The house where George Herriman was born no longer stands; in its place is a gate leading into a school parking lot. But it was here that, on August 22, 1880, George Joseph Herriman was born into a mixed-race, middle- to upper-class family headed by Clara Herriman and George Herriman Jr.
The Tremé neighborhood was, from its inception, a mixed neighborhood, with early lots purchased by Free People of Color such as the Herrimans and their cousins, the Chessés, along with immigrant families from France, Spain and other countries. Here, the Herrimans labored to build a home during decades of cultural and political upheaval.
It’s likely Herriman would have remembered his early years as a time of comfort and security, in a home and neighborhood filled with doting relatives. Also living in his house were his aunt and uncle, Alice and Ralph Hecaud, a musician and piano tuner. (This is the same family as Eulalie Hecaud, the godmother to Jelly Roll Morton.) The Hecauds brought another baby boy into the household just six months after Herriman’s birth. The next year, on July 13, 1882, Herriman’s brother, Henry Walter Herriman, was born. Next door resided Herriman’s grandparents with his aunt Josephine.
“It was a strange, mysterious, unpredictable world,” Herriman’s cousin Ralph Chessé would recall. “There were so many old people all round — people telling me what to do and what not to do; what to say and what not to say; where to go and where not to go. ‘Ne touche pas’ was the oft-repeated command.”
Although the homes on the Herrimans’ side of Villere Street no longer stand, the surviving buildings across the street give a good sense of the neighborhood at the time of Herriman’s birth. These include the former home of Herriman family friend Henry Louis Rey at 1447 N. Villere Street, and the restored Milné Estate at 1423 N. Villere Street, both buildings estimated to date from the 1860s.