Ronald Lewis, Preserver of New Orleans Black Culture, Dies at 68

Ronald Lewis, Preserver of New Orleans Black Culture, Dies at 68


This obituary is component of a collection about folks who have died in the coronavirus pandemic.

Ronald W. Lewis, whose colourful museum in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans preserved the general performance traditions and rich road culture of its African-American population, died on March 20 in that city. He was 68.

The result in was the coronavirus, claimed Brent Taylor, a nephew. Mr. Lewis experienced bypass surgical treatment very last 12 months and experienced been properly until he contracted the virus in early March. He died at Ochsner Medical center.

The Residence of Dance and Feathers, as Mr. Lewis named his cultural establishment, was an astonishing treasure-trove of local historical past focused on the Decreased Ninth Ward and the Mardi Gras Indians, who dress in feathers, bangles and stunning, hand-sewn costumes as they dance through the city’s black neighborhoods on specific instances. (The team dates to the 1800s, formed by African-People to pay tribute to the Indigenous Americans who had served them during the time of slavery.)

The museum, about the size of a trailer and found in Mr. Lewis’s backyard on Tupelo Road, was packed ground to ceiling with costumes, parade ephemera, images and memorabilia from African-American social clubs.

Mr. Lewis invested his total life in the Reduced Ninth Ward, a working-course black neighborhood, other than for a challenging 12 months in which he lived in nearby Thibodaux, La., following becoming displaced in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. As he wrote in “The Household of Dance and Feathers” (2009), a book he put with each other with Rachel Breunlin, a cultural anthropologist, he thought that the history of his tradition should really be advised by “someone who has lived the society.”

In the ebook, Mr. Lewis explained the museum’s uncommon origin tale. He had started stitching from the time he was in center university and later created satisfies for the Mardi Gras tribe he served kind, the Choctaw Hunters, leaving his beads, feathers and other design and style supplies strewn about the dwelling, alongside with the memorabilia he had amassed.

“I arrived house one working day and everything was in my yard,” Mr. Lewis wrote. “My loving spouse, Charlotte (who we simply call Minnie), said, ‘I can not get this any more. You’ve received to find some thing to do with this.’”

In 2002, just after retiring from his work of 31 several years as a streetcar repairman for the Regional Transit Authority, Mr. Lewis took above a wooden get rid of that had been his sons’ playhouse and turned it into an early version of what would come to be his cultural heart. He modeled it on the Backstreet Cultural Museum, which is also devoted to the city’s African-American customs, founded by his friend Sylvester Francis in the Tremé community.

Teachers, journalists and the a lot of travelers who visited the Property of Dance and Feathers discovered in the delicate-spoken, gray-haired Mr. Lewis a charismatic storyteller. To outsiders who may perhaps have imagined of the Mardi Gras parade as minor far more than a significant road bash with tunes and alcoholic beverages, he would reveal its centuries-lengthy background, its customs and their meanings.

“We viewed that go from a get rid of in the yard with a couple of site visitors to persons from all over the earth coming,” Mr. Taylor mentioned. “And he didn’t demand to get in. He did not do that to make cash.”

In a statement, LaToya Cantrell, the mayor of New Orleans, known as Mr. Lewis “the really definition of a tradition bearer.”

For Mr. Lewis, telling the tale of his local community (and by extension his have everyday living) experienced a psychological resonance. “Preserving our society is our therapy,” he at the time told the Louisiana newspaper The Advocate.

“Right listed here in the Ninth Ward was where our people chased the American aspiration,” he explained to The Advocate.

Like anyone who was in New Orleans in 2005, Mr. Lewis observed his lifetime upended by Katrina, which flooded his residence and museum (equally ended up rebuilt) and practically obliterated his beloved neighborhood. He was 1 of the very first people today to return.

“When I came again to the Reduce 9, it was me, my wife and the very hot plate that she made a pot of gumbo for us with,” he reported in 2013 on a community television chat clearly show, “The Goodnight Present.”

Mr. Lewis is survived by his wife, Charlotte Hill Lewis two sons, Renaldo and Rashad his stepsiblings, Larry Dickerson, Stella Keasley, Cedric Lewis, Ebimola Ojusoku, Richard Lewis, Irvin Dickerson, Walter Jones and Larry Lewis seven grandchildren two wonderful-grandchildren and lots of nieces and nephews.

The Household of Dance and Feathers was a just one-guy procedure, with no official hours, text placards or cataloging of any kind, other than what existed in Mr. Lewis’s head. The only certain way to stop by was by calling him up on his cellphone to plan a time. The museum has been shut while his household usually takes inventory and decides what to do with it.

Ordinarily, someone of Mr. Lewis’s stature would be supplied a jazz funeral led by a brass band with countless numbers of folks becoming a member of powering in the 2nd line. But with social distancing constraints amid the coronavirus pandemic, this sort of a celebration was difficult at the time of his loss of life.

Mr. Lewis’s family and buddies hope to give him a correct New Orleans send-off on the working day of his birthday, in July.



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