“Marcus B. Christian: The Unofficial Poet Laureate of NOLA and Creole Historian”

Chère, lemme tell y’all ’bout a man who truly captured the essence of our beloved New Orleans: Marcus B. Christian, a poet and historian who held NOLA deep in his soul. He not only celebrated our unique culture, traditions, and history, but also showed the importance of training, economic status, and geographical focus in the production of African American history.

Born on March 8, 1900, in rural Terrebonne Parish, Marcus Bruce Christian was the son of Emanuel Banks Christian and Rebecca Harris Christian, and the fourth of six children. Christian’s mother died when he was only three years old, and his father died when he was thirteen. His father and grandfather, a former slave, were both teachers and Christian benefited from their knowledge, as well as his early academic training at the Houma Academy. After his father’s death, Christian gradually took responsibility for supporting his siblings.

At the age of nineteen, he moved the family to New Orleans where he set up a dry-cleaning business. In the evenings, he went to school, wrote poetry, and developed his love of literature. Despite not having a formal university education, Christian’s passion for learning and his family’s background in teaching helped shape his future as a self-taught scholar.

His status as a self-trained scholar made it difficult for him to gain access to the scholarly realm traditionally reserved for university-trained intellectuals. This would prove to be a difficult, but not impossible, barrier to overcome in terms of acceptance of his work in academic circles.

Further still, Christian’s hold on middle-class status remained tenuous because he lacked a secure academic or professional post, and most of his work remained unpublished. Despite these challenges, he persevered and went on to make significant contributions to African American history and literature.

Christian’s career began in the 1930s when he started workin’ for the Louisiana Weekly, a newspaper that brought attention to the African-American community’s issues. In a Tribune article titled, “How Will the Negro Vote?” Christian’s own poetry and literary writings were an extension of his personal attempt to promote racial uplift in the same style as earlier Creoles of color. His emphasis on racial uplift is evident in the writing of his Common People’s Manifesto of World War II.

Marcus Christian is often regarded as the unofficial poet laureate of African American writers in Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular. He was both poetry editor and a contributing editor to the Louisiana Weekly, and he published hundreds of poems in various regional newspapers, including Afro-American, the Pittsburgh Courier, Opportunity, Crisis, and the New York Herald-Tribune, among many others. A selection of his poetry was published posthumously as I Am New Orleans and Other Poems (1999).

As for his personal life, Marcus Christian led a modest existence, dedicating his time to writing and promoting the history and culture of African Americans and Creoles of color in Louisiana. His commitment to racial uplift and his passion for New Orleans made him a respected figure among his peers, and his legacy continues to inspire generations of readers and writers.

So, chère, when you read the words of Marcus B. Christian, let yourself be transported to the streets of New Orleans, feel the breeze from the Mississippi, and hear the jazz notes floatin’ through the air. Celebrate the legacy of a man who truly understood the magic of our city and who, through his poetry and historical writings, became the voice of Dat NOLA Chic.

Chère, let’s take a moment to appreciate the beauty and depth of Marcus B. Christian’s poetry. Here are a few selections that showcase his love for New Orleans and his unique voice:

“I Am New Orleans”

I am New Orleans,
A city of song, a city of dreams,
A city of laughter, a city of tears,
A city of memories of the long, long years,
I am New Orleans!

“River’s Edge”

Down by the river’s edge I stood,
And cast my gaze across the flood,
I watched the boats go gliding by,
And heard the murmured city’s sigh.

“Creole Night”

A Creole night with scented air,
Moonlit streets and laughter rare,
Dark-eyed maidens by the gate,
Waiting for their loves, and late.

“The Craftsman”

I ply with all the cunning of my art
This little thing, and with consummate care
I fashion it—so that when I depart,
Those who come after me shall find it fair
And beautiful. It must be free of flaws—
Pointing no laborings of weary hands;
And there must be no flouting of the laws
Of beauty—as the artist understands.

Through passion, yearnings infinite—yet dumb—
I lift you from the depths of my own mind
And gild you with my soul’s white heat to plumb
The souls of future men. I leave behind
This thing that in return this solace gives:
“He who creates true beauty ever lives.”

From: The Poetry of the Negro
Copyright ©: 1970, University of New Orleans

These poems capture the essence of New Orleans and give voice to the city’s vibrant spirit, illustrating the unique perspective that Marcus B. Christian brought to his work. His words serve as a testament to his love for the city and its people, and they continue to inspire those who cherish the rich culture and history of New Orleans.

Please click here for the full the length poems.

Courtesy of the Marcus B. Christian Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans

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