By Fritz Esker
Lloyd Lazard, a community activist who sought for decades to build a National Slave Ship Museum in New Orleans, passed away on Monday, January 4. He was 80.
“Lloyd’s legacy is one of a man on a bold mission to bring to manifestation the journey of an enslaved people who overcame the horrors of slavery, Jim Crow, and who, along the way, made enormous contributions to the United States of America,” wrote C.C. Campbell-Rock, an advisor to the African-American Heritage Cultural Center, in a statement.
Lazard’s efforts to establish the National Slave Ship Museum began in the mid-1990s. A 2013 Uptown Messenger article detailed Lazard’s presentation in front of the City Council’s Special Projects and Economic Development Committee. The museum would be located on Celeste Street in the Lower Garden District. Its centerpiece would be a drydocked, full-size replica slave ship. Lazard also hoped for the site to have a DNA lab enabling visitors to trace their ancestors.
“The reality of it is the fact that New Orleans was the cradle of the slave trade,” Lazard told WGNO in 2013. “New Orleans is one of the rare places that if you do the family tree you’re, going to bring every ethnic group in according to how they came in because they kept records.”
That 2013 meeting was not Lazard’s only appearance in front of the City Council on behalf of the project. A 2001 Times-Picayune article described a meeting from that year.
“I’m coming to you with a concept…Just like those who came forward with their concepts of a Superdome or a convention center. But I am convinced that this can be economically viable, that it can be educationally viable. And that it can serve as a healing mechanism,” Lazard said in 2001.
Gail Glapion, president of the African-American Heritage Cultural Center, said the status of the National Slave Ship Museum is still in flux. There are issues regarding funding and land use that must be sorted out before groundbreaking can begin. But Glapion said she is optimistic the project will get done because of its educational and financial benefits for the New Orleans area.
“We’d like to fulfill this dream he (Lazard) had,” Glapion said. “He was one of the most ferocious, passionate people about any task he undertook.”
Lazard had long been a dedicated community activist. A 1996 Times-Picayune article stated, “No one is more faithful in attending council meetings than Lloyd Lazard, a Gert Town activist who addresses the council at least once each meeting, often discussing what he sees as discrimination against either African-American men or his neighborhood. He usually makes his points in no uncertain terms.”
Lazard’s efforts were not limited to the National Slave Ship Museum or to council meetings. A voracious reader, he believed in education, and was passionate about teaching people about subjects ranging from the history of the Carrollton neighborhood to the life of Mahalia Jackson. He also founded the African-American Heritage Cultural Center, a non-profit with the goal of creating a major complex to display, teach and honor the legacy of enslaved Africans while promoting trade between African nations and New Orleans.
“Lloyd’s unassuming manner and his plain dress – he wasn’t a fan of suits and button-down dress shirts – belied his depth of knowledge of history and civil rights,” wrote Campbell-Rock. “He was, all at once, a visionary, a history buff, and a metaphysical force of nature.”
Lazard’s knowledge of Louisiana law, politics, music and history made him a frequent guest on WBOK radio and several community access television shows. A renaissance man, Lazard also played the conga drums with a local African-American drum corps.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell released a statement about Lazard’s passing on Facebook. “Deeply sad to learn of the passing of Mr. Lloyd Lazard, a long-time leader in our community and a tireless voice for our people. He fought hard on education and human rights issues, and spearheaded efforts to establish the National Slave Ship Museum. He always spoke his truth to power, and he made our city and our institutions better for it,” Cantrell wrote.
This article originally published in the January 11, 2021 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.