Today in New Orleans History

April 20

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Writer Robert Tallant is Born
April 20, 1909
Robert Tallant with Mayor Chep Morrison

Born in New Orleans on April 20, 1909. Robert Tallant was educated in local public schools. He worked as an advertising copywriter, bank teller, and clerk before "drifting" into writing. His friendship with Lyle Saxon led to a position as editor on the Louisiana Writers' Project of the WPA. In this position he completed the writing of Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Collection of Louisiana Folk Tales, the Project's compilation of Louisiana folklore. By 1948 his career was fully launched and over the next eleven years he produced eight novels and six full-length works of nonfiction, including three for Random House.

Tallant also wrote and had published numerous short stories and articles on subjects of local interest. His 1951 The Pirate Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans won the Louisiana Library Association award for the best book of that year. In 1952 his revision of the Writers' Project New Orleans City Guide was published by Houghton Mifflin. During the last years of his life, Tallant lectured in English at Newcomb College and worked as a reporter for the New Orleans Item. Robert Tallant died in New Orleans on April 1, 1957. (Photo and text from the New Orleans Public Library)

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Suspecting Congressman Willian Jefferson of bribery, the FBI raided his Congressional offices in May 2006, but he was re-elected later that year. On June 4, 2007, a federal grand jury indicted Jefferson on sixteen felony charges related to corruption. Jefferson was defeated by Republican Joseph Cao on December 6, 2008, being the most senior Democrat to lose re-election that year. In 2009, he was tried in Virginia on corruption charges. On August 5, 2009, he was found guilty of eleven of the sixteen corruption counts. Jefferson's lawyers have promised to appeal, a gesture which New Orleans former U.S. attorney Harry Rosenberg told the Times-Picayune may work in Jefferson's favor because the jury failed to convict him on all sixteen of the indictment counts. Jefferson was sentenced to thirteen years on November 13, 2009, the longest sentence yet handed down to a congressman for bribery or any other crime. On March 26, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed Jefferson's conviction and sentence on ten of the eleven counts on which he was convicted. The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded the conviction on one count of the indictment, involving alleged wire fraud, holding that venue on that count was improper in the federal court in Virginia. On April 20, 2012, U.S. District Court judge T.S. Ellis revoked Jefferson's bail and ordered that he report to prison to begin serving his thirteen-year sentence by May 4, 2012. On May 4, 2012, Jefferson surrendered to the Bureau of Prisons facility in Beaumont, Texas to begin serving his 13-year sentence. He is scheduled for release on August 30, 2023. Jefferson owes $5 million in legal fees and has filed for bankruptcy.

On April 20, 1944, the Liberty ship Charles W. Wooster was launched by Delta Shipbuilding Company.

James Hubert Blenk, clergyman, educator, prelate.  Born, Neustadt, Rhenish Bavaria, Germany, August 13, 1856; son of James Marcus and Catherine (Witteman) Blenk.  Removed to New Orleans as a boy with his parents, who were non-Catholics.  At age 12, decided to become a Catholic; was instructed by Redemptorists at St. Alphonsus Church but received first communion at St. Louis Cathedral in 1869.  Shortly afterwards, attended Redemptorist College, Ilchester, Md., but in time returned to study in Louisiana at Jefferson College, Convent, La.  Having decided to join the Society of Mary, went to the Marist House of Studies, Belley, France; made novitiate at Ste. Foy of Lyons; the Catholic University of Ireland, Dublin; and became a professed Marist on September 24, 1879.  After ordination to priesthood on August 16, 1885, became a member of the faculty of Jefferson College, 1885-1891, then its president, 1891-1896.  Appointed pastor of Holy Name of Mary Church, Algiers, also serving the archdiocese as chairman of the board of studies for the Catholic Winter School of America.  In 1897, auditor and secretary in the apostolic delegation for Cuba and Puerto Rico as well as sub-apostolic delegate to Cuba.  In 1899, elected to the see of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The archbishop of New Orleans, Placide L. Chapelle (q.v.), consecrated him on July 12 in St. Louis Cathedral.  Upon the death of Chapelle, Bishop Blenk was named his successor, receiving the pallilum or insignia of his office, April 24, 1907.  A gifted educator, Blenk fostered schools at all levels, established the first Archdiocesan School Board, and appointed in 1906 the first archdiocesan superintendent of schools (Fr. Leslie J. Kavanagh [q.v.], founding pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, New Orleans).  Blenk re-opened the preparatory seminary at St. Benedict, La., and laid the groundwork for the eventual establishment of Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans, by his immediate successor.  He sought to raise the standards of Catholic education by making St. Mary's Dominican College, New Orleans, the diocesan normal school.  He encouraged the beginnings of both Loyola and Xavier universities; organized a board of Catholic charities and Catholic youth activities.  A strong organizer, introduced the Federation of Catholic Societies and the Federation of Holy Name Societies; promoted Knights of Columbus councils and circles of St. Margaret's Daughters, among other groups. Through his initiative, religious communities of men and women, notably Mother Katharine Drexel's Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the Josephites, and the Holy Ghost Fathers intensified their Louisiana ministry among blacks.  For at least six years, Blenk suffered from cardiac problems but kept up his round of activities.  Died after a heart attack, April 20, 1917.  The funeral took place in St. Joseph's Church since the Cathedral, which he had planned to renovate, was then considered unsafe for occupancy.  H.C.B.  Sources:  Roger Baudier, The Catholic Church in Louisiana (1939); Joseph Bernard Code, Dictionary of the American Hierarchy, 1789-1964 (1964); "Archdiocese of New Orleans Centennial Supplement," Catholic Action of the South, XVIII, No. 44 (October 5, 1950). From


Emile Joseph Christian, jazz musician (trombone and string bass). Born, New Orleans, April 20, 1895. Last surviving member of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, which he joined in 1918 at Reisenweher in New York City. He traveled with the band to London in 1919, then left it in 1920 to join Phil Napoleon's Memphis Five for a brief time. Left that band and returned to Europe for 20 years, playing in Berlin, Paris, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and in Bombay, India. During several years of his intercontinental tour, he was the only white member of Leon Abbey's Orchestra. After returning to New Orleans, remained active with local musicians like George Gerard, Pete Fountain, Johnny Wiggs and Sharkey Bonano. Children: Azilda, Frank. Died, New Orleans, December 31, 1973; interred Greenwood Cemetery. Source:

The West End streetcar line (April 20, 1876 – January 15, 1950) is still fondly remembered for its jaunty ride through the grassy right-of-way along the New Basin Canal (now filled in) to the popular West End area on Lake Pontchartrain.

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Abreviations used on this site: NOPL (New Orleans Public Library), LOC (Library of Congress), LDL (Lousiana Digital Library), HNOC (Historic New Orleans Collection), WIKI (Wikipedia).

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