Established in 1850 along Washington Avenue at Saratoga Street, Lafayette Cemetery No. 2 is the site of many different expressions of the drive of individuals to organize and collect for the greater benefit. Social aid societies such as the Société Française de Bienfaisance et D'Assistance Mutuelle built tombs for their members here – tall, wide, multi-vault tombs into which numerous burials could be made at once. Members of these societies paid monthly or yearly dues, the benefits of which included a funeral, tomb burial, and often monetary support for widows and orphans.
The Butchers’ Benevolent Society charged its members each $1 in the event of a member’s death, the proceeds of which were given to surviving family. If any member failed to attend the burial of the deceased butcher, he was fined fifty cents (one dollar for board members). Members attending a butcher’s funeral were prohibited from smoking cigars and cigarettes while processing to the tomb, but were allowed to do so when processing away.
The Butcher’s association tomb is distinctive, but is not nearly the most significant aspect of the society’s history. Shortly after the dedication of the tomb, the Butchers’ Benevolent Association brought suit against the City of New Orleans in a case that challenged the interpretation of the newly-drafted Fourteenth Amendment. The Slaughterhouse Case became a landmark Supreme Court case in 1873, and continues to be argued and revisited today.
The Slaughterhouse Case challenged the language of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was intended to establish the rights of emancipated slaves as the same rights, privileges and immunities of all American citizens. Beyond the Butchers’ tomb, the exercise of these rights by African American laborers is visible in high relief across the landscape of Lafayette Cemetery No. 2.
Along the Sixth Street and Loyola Street fences of Lafayette Cemetery No. 2 are numerous society tombs dedicated to the members of African American labor organizations. Many of them were associated with the transport, weighing, and moving of goods along New Orleans’ waterfront: the Coachmen Benevolent Association, the Teamsters and Loaders Union Benevolent Association, the Cotton Yardmen No. 2, and others.
“Leading the new union drive was the white Cotton Yardmen’s Benevolent Association formed in December 1879 under the direction of Democratic party ward boss and Administrator of Police, Patrick Mealy; two years later it boasted a membership of 986 and a bank account of $13,000. Black cotton rollers, with the assistance of the leaders of the white yardmen, formed the Cotton Yardmen’s Benevolent Association No. 2, in January 1880, and both organizations agreed to work ‘in full harmony’ with each other. In April 1880, the black teamsters and loaders established their benevolent association, as did coal wheelers the following month…In September 1880, cotton weighers and reweighers formed a mutual aid association that aimed to secure a uniform system for weighing and re-weighing cotton and to regulate wages and arbitrate disputes.”
The society tombs of these organizations were mostly constructed in the late 1880s and early 1890s, a time in which unionization among African American laborers was galvanizing. Typical of their construction era, they are simple in design, with brick-and-stucco sides and roofs, and save their detail for their primary elevations. In most cases, these are clad in marble paneling with parapets. Due to years of neglect, these tombs have mostly lost sculptural elements such as statues and urns which once topped their parapets.
Some tombs have been refinished with Portland cement-based stuccoes and, in some cases, granite-rubble cladding.
The erection of tombs and monuments is an expression of the fundamental human desire to be remembered by those who come after us. In Lafayette Cemetery No. 2 today, we can view the physical vestiges of a movement in which individuals claimed control of their economic future by organizing and aiding each other, despite enormous disadvantages.
Daniel Rosenberg. New Orleans Dockworkers: Race, Labor, and Unionism 1892-1923. New York: SUNY Press, 1988.
Eric Arnesen. Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics, 1863-1923. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994.
Steve Striffler and Thomas Jessen Adams. Working in the Big Easy: The History and Politics of Labor in New Orleans. Baton Rouge: University of Louisiana Press, 2014.
Paul D. Moreno. Black Americans and Organized Labor: A New History. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2008.
PBS: Landmark Supreme Court Cases related to Labor.
New Orleans Dockworkers and Unionization, Wikipedia
New Orleans 1892 General Strike, Wikipedia
 Butchers’ Benevolent Association, Constitution et règlements de la Société de bienfaisance des bouchers de la Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans: Imprimerie Franco-Americaine), 1883, Articles Fourteen and Sixteen.
 Arneson, Eric, Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics, 1863-1923 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 61-63.