Wayne Baquet at his restaurant Lil’ Dizzy’s, New Orleans, LA, 2014 (Photo by Harold Baquet)
The Detective’s Descendants: The Famous Baquet Family of New Orleans and their ties to Afro-Creole Detective John Baptiste Jourdain (the first African American Detective Ever to Make National News).
When I began researching and writing the Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, I thought I might be the only person alive who knew the story. Although the case had made national news throughout the summer of 1870, by the 21st century it somehow was all but forgotten despite the fact that the story was filled with historically significant events (including the sleuthing done by John Baptiste Jourdain—the first African American detective ever to make national news). As I began to discuss my research at history conferences, however, I was contacted by descendants of key characters in the story including by a woman named Isabel Baquet, who lives in Atlanta. She had been doing genealogical research and discovered that her husband Edward is a descendant of J. B. V. Jourdain, the father of Detective Jourdain in the Digby case. She had seen online that I had delivered a conference paper about the Jourdains and was curious as to its content. Isabel and I became fast friends, sharing our knowledge of J. B. V., his wives Aimee and Marie, and their children.
Isabel led me to other Jourdain descendants, including her uncle Wayne Baquet, owner with his wife Janet of the renowned Creole restaurant Lil Dizzy’s on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans. Wayne and Janet are part of a storied branch of the Baquet clan. Wayne’s father and mother were also famous New Orleans restaurateurs. Other forbears were musicians who helped invent Jazz. Wayne’s brother is the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet. It is a complicated story, but both Wayne and Janet are Jourdain descendants, and they hold the title to the family tomb in New Orleans’s famous St. Louis Cemetery #1. Their restaurant is filled with memorabilia that commemorates the achievements of their family and other members of the city’s proud Afro-Creole community. On the center of the back wall is an enlarged copy of the petition the the Afro-Creoles of New Orleans presented to President Lincoln during the Civil War, urging him to grant black men the right to vote. At the bottom, amongst the petition’s signatories, are Detective Jourdain and his father J. B. V.
I am thrilled to announce that on October 17, 2014, Wayne and Janet will host me at a book event at their restaurant where we will discuss the role Detective Jourdain played in The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case and their family’s rich history. The event starts at 5:30 and is free and open to the public:
Lil’ Dizzy’s Café
1500 Esplanade Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70116
For more on the history of the Baquet family and the famous gumbo at Lil’ Dizzy’s check out the Southern Foodways Alliance’s interview with Wayne: