The Gist: General Pershing was the most celebrated and revered U.S. general in World War I. It was later decided that Berlin Street be renamed for him during the war.
This street was not originally named General Pershing considering it was part of a subdivision that predates the Great War by about 80 years. At this time, what we call the “Riverbend” part of Uptown was simply Carrollton, a separate township that was established in 1833. Carrollton developers, Laurent Millaudon and Samuel Kohn, sought to divide up part of the Bouligny Plantation since it would be on the stopping point of an upcoming railroad line, halfway to Carrollton. They wanted to be the first to jump on what could become prime real estate. At this point in time, there was a resurgence of French interest or, as John Chase calls it, the “French craze.” The developers used this as a marketing strategy, essentially. Hence, the original street was called Berlin Street in honor of Napoleon’s victory over the Prussians.
General Pershing Street is what we Americans call it today, and it remains to be prime real estate. Just as the “French craze” honored the French emperor, the anti-German craze of World War I sought to rename Berlin Street for the American war hero, John “Black Jack” Pershing, as a result of “confused flushes of patriotism” (Chase 147). World War I history is not typically America’s strong subject, so I’ll put it like this: the American Revolution had George Washington, the Civil War had U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, and World War II had Dwight D. Eisenhower. Well, World War I had John Pershing. In fact, he could be regarded as the primary mentor for men like Eisenhower, McArthur, and Patton. Pershing got his nickname “Black Jack” because he led African-American troops who became known as the original “Buffalo Soldiers” in the Spanish-American War. In response to Pancho Villa’s raids, Pershing commanded the forces that invaded Mexico in pursuit of the elusive Villa. And then, of course, the First World War immortalized him.
The street itself is mostly within the Uptown region of New Orleans and remains predominantly, if not all, residential. It stretches from the Mississippi River, paralleling Napoleon Avenue, to the Broadmoor area. Beyond Broad Street, General Pershing Street slingshots to the left (if you are going towards the lake) and parallels Fountainebleau Drive for a few blocks.
Near General Pershing and Magazine, Ecole Bilingue de la Nouvelle-Orléans, a French immersion school, promotes multilingual development in children. The French language was once dominant in New Orleans, but many New Orleanians have forfeited their mother tongue for English over the last century. The French/Spanish “creoles” are rolling over in their watery graves for sure. However, maybe this school can help restore the French language to the area.
It is also worth noting the complex relationship between the Germans and New Orleans. Past residents insisted that they rename Berlin Street in order to dishonor the Germans during the war. But, the Germans had an enormous influence of the Louisiana colony that New Orleanians will never give them credit for. Perhaps, that’s just the result of growing up in a post WWI and WWII America. One example, the Germans perfected “French bread” as we know it, and the name Leidenheimer is blatantly not French. There’s much more to the Germans’ story, and I’ll go more into that in later posts. But, perhaps we can learn about the other European cultures that made the city what it is, instead of blindly giving credit to the French, who (other than founding the colony on a basis of lies) did less than other Europeans (especially the Spanish and the Germans) to establish and develop New Orleans.