Streetcars and their Historian Michael Mizell-Nelson

Tour curated by: Michael Mizell-Nelson, Kevin McQueeney

Streetcars are an iconic image of New Orleans. Although only three of the streetcar lines still exist—St. Charles, Canal, and Riverfront—they remain nostalgic vestiges of the city’s past, immortalized in Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named Desire, and a number one item on tourist lists of things to do in the Crescent City.

From their origins in the 1830s as local railcars and horse or mule-drawn drawn cars, to its transition to electric powered streetcars in the 1890s, through the early twentieth century strikes, the battle over streetcar segregation, the replacement of many of the lines by buses in the mid-twentieth century, the creation of the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority in 1979 to consolidate the previously privately-operated lines, and the restoration of the lines after Hurricane Katrina, streetcars have captured the public’s imagination, been important modes of transportation, and served as lenses to view the changing history of the city itself.


Locations for Tour

Shortly before the arrest of Homer Plessy in June 1892, a successful streetcar strike initiated a wave of union organizing that culminated in what has been called the first biracial general strike in US history. Between 20,000 and 25,000 union…

The Clio streetcar line opened in 1867 and ended service in 1932. Also known as the "C-L-10," this route once connected the uptown and Marigny (downtown) neighborhoods. The street, accompanied by the other eight muses, intersects a portion…

The Desire streetcar line gained widespread acclaim when Tennessee Williams' play, "A Streetcar Named Desire," was published in 1947. By that time, New Orleanians were quite familiar with the Desire line--many of them probably taking…

Following increasingly heated contract negotiations, New Orleans streetcar motormen and conductors struck beginning July 1, 1929. The survival of the carmen's union and 1,100 jobs was in question. Transit strikes throughout the nation provoked…

During the Second World War, a labor shortage developed as men began to serve in the armed forces. Women were increasingly encouraged to take over responsibilities on the home front. Women took jobs of all types: skilled and unskilled, manual and…

The late journalist and historian Charles "Pie" Dufour, in what may have been his last formal interview, describes the maiming of a child on the Dryades Line in the early 1920s. In an era when urban planners tout streetcars as engines of…

Michael Mizell-Nelson was a historian of the streetcar, exploring the labor history and publicizing the connection of streetcar strikes to the creation of the Po Boy Sandwich, examining streetcar segregation and integration, documenting the women…