One of the oldest churches in the U.S. for black Catholics, St. Augustine was built at the request of Free People of Color and others in 1841-1842, when about half of the congregation was African American. The church has served the community for well over 150 years now and remains a vibrant congregation. Tours are available, so be sure to stop in for a visit to get a better feel for the real heart of Creole culture.
War of the Pews
A few months before the dedication of St. Augustine Church in 1842, Free People of Color began to purchase pews for their families to sit in. When white people in the area heard about this, they began a campaign to buy more pews than the blacks. The “War of the Pews” was ultimately won by the Free People of Color who bought three pews to every one purchased by the whites. In an unprecedented social, political, and religious move, the free blacks also bought all the pews of both side aisles. They gave those pews to the slaves as their exclusive place of worship, a first in the history of slavery in the United States. This mix of the pews resulted in the most integrated congregation in the entire country: one large row of Free People of Color, one large row of whites and other ethnicities, and two outer aisles of slaves.
Historical figures such as Homer Plessy (of Plessy v. Ferguson fame) and Alexander P. Tureaud, Sr., a giant among the civil rights attorneys of the 1960s, were members of St. Augustine Church.
St. Augustine Catholic Church emerged long ago as the spiritual center of Faubourg Tremé (pronounced “Tre-MAY”). Faubourg is a French term meaning suburb. Tremé is not only America's oldest black neighborhood, it was also the site of significant economic, cultural, political, social, and legal events that have shaped Black America for the past two centuries.