History of the Autocrat Club
The year was 1909, and for Colored men standing on a street corner in New Orleans this meant possible harassment from the police. These were the circumstances that brought twelve Colored men together to talk of an alternative to standing on these corners. They wanted a place to entertain themselves in peace. Simon Belleu, a member of the group acquired a charter for a poker club, and this charter provided protection for him and his friends, where they could congregate and play poker or other games, safe from the harassment of the police. However, this group did not last very long. One gentlemen, Arthur Boisdore, from that group decided to continue that style of entertainment. He secured the charter from Simon Belleu to continue the club under the name, The Autocrat Club.
This first group of men operated on St. Phillip and Claiborne Streets. This Autocrat Club was a closed corporation, and the profits from their operations were divided between them. Their operation lasted a short time. Later, in the summer of 1914, another group of Colored men came together to recreate and play card games. Among this group were: Arthur Boisdore, Placide Suane, Louis Smith, Gabe Pratts, Walter and Wallace Marine and Edward Labuzan. Arthur Boisdore served briefly as its first president, and Edward Labuzan followed during the first year. The members enjoyed each other’s company so much that they began discussing plans for a permanent, safe haven, to entertain themselves without interferences from the police.
On September 14, 1914, the membership voted to operate under the charter of the Autocrat Club. Ten men put up one dollar each; they elected officers to run the club, and they rented a two room house on Onzaga Street for $7.00 per month from which to operate.
The Autocrat members realized a need to make the games profitable, so that they could provide the club with operating funds. During the next few months, the young Autocrat members were faced with discrimination from Whites who didn’t want the club as neighbors. The club also had a location on Lapeyrouse Street, but due to the refusal of the police department to ‘stamp’ the charter, the location had to be abandoned.
The club then moved to a vacant house on St. Bernard Avenue near North Claiborne Avenue where the club began to take shape.
This present site of the Autocrat Club (1725 St. Bernard Avenue) was acquired on November 1, 1924. Membership grew quickly, making it necessary for the club to meet twice a month just to consider new members. Soon the members had to look at the club as a business.
The president appointed a committee to determine ways and means of maintaining its operation. A committee was formed to draft the new constitution and by-laws. The members adopted this new constitution and by laws and a new name, “The Autocrat Social & Pleasure Club.” According to its constitution the club is to “promote social intercourse, harmony, enjoyment, refinement of manners, and the moral, mental and material welfare of its members.” The membership worked to enhance its community through its cultural and intellectual enrichment of its membership. During these formative years the club struggled to develop its own philosophy and ideology as a group. They established a library complete with a variety of intellectual reading materials, and a large collection of “Negro History” materials. They engaged in social and sporting activities, and a symphony orchestra for the benefit of its membership. Their membership included a cross section of men from the metropolitan New Orleans area, from various occupations, and backgrounds. Membership was opened to those 18 years of age or over, earning a living and not having committed any offense, dishonorable to the character of a man.
The Autocrat Club has been a major sponsor of athletic competitions in the club and in outside leagues. These activities included: baseball, basketball, tennis, pool, and golf. In 1934, a newsletter, “The Autocrat Voice,” was created to inform their membership of what their club and its membership were doing.
Subsequent additions to the property have made it a place of over 120 feet front and stands today as a monument to the effort of those pioneers who foresaw the need for such an institution.The Autocrat’s auditorium has been more than a landmark in the seventh ward; it has served this community as a hub for civic and political issues, and civil rights meetings during the 1960s, as well as a site for social entertainment and cultural growth.
The first president of the Autocrat Club was Arthur Boisdore. Other presidents have in turn been: E.J. Labuzan, Louis Joubert, Nelson Jean, Albert Lecesne, Peter Reine, Wallace J. Marine, in whose administration the first new structure was completed; A. M. Trudeau, who inaugurated a most vigorous club program for membership; A. P. Tureaud, who started the newsletter “The Autocrat Voice”; A. F. Laneuville, J. Edwin Wilkins, August H. Metoyer, Sr., Leo Gauthier, Thomas Sears, George J. McKenna, Jr., under whose administration the first major remodeling was done; Arthur Chapital, Jr., Irvin Fleming, Beverly Saulny, who started the last major remodeling; Gabriel Vicknair, Edward Jones, who finished the remodeling; Earl Cheri, Peter W. Clark, George Dugue’, Jr., Louis Roussel, George Robertson, Frederick S. Dobard, and. the present president Carlos Fernandez.
On its rolls are many outstanding citizens in the trades, business, civic, political and professional life of the community and leaders in every walk of life.They are too numerous to mention by name.