Natchez native works to preserve history, culture of city

Published 12:34 am Sunday, September 2, 2007

As New Orleans works to put itself back together, a Natchez native is leading the effort to ensure its history and culture aren’t lost in the process.

Burl Salmon moved to New Orleans two months ago after being named director of development and outreach for the Historic New Orleans Collection. Salmon, the son of the late Walter and Virginia Salmon, said the institution is dedicated to the study and preservation of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South region.

The Historic New Orleans Collection, a museum, research center and publisher, comprises over two miles of documents and 350,000 photographs, prints, drawings, paintings and artifacts. It was founded in 1966 by Louisiana collector Gen. L. Kemper Williams and his wife as a way to keep their personal collection intact and available to the public.

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Salmon was living in Washington, D.C., when he heard about the job opening in New Orleans.

“It was almost serendipity,” he said. “We weren’t planning to come, but New Orleans was rebuilding, so we decided to be a part of it.”

Salmon said post-Katrina New Orleans is vastly different than the city he frequently visited while living in Natchez.

“Everything is different,” 35-year-old Salmon said. “A lot of the businesses just aren’t there anymore. There are fewer people, the streets are less crowded.”

Two years after the devastation, Salmon said some neighborhoods are still completely demolished and uninhabitable.

“The recovery effort is slower than anyone could have imagined it to be,” he said. “It’s bringing to surface a lot of problems the city already had — from political corruption to race relations. We are making progress, but it’s slow.”

The Historic Collection has partnered with schools, musicians and educators to help with the recovery effort.

“I absolutely believe it is our job to help with the effort,” Salmon said. “It’s my job to work with the community.”

The institute’s museum was the first in the city to reopen after the hurricane.

“We have a mission to represent the city, state and region to the outside world,” he said. “Nothing was going to stop us.”

Despite his efforts to help with the recovery, Salmon said he doesn’t yet feel like a true New Orleanian.

“You can’t be a true New Orleanian if you didn’t live through the storm,” he said. “To say that I am would be unfair.”

Salmon said he has no plans of leaving New Orleans anytime soon. “We moved here and we’re committed to the city,” he said.