The Herrimans were devoutly Catholic. They attended Masses and celebrated sacraments at numerous churches surrounding their neighborhood. Yet the historic St. Augustine Church was their “home” church.
Celebrated as the first African-American parish in the United States, St. Augustine was founded in 1841 on land that originally was part of Claude Tremé’s plantation. It is estimated that between half to two-thirds of its early parish was composed of people of color, including both enslaved and free people. (Slaves would sit in side pews that remain part of the church interior today.)
The Herrimans were among the earliest members of St. Augustine. In 1844 — just three years after the church’s founding — Frederic and Adelaide Herriman brought their one-month-old son Frederic Herriman here to be baptized by Guillaume Arthur Le Mercier du Quesnay, the Jamaican-born pastor of St. Augustine who would later move to St. Louis Cathedral. Frederic Sr. was brother to George Herriman’s grandfather (who also was named George Herriman). Their mother — cartoonist George Herriman’s great-grandmother — was a socially prominent Free Woman of Color named Justine Olivier. Their father — the cartoonist’s great-grandfather — was Stephen Herriman, a white steamboat captain from New York.
In the decades following St. Augustine’s founding, the Herriman family would return again and again to celebrate baptisms and weddings. Although the church was integrated, its records were not — the details of the Herrimans’ involvement with St. Augustine are recorded in archdiocese books that were reserved for people of color.
When cartoonist George Herriman was born in 1880, his parents opted for unknown reasons to bring their first-born child to Our Lady of Sacred Heart Church, located about the same distance from their house in the opposite direction. Yet the Herrimans remained involved with St. Augustine, returning here to celebrate the baptism of their second son, Henry Walter, in 1882 — presumably with two-year-old George Herriman in tow.
Other notable members of St. Augustine have included pioneers in the Civil Rights struggle such as Homer Plessy, whose challenge to segregated trains resulted in the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson decision that enshrined “separate but equal” into law, and Alexander Pierre “A. P.” Tureaud Sr., whose work as the NAACP’s New Orleans attorney helped dismantle the tragic results of that ruling. Following a struggle over its future after Hurricane Katrina, St. Augustine Catholic Church remains an active parish to this day.