Human Journey

Young Explorers Grantee Launches Ninth Ward Expedition

Here I am, about two months from starting my expedition as a National Geographic Young Explorers Grantee.  Most adventurers would be rushing to get passports, eco-friendly bug repellents and whatever you call those ropes that keep you from plummeting off the mountain you’re scaling.  Luckily, I don’t have to worry about visas or carabiners, because I am exploring in my own backyard.

I know, the words “young explorer” and “my own backyard” may sound a little Brownie Girl Scout.  But my backyard is actually New Orleans and a Young Explorers Grant from the Geographic provides seed funding to individuals ages 18 to 25 to help launch their careers in the fields of research, conservation and exploration.

In a couple of months, I will begin my oral history project about 20th Century immigrant culture in the New Orleans Ninth Ward. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, people across the country read stories and saw photos of disaster and devastation in the Ninth Ward.  But before Katrina, the neighborhood was a cultural hotspot.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Ninth Ward was a vibrant cluster of immigrant boroughs.  This gumbo of ethnicities provided New Orleans with some of its key ingredients: jazz, food and faith.

Though the Ninth Ward perseveres, several buildings stand damaged and plants are unkempt and overgrown. Many of the residents who remember the community in its heyday are now elderly and dying.  This creates an urgency to document the significant district. I am also inspired to record the area because of a personal connection.

Photo by Robert Giglio
Saint Maurice Catholic Church, founded 1852, sits abandoned in the Lower Ninth Ward more than six years post Katrina.


My father and paternal grandparents were born and raised in the Ninth Ward.  My 92-year-old grandmother remembers the Italian grocery store around the corner, Latino neighbors and the jazz club her uncle owned.  Her memories and those of her peers contribute to the history of New Orleans life in the 1920s and ‘30s.

I am currently looking for others who once called the Ninth Ward home to interview for my exploration.  If you know anyone who lived in the neighborhood at any time between 1920 and 1960 and would like additional information please contact me at


Caroline Gerdes recently graduated from Louisiana State University where she studied journalism and history (her major and minor, respectively). As a native of the Greater New Orleans Area, she decided to explore her own backyard with help from a Young Explorers Grant. Caroline is currently conducting an oral history project about the New Orleans Ninth Ward. She seeks to record the community’s full history — its immigrant beginnings, the development of jazz, the depression and prohibition, desegregation and hurricanes. Caroline’s exploration is also a personal quest as her father and paternal grandparents grew up in the Ninth Ward. Her blogs reflect an inside look at New Orleans life and culture, especially the edible aspects.
  • Martyn Lees

    Sounds like a great project. Best of luck.

  • […] stress early on was not survival related. A) I had to postpone six oral history interviews for my project.  B) I had finally hit the age where my parents were evacuating from their house to mine and I had […]

  • […] can hear some of  these French Street names in the audio clip below from three of my Ninth Ward oral history interviews.  Listen for Ninth Ward streets, Chartres, Mazant and […]

  • […] Ward residents shared memories of these King Cake parties during my oral history interviews. Some of the older participants said a pecan was once used to symbolize the baby Jesus. And others […]

  • preston reuther

    I lived and worked in the lower 9 as a police officer. My father was a major on the job and he lived down there for 50 years and my grandfather had the fisrt box factory in there back yard right next to 5326 royal st.

    The reuther family had a seed company around the corner and two blocks away we had the pic movie theatre. it was segrated at that time.

    I was an alter boy at st. mauraice catholic church and I went to the church there and the grade school. I remember the seafood company just two blocks away called A AND E SEAFOOD.

    Just 8 blocks away there was the old ice house and we all picked up a block of ice whever we went on a pic nick.

    It was an integrated neighborhood way back and we all got along great both black and white. I went to holy cross high school for one year. But the brothers kept beating the crap out of me so I went to chalmette school. I guess in hind site I probably deserved it. I was a real smart ass.

    In that area of the lower nine everyone knew my dad who was a police captian down there and my grand pa who was a ward leader and in politics.

    As a kid we would go on the big logs that floated down the river we felt like a modern day tom sayers. I ran thru the cottom warehouses that lined the river. Would run thru those warehouses all day. Dont know what the fascination was but it was all exciting to me as a kid.

    Fats domino only lived 10 blocks from my house and dad knew him well. Lots of rock and roll stars lived down in the lower nine like lee dorsey and so many others.

    Mac Rabinac or other wise known as doctor john started in music down there. Lots of rock and roll legends came from the 9th ward. We lived a musical life and lived for mardi grass each year and i went to a whole lot of those king cake parties. Kissed a lot of girls!

    Living in Missouri now, great place but it wont ever be home. To me New Orleans is my home!

    Preston Reuther
    lower 9th warder

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media