Big Chief Larry Bannock and the Battle of Gert Town

Big Chief Larry Bannock was celebrated for his traditional Mardi Gras Indian dancing and lavish costumes, but when he wasn't swaying his ostrich feathers or shaking a tambourine he was in constant battle on behalf of Gert Town, both environmentally and socially.

Big Chief Larry Bannock was a well-known Mardi Gras Indian in the Gert Town neighborhood who resided at the corner of Edinburgh and Short Street. He began masking in 1972 as a spy boy, and in 1979 he became Big Chief and renamed the tribe, “The Golden Star Hunters.” Joe Caldwell (“Big Chief Joe”) would influence Bannock by teaching him how to build his own Indian suits. In return, Bannock would teach others the art of creating a suit and performing Indian songs and dances. When he wasn’t sewing beaded patches onto his suits, Bannock was politically outspoken in the Gert Town Neighborhood. In 2012, Bannock told the Louisiana Weekly, “This community has fattened more frogs to feed snakes over the years. We pay taxes but we don’t seem to get much in return.”

In 1960, Gert Town was also home to the Thompson Hayward Chemical Plant, which set up a small operation of mixing pesticides. Cane farmers, exterminators, and even the federal government would depend on the Thompson Hayward Chemical plant for DDT, Aldrin, and Agent Orange. In the late 1980s, Louisiana’s Department of Health discovered that the plant was dumping chemical solvents into the sewers. Gert Town residents Johnnie and Dorothy Leonard recalled what employees would do every day: “Fifty pound bags or hundred pound bags, they’d cut it, just pour it out and quite naturally when the wind is blowing it, takin’ it, you know. That’s when it gets bad, that’s when you couldn’t set on your porch, you couldn’t be outside you know, cause then it’d strangle you. It almost takes your breath.”

Exposure to these chemicals caused serious health risks within the Gert Town community, as they all have been linked to convulsions, Parkinson’s disease, Type II diabetes, and kidney damage. Bannock would be exposed to the same chemicals while living on Short Street. Eventually, he would take his final march at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, three days before experiencing a heart attack during surgery for kidney dialysis on April 30th, 2014. Bannock was vocal about how Gert Town was overlooked by the city and its community partners, especially during redevelopment after Katrina. He noted that the neighborhood’s proximity to Xavier University of Louisiana and the burgeoning biomedical district should allow Gert Town to prosper like other neighborhoods.

In 2011, Xavier's Division of Education worked with representatives of Gert Town to create a community center to serve its residents. The Xavier University Community Outreach Center was originally constructed at Audubon Court, but relocated to 7934 Edinburgh Street in 2014 after an electrical fire. The community center building is newly constructed, replacing Bannock’s earlier house and facing a different direction. The two are connected, however, not only by the plot of land but their desire to help Gert Town. Today the community center offers Gert Town residents services such as utility and rent assistance, homework clinics, counseling from Xavier graduate students, and collaboration with Xavier’s Center for Traumatic Stress Research.



7934 Edinburgh St., New Orleans, LA 70125 ~ Private Property, must email to schedule an appointment for visitation.