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Finding your past with the Amistad Research Center: The story of Elma Moore Booker

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — Lisa Moore is the Head of Research Services at the Amistad Research Center and says, “history is such a story! It’s all of our stories. It’s not just certain stories that have been privileged.”

New Orleans’ Amistad Research Center is a repository of priceless material that specializes in race, ethnicity and social justice. In its artifacts and files are the details of who we are as Americans. Moore’s passion is helping people discover the breadth of American History in its entirety, through Amistad’s collection.

“We have so much more than African American history here. The African American material that we do have is not just about slavery. It’s about free people of color. It’s about people in general and the different histories. It’s not just about slavery, basketball players and the Civil Rights Movement. We cover those topics and have a whole lot more. For instance, my great aunt, Elma Moore Booker was the first Creole Black woman to open a dance studio in the state of Louisiana.”

Dance educator Elma Moore married a carpenter named Joseph Booker and taught dance to a host of New Orleans’ families from the 1920s to the mid 1970s. Her home was at 3715 Alfred St. and was also one of her dance studios. She had recitals at Xavier University.

“Dance is the last form of resistance. People in New Orleans dance about joy, death, getting our check at the end of the month and babies first communion. It’s an expressive culture. It’s very African. We express ourselves through dance and song. It’s just part of what New Orleans is and does,” explains Lisa Moore.

From old tap dancing shoes, to certificates, to endless file cabinets of donated material, manila folders, micro phish and computer database networks; the more anyone looks into the past at Amistad, the more they discover that the rhythm we dance by is nothing more than a succession of steps and movements from yesterday.

Lisa Moore says, “It’s beyond fascinating to me that I moved back here four years ago to work at the Amistad Research Center. Since then, I keep stumbling over my relatives in the collections. It’s pretty cool that anybody can come in here and maybe find something of their families in what we have here.”

Learn more about Elma Moore Booker here.

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