One of the great cultural landmarks of New Orleans’s black history, St. Augustine has been a center of community life in the troubled but striving Tremé neighborhood since the mid-1800s. This church was founded by free people of color, who also purchased pews to be used exclusively by slaves (to the frustrating dismay of their white masters). This was a first in the history of slavery in the U.S., and resulted in one of the most integrated churches in the country. In the modern era, under the direction of its visionary and charismatic then-pastor, Father Jerome LeDoux, St. Augustine continued to celebrate its history by integrating traditional African and New Orleans elements into its services. Homer Plessy, Sidney Bechet, and Big Chief Tootie Montana all called this their home church. In late 2005 the archdiocese decided to close St. Augustine because of diminished membership, but a major public outcry bought a reprieve, and it’s going strong again. Services here are remarkable, especially when the jazzy 10am Sunday Mass features a guest performer like James Andrews or John Boutté. Besides the soul-stirring service, this can be one of the best free concerts in town.
Frequent art exhibits celebrating the neighborhood, not to mention the deeply moving Tomb of the Unknown Slave outside, make this worth a stop anytime (though you should call ahead to make sure it’s open), and don’t forget to leave a donation to help keep St. Aug going.