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Ronald Chisom Interview, Part 1
Cramer, Cheryl Q.W.
Topics Include: Chisom's involvement in Treme neighborhood, cleaning up area ward by ward, music and culture in Treme. Background noise on recording.
Ron Chisom is a community organizer and consultant for the history of New Orleans, particularly the Tremé area. He defines the Tremé area with St. Bernard, Canal, Broad, St Peter's Streets and Esplanade Avenue as boundaries. Chisom grew up in the 3rd Ward and later worked at Louisiana State University's (LSU) Medical School in the Medical Research Administration. He and a colleague named Jim Hayes were social activists against racism at LSU medical school. Around 1967, a group of drug-addicted individuals who knew Hayes came to them because they were having problems and wanted a change of lifestyle. They set up a meeting and strategized to improve their lives. The group then formed a club that led Chisom to get involved in the Tremé area. They set up a clean-up campaign to get people involved and to help other drug-addicted people have a purpose. They initially experienced some scrutiny, but later received more volunteers. Chisom initially did not know about the importance of music in Tremé, but he quickly learned by meeting musicians and learning about the different clubs. The 6th Ward Improvement Association quickly became the Tremé Community Improvement Association. The original group of individuals that approached Chisom and Hayes in 1967 were appointed as board members of the Improvement Association. This association gave stability to the Tremé area. After a while, a few of them stuck around while others did not. When asked about the influence of music on family life in Tremé, Chisom says that he learned that culture means a way of life, and in Tremé music helps to maintain humanity in a world where everything else tries to dehumanize African Americans. Music was their survival amidst oppression. Chisom never played an instrument or sung himself, but he does keep a beat and can drum to stay connected. He mentioned that drumming and being in the Congo Square is a way to keep them connected to Africa. Craig University was a major producer of keeping music alive in Tremé and teaching younger generations how to play. Chisom also mentioned the vegetable man, which was another way music was integrated into every aspect of Tremé life. Anyone could hear the vegetable man on his horse-drawn carriage from down the block as he sang about his fruits and vegetables for sale. Chisom attributes the ability of flow of music in Tremé to the lack of mass developments. On the weekends, Chisom and friends visit clubs such as Trombone Shorty and Joe's, where old time musicians play every day.
Amistad Research Center
Box 1, Item 3, Side 1, Treme Oral History Project collection, 1993-1994, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U.S. copyright laws.