Smith W. Green

Would New Orleans Be New Orleans Without Its Black Citizens

A New Orleans Tribune Editorial

…There is more news of late that causes us to reflect on the achievements of Black New Orleanians throughout the city’s history. For example, the Pythian Temple, at the corner of Loyola Avenue and Gravier Street, once an epicenter of Black life in the early 1900s in New Orleans has been renovated into a commercial and residential development. The building was first opened in 1909 as the home of the Knights of Pythias, a Black fraternal order. The Knights of Pythias was urged to purchase two lots in downtown New Orleans to build a home for their organization by of one of their founding members and top leaders, Smith Wendell Green, who despite being born enslaved in 1861, became a prominent civic leader and successful Black businessman who owned a grocery, a print shop, a bar and an insurance agency. At the time, it was reportedly the largest financial undertaking of its kind by any Black organization in the country. As poet and author Norman Smith points out in his book, Footprints of Black Louisiana, the building was “a showpiece of the Black people throughout the South and played an important role in supporting the local community.” In addition to the offices and lodge room for the Knights of Pythias, the Pythian Temple housed a barbershop, a theater, an opera house, and the offices for Black-owned insurance companies and other businesses. In 1925, C.C. Dejoie and O.C.W. Taylor established the very first office of The Louisiana Weekly in the Pythian Temple.

While we too join in the celebration as this historic building gets new life, we certainly hope as new businesses and middle-income renters move into the renovated Pythian, they honor the history of the building and remember that Black New Orleans is everywhere.