Monument to segregation will get new life

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - It is a monument to the Jim crow segregation laws Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought to defeat.

But thanks to a big cash infusion, the old Carver theatre in the heart of Treme is about to enter a new chapter and could help rebuild a part of the city at the same time.

It's been 30 years since some of the giants of the music industry performed at the Carver theatre.

Sam Cooke would go to the Carver after performing for white audiences only at the Blue Room.

"They would come and perform some bootleg shows so blacks could come enjoy the performance," said Carver manager Vincent Sylvain.

The Carver was built 63 years ago for African Americans in the days of segregation.

In grade school, Irma Thomas came in second in a talent contest for singers.

"She didn't win," said Sylvain. "I want to see who won first place."

Now, thanks to an $8 million facelift, the Carver is about to re-open with a new mission.

The Orleans Avenue theatre is poised to capitalize on the world wide publicity received by the HBO series Treme, providing the neighborhood's only music venue that will cater to indigenous music. It will also include an education component.

"One of the great things is working with the Kid Jordan institute and teach kids how to compose," said Sylvain.

Promoters like Willie Murray are already lined up.

"I see it as an opportunity for the community to take advantage of awesome talent that walks around every day," said Murray.

One of the features of the new Carver is the VIP balcony lounge; something that didn't exist in the original because of the stigma. When the Carver was built in 1950, blacks were forced to sit in balconies at most theatres across town, but not at the Carver, where one wasn't built.

"Balconies were viewed as an insult to the Negro community at that time," said Sylvain.

Many events will be available through live streaming. They also plan to do a 'Showtime at the Apollo' styled talent show to showcase up and coming local talent.

Musician Michael Ballard believes the Carver could fill a badly needed niche.

"After the storm a lot of places you can't perform at," said Ballard, "But the Carver should fill that need."

The hope is to find new hidden talent like Irma Thomas and help rebuild Treme at the same time.

Carver managers plan to re-open next month in time for Mardi Gras.

Copyright 2014 WVUE. All rights reserved.