I know that cities often honor important individuals by naming streets or other such things after them. This being New Orleans, I should not be puzzled but do find myself so. Approaching the Carrollton I-10 interchange from the river, I have noticed a sign identifying it as the "Toni Morrison Interchange." Is this the noted poet, does she have some particular connection to the Crescent City, and if so what is the significance of the interchange to her? Poetry it ain't.
While our city and state can claim a connection with many giants of literature, I regret to say that Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-winning author of Beloved, is not one of ours. We would not be surprised to see a William Faulkner Freeway or a Walker Percy Parkway or a Tennessee Williams Tavern, but the interchange you refer to was not named after a man or woman of letters, but a legislator.
DeLesseps S. 'Toni" Morrison Jr. -- son of longtime New Orleans Mayor "Chep" Morrison -- was a Louisiana state representative from 1974 to 1980. In 1977, he ran for mayor himself but lost to Dutch Morial, our current mayor's daddy. In 1997, the state Legislature passed a bill to rename the multi-layered interchange in honor of Toni Morrison since he was instrumental in getting funds appropriated to build the I-10 overpasses at Carrollton that were dedicated in 1977. Toni Morrison passed away from cancer in 1996.
When I was going through old (1846-1896) New Orleans newspapers looking for birth, marriage, and death notices of family members, I was struck by the large number of newspapers we used to have at that time. How could one city support so many papers?
The fact is that it couldn't, but there was a time, say 1892, when you could choose nine dailies in three languages. This, of course, was when reading the newspaper was the only way to get the news.
In the early days, it was relatively cheap to print a newspaper. All you needed was a small printing press and a few fonts of type. Production was inexpensive, even after the typesetting machine came into use in 1891. In the days before newspapers had to compete for advertising dollars, newspapers could survive on circulation alone. Eventually, publishing became big business that required big bucks and much support from advertising.
Before the Civil War, the census of 1840 had New Orleans as the third-largest city in the United States. Even then there were six daily papers. One of them was L'Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orleans, which began in 1827. This French-language morning paper, always published in the French Quarter, was bought by The Times-Picayune in 1921 and ceased publication in 1923.
Another early paper was The Daily Picayune that sold for a picayune, a small coin worth six cents. Beginning in 1837, The Picayune eventually merged with the Times which had merged with the Democrat and in 1914 became The Times-Picayune. In the early days, The Picayune competed with its competitors by employing a pony express system to get the news from the east faster than the others.
A third major paper that had its beginning in antebellum days was the Deutsche Zeitung, or German Gazette. It premiered in 1848 and was the only German-language daily south of Ohio.
April 24, 1877, saw the official end of Reconstruction, and New Orleans had dropped to ninth largest city in America, about 200,000. Even so, there was fierce competition in the newspaper business with five daily papers. One was the Daily City Item, appearing in June 1877, the other the Daily States in 1880. The two merged in 1958.
In the years that followed, 27 other daily papers began publication. Some, like the Courrier de la Louisiana, the "organ of the Creole-American population" lasted about a year. But the Italo-Americano thrived from 1896-1901. In between there was also the New Delta, an anti-lottery paper, and the Daily Crusade, a Negro newspaper that advertised itself as the "only Republican paper south of the Mason-Dixon Line."
Sooner or later, they all bit the dust. The odds were just too great.