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Loyola students help preserve untold New Orleans stories with oral history project

Loyola press release - April 22, 2013

First-year students at Loyola University New Orleans are video documenting rare oral histories of New Orleans as part of their classes, including little-known stories of the legendary Dooky Chase Restaurant. Using Loyola’s new Documentary and Oral History Studio, the freshmen interviewed former employees who worked during the restaurant’s beginnings in the 1940s and 1950s, and the stories they told focused on more than just the famed food they were serving up.

“Leah Chase is possibly one of the best-known New Orleanians that we have, but there are stories we haven’t heard before about how Dooky Chase shaped the fabric of New Orleans,” said Justin Nystrom, Ph.D., assistant professor of history and director of Loyola’s Documentary and Oral History Studio. “With the help of Loyola’s Documentary and Oral History Studio, my students witnessed firsthand accounts of history, playing an important role in uncovering stories only New Orleans can tell. Combine that with the documentary skills we teach and it’s not your typical college class—it’s something only Loyola is excited to offer.”

Through the interviews, students uncovered little known gems about the Civil Rights movement, the African-American community, the city’s iconic music, as well as its famous food culture. The former employees told stories of meeting celebrities at the restaurant such as professional boxer Muhammad Ali and hosting political leaders of the Civil Rights movement in secret meetings in the upstairs of the restaurant. The interviewees also spoke of how important events such as desegregation and the construction of Interstate 10 through the Claiborne Avenue corridor changed life in the restaurant's sixth ward neighborhood.

The students preserved these stories using professional video equipment through Loyola’s Documentary and Oral History Studio. In the studio, students combined the rigorous methodology of oral history with stylistic considerations and visual storytelling techniques of documentary filmmaking.

“When I first learned about the restaurant, I was just kind of blown away that it was such a big deal and I had never heard about it,” said Loyola freshman Brittany Trosclair. “And then when I realized that I was going to get to help preserve… this little piece of history that came along with New Orleans, I felt really privileged.”

For high-resolution video or to schedule interviews, contact Mikel Pak, Loyola’s associate director of public affairs.

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LoyNews is an e-newswire produced by the Loyola University New Orleans Office of Public Affairs. LoyNews is distributed weekly to local, regional and national news media outlets, communicating the latest news and accomplishments of the university and its community.