigious St. Augustine High School. 'Strong Family Ties'
The people of the Se
venth Ward were ''like many immigrants,'' said Mayor Barthelemy. ''They had strong family ties and a belief in hard work, to give their children opportunities focused on education.''
In a sense, the Seventh Ward has been a laboratory for black politicians. Buffeted by segregation, the community turned inward and developed organizations like the Autocrat Club, social in purpose but also political.
Mr. Morial recalls the club as ''a haven for a lot of political discussion and activity,'' including voter registration drives in the days when blacks were discouraged from voting.
It also served as a meeting place for skilled workers. The Seventh Ward has a large number of plasterers, masons, carpenters and painters, who earn enough money to pay for their children's parochial school tuition.
Mr. Morial's father, Walter, was a cigar maker and his mother, Leonie, tailored men's suits. Deep Roots in Louisiana
The backbone of the racially mixed district is a group of light-skinned Creoles whose Louisiana roots date in some instances to the French and Spanish settlers of the 1700's. Their ancestry includes free people of color from before the Civil War, artisans and property owners who competed successfully with whites.
More important however, is the sense of belonging to a community - a process described by a resident sociologist, Daniel Thompson, as having a French or Spanish surname and ''doing all the things you're supposed to do when you're Creole: send your children to parochial school, belong to clubs and introduce the children to each other through balls.''
Dr. Thompson, a professor emeritus at Dillard University here, says the black Creole community has been imbued with ''a sort of class expectation, a built-in expectation that makes you succeed.''
Central to this community is the Corpus Christi Church, once the largest black parish in the nation, with 12,000 to 14,000 members, and the Catholic schools. The parish has since been split up, and many of its parishioners have moved away. Power Through Politics
St. Augustine's former principal, the Rev. Matthew J. O'Rourke, a Josephite from the Bronx, credits the high school, which was established in the 1950's, for nurturing the newest wave of politicians, including Mayor Barthelemy.
Father O'Rourke says teachers ''were very conscious that self-empowerment came through politics,'' and adds, ''Those lads were continually reminded of opportunities that were going to be opened to them in the whole political arena.''
Mr. Barthelemy prepared for St. Augustine at Corpus Christi Elementary School, where the nuns also trained many young non-Catholics whose parents wanted their children to receive a good education.
Not all the neighborhood successes are products of the parochial school, however; Andrew Young's family was Congregationlist, and he went to a black public elementary school in the Seventh Ward. An Integreated Neighborhood
Church influence flowed elsewhere as well. The credit union that began in the Corpus Christi rectory is now among the largest in the state, with assets of $33 million, 4,800 checking accounts and low-interest loans that have helped neighborhood people buy homes.
Credit for the neighborhood's political sophistication is also given to the self-confidence fostered in an integrated neighborhood. In the absence of public playgrounds for blacks, children often played in the streets, blacks and whites together.
''We grew up with white kids,'' said Sybil Morial, an associate dean at Xavier University of Louisiana who is the wife of the former Mayor. ''And we learned there was no mystique about them.''
Photo of Mayor Sidney Barthelemy and Councilman Lambert Boissiere Jr., with youngsters outside Corpus Christi Church in New Orleans. (NYT/Paul Hosefros)
A version of this article appeared in print on August 14, 1988, on page 133 of the New York edition.