Grappling With the Memory of New Orleans

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2018-01-07 23:01Z by Steven

Grappling With the Memory of New Orleans

The Atlantic
2015-10-25

Mark Charles Roudané


Christian Senger / Flickr

A family’s story traces the roots of the eclectic city, the country’s first black daily newspaper, and the evolution of racial injustice.

My father is listed as white on his birth certificate. His great-grandfather was the founder of America’s first black daily newspaper. But when I tell the story of my family, inextricably linked to the narrative of New Orleans and, in fact, to the country, I do not start with either of them.

Aimée Potens, my third great-grandmother, stares at me. Holding a daguerreotype from the 1840s, I am transfixed by her eyes. I try to imagine what they had seen. Aimée’s eyes are my window to the world that made New Orleans, a world that seems impenetrable, lost somewhere in a gauzy historical memory of tangled white, free-black, and enslaved cultures…

…I was raised to be a white person in Jim Crow New Orleans. The past was hidden from me, and I grew up not knowing that this history was my history, too. When Reconstruction collapsed, the loss of hope for people of color was devastating. As I reflect on the ways the past has shaped the social construct of race and my own identity, I wonder what my story would be like had the Tribune’s crusade succeeded. Would my family have claimed its remarkable heritage instead of passing as white?…

Read the entire article here.

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My mother spent her life passing as white. Discovering her secret changed my view of race — and myself.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-11-21 03:34Z by Steven

My mother spent her life passing as white. Discovering her secret changed my view of race — and myself.

The Washington Post
2017-11-20

Gail Lukasik


The author’s mother, Alvera Fredric, was born into a black family in New Orleans but spent her life passing as white. (Family photo)

I’d never seen my mother so afraid.

“Promise me,” she pleaded, “you won’t tell anyone until after I die. How will I hold my head up with my friends?”

For two years, I’d waited for the right moment to confront my mother with the shocking discovery I made in 1995 while scrolling through the 1900 Louisiana census records. In the records, my mother’s father, Azemar Frederic of New Orleans, and his entire family were designated black.

The discovery had left me reeling, confused and in need of answers. My sense of white identity had been shattered.

My mother’s visit to my home in Illinois seemed like the right moment. This was not a conversation I wanted to have on the phone.

But my mother’s fearful plea for secrecy only added to my confusion about my racial identity. As did her birth certificate that I obtained from the state of Louisiana, which listed her race as “col” (colored), and a 1940 Louisiana census record, which listed my mother, Alvera Frederic, as Neg/Negro, working in a tea shop in New Orleans. Four years later, she moved north and married my white father…

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We Are Who We Say We Are: A Black Family’s Search for Home Across the Atlantic World

Posted in Biography, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Europe, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2017-11-18 00:56Z by Steven

We Are Who We Say We Are: A Black Family’s Search for Home Across the Atlantic World

Oxford University Press
2014-12-01
224 Pages
32 illustrations
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
Paperback ISBN: 9780199978335

Mary Frances Berry, Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History
University of Pennsylvania

This colored Creole story offers a unique historical lens through which to understand the issues of migration, immigration, passing, identity, and color-forces that still shape American society today. We Are Who We Say We Are provides a detailed, nuanced account of shifting forms of racial identification within an extended familial network and constrained by law and social reality.

Author Mary Frances Berry, a well-known expert in the field, focuses on the complexity and malleability of racial meanings within the US over generations. Colored Creoles, similar to other immigrants and refugees, passed back and forth in the Atlantic world. Color was the cause and consequence for migration and identity, splitting the community between dark and light. Color could also split families. Louis Antoine Snaer, a free man of color and an officer in the Union Army who passed back and forth across the color line, had several brothers and sisters. Some chose to “pass” and some decided to remain “colored,” even though they too, could have passed. This rich global history, beginning in Europe–with episodes in Haiti, Cuba, Louisiana, and California–emphasizes the diversity of the Atlantic World experience.

Contents

  • Preface
  • Chapter I: Becoming Colored Creole
  • Chapter II: Becoming Americans
  • Chapter III: Family Troubles
  • Chapter IV: Fighting for Democracy
  • Chapter V: Becoming “Negroes”
  • Chapter VI: Opportunity and Tragedy in Iberia Parish
  • Chapter VII: Mulattoes and Colored Creoles
  • Chapter VIII: Just Americans
  • Chapter IX: At Home or Away: We Are Who We Say We Are
  • Epilogue: Becoming “Black”
  • Notes
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Secret heritage

Posted in Articles, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-11-12 04:32Z by Steven

Secret heritage

The Herald-Argus
La Porte, Indiana
2017-10-26

Matt Christy, Staff Writer
Telephone: (219) 326-3870


Secret heritage
White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing” is on book shelves now and available for check-out at the La Porte County Public Library.

Author tells story behind new book

Looks can be deceiving.

To look at a photograph of Alvera Frederic Kalina, you wouldn’t know the secret she was hiding. Hiding from her husband, hiding from her children, hiding from everyone but those she cut all ties to when she left her New Orleans roots far, far behind.

Alvera avoided the sun. She had no photos of her family. She was obsessed with makeup, even wearing it when she slept.

“I can’t even imagine the fear she lived with, which I later understood was why she did (those mysterious things),” said Alvera’s daughter, author Gail Lukasik.

Lukasik is a mystery writer, but her newest book “White Like Her” is a mystery of another sort. Unlike the female driven detective novels Lukasik is known to pen, “White Like Her” tells the story of a true mystery, one Lukasik — not one of her fictional protagonists — unraveled. It was the mystery her mother made her swear to carry to her grave.

It began with Lukasik wanting to know more about her mother’s father, Azemar Frederic. She knew nothing of her grandfather and when asked, her mother would only say her parents divorced when she was young and her father didn’t raise her.

“The one time I asked her if we could visit New Orleans, where she grew up, she said it would depress her to go home, so I let it go. But in the back of my mind I always wondered about Azemar Frederic. What did he look like? What did he do for a living? What kind of man was my grandfather?” she said.

The answers would shock her and would change everything she thought she knew…

Read the entire article here.

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“You’re the one with the slaves in your family”

Posted in Articles, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-11-11 23:31Z by Steven

“You’re the one with the slaves in your family”

Salon
2017-10-28

Gail Lukasik


(Credit: Salon/Ilana Lidagoster)

I went looking for information on my mother’s side of the family. My experience was eye-opening

Excerpted with permission from “White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing” by Gail Lukasik. Copyright 2017, Skyhorse Publishing.

The windowless basement of the Buffalo Grove Family History Center had the feel of an underground bunker—fluorescent lights, cinder block walls, the musty scent of dampness. At the room’s entrance sat a gray-haired woman, birdlike and benign. With robotic precision, she meted out instructions on how to use the machines, where the microfilms were located and how to order original documents. She appeared as nondescript and gray as the walls.

I’d come to the family history center in search of my grandfather Azemar Frederic. I was between adjunct college teaching jobs, applying for tenure track teaching positions in creative writing, and working part-time as an assistant editor for a medical journal. The year before, I’d been offered a position in creative writing at a liberal arts college in Tennessee. But I turned it down. Uprooting my life at the age of forty-nine for a position that paid in the low five figures seemed foolhardy. My husband would need to obtain a Tennessee dental license to practice dentistry, and we would have to pay out-of-state tuition at the University of Illinois for our daughter Lauren. So I resigned myself to seeking positions in the Chicago area where the competition was especially rigorous and my chances for success slim.

I had time on my hands and an insatiable longing to find Azemar who over the years had become more and more unreal to me as if he never existed, was a figment of my mother’s imagination. Without a photograph of him, I had nothing physical to connect him to me. This need for a physical image of him was primal. It was an aching absence that I needed to fill…

Read the entire article here.

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My mother passed for white for most of her life. Here’s what that taught me about racial identity.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Virginia on 2017-10-07 22:32Z by Steven

My mother passed for white for most of her life. Here’s what that taught me about racial identity.

Mic
2017-09-12

Gail Lukasik


Gail’s grandfather’s family that she never knew
Source: Gail Lukasik

Gail Lukasik, Ph.D. is a professional speaker, mystery novelist, and the author of the upcoming memoir, White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing (Skyhorse; Oct. 17).

For the majority of my life, I believed I was a white woman. I had no reason to question my race or my racial heritage. Why would I? I had only to look in the mirror to know the veracity of my whiteness — or so I thought.

In 1995, while scrolling through the 1900 Louisiana census records looking for my mother’s father, Azemar Frederic of New Orleans, I made a startling discovery. Azemar Frederic and his entire family were classified as black. In that split second, everything I knew about myself changed. When I walked into the Illinois family history center, I was a white woman. When I left I didn’t know who I was. My sense of identity was shattered…

Read the entire article here.

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White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2017-10-07 21:52Z by Steven

White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing

Skyhorse Publishing
2017-10-03
304 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1510724129

Gail Lukasik, Ph.D.

Kenyatta D. Berry (foreword)

White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing is the story of Gail Lukasik’s mother’s “passing,” Gail’s struggle with the shame of her mother’s choice, and her subsequent journey of self-discovery and redemption.

In the historical context of the Jim Crow South, Gail explores her mother’s decision to pass, how she hid her secret even from her own husband, and the price she paid for choosing whiteness. Haunted by her mother’s fear and shame, Gail embarks on a quest to uncover her mother’s racial lineage, tracing her family back to eighteenth-century colonial Louisiana. In coming to terms with her decision to publicly out her mother, Gail changed how she looks at race and heritage.

With a foreword written by Kenyatta Berry, host of PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow, this unique and fascinating story of coming to terms with oneself breaks down barriers.

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“They want us to be Creoles. . . . There is no in-between”: Creole Representations in Ernest J. Gaines’s Catherine Carmier and Lyle Saxon’s Children of Strangers

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2017-07-12 21:55Z by Steven

“They want us to be Creoles. . . . There is no in-between”: Creole Representations in Ernest J. Gaines’s Catherine Carmier and Lyle Saxon’s Children of Strangers

Studies in the Literary Imagination
Volume 49, Number 1, Summer 2016
pages 113-127
DOI: 10.1353/sli.2016.0008

Matthew Teutsch, Instructor
Department of English
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

Mary Agnes LeFabre, the Creole teacher at Samson Plantation in Ernest J. Gaines’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, “comes from a long line of Creoles back there in New Orleans” that eventually moved after the Civil War to the community called Creole Place (166). Gaines does not provide the specific location of Creole Place in the novel, but one can assume that the community that Gaines describes, one where the “people . . . did everything for themselves” and did not let anyone, no matter how white, enter into the community, has a real-world antecedent (167). Quite possibly, that antecedent could be Frilot Cove, the community Vivian is from in Gaines’s 1993 novel A Lesson Before Dying. Thadious M. Davis observes another possibility for Creole Place’s real life inspiration, the Isle Brevelle Creole community on Cane River near Natchitoches, Louisiana (“Headlands” 7). While Gaines’s Creole community may perchance be drawn from the Isle Brevelle community, we know for a fact that the Creoles that Lyle Saxon writes about in his novel Children of Strangers have their origins in the Creole population along Cane River.

This essay explores Saxon’s novel in relation to Gaines’s first novel, Catherine Carmier. Gaines has not mentioned whether or not he ever read Saxon’s text when working on his own, but that does not change the importance of reading the two novels in conjunction with one another. They appear less than thirty years apart, and both deal with a unique aspect of social structure in Louisiana, the separation of communities into four distinct categories: white, Cajun, Creole, and black. Davis argues that the presence of a Creole community—for our purposes referring to individuals of mixed Spanish, French, Native American, and African ancestry—where individuals of African and African-American descent were free during slavery and had the opportunity for social mobility, provided a possible exemplar for race relations in the United States during the nineteenth century; however, after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the gradual Americanization of the new territory, and specifically New Orleans, Louisiana’s possible example faded into the darkness (Southscapes 186).

Saxon’s depiction of the Isle Brevelle Creole community borders on stereotypical and patronizing. While he tries to provide an accurate portrayal of the community and its inhabitants, he fails to humanize them fully. However, he does provide a much more sympathetic representation than he originally did in his short story “Cane River,” which appeared in 1926. In this story, Saxon depicts Susie stereotypically as “a wild nigger girl” and “an untamed savage” (225). As well, he places himself in the black community by inserting “we” into the narrative. In Children of Strangers, Saxon’s representation of the community becomes more sympathetic and humanizing, but at points he does revert back to pervasive oppressive images, especially in his description of Henry Tyler talking with Paul Guy. Henry Tyler becomes “like an animal trying to tell a man it is thirsty” (Children 169). Though clearly Children of Strangers is a flawed novel, I argue that we should read the two novels together to help us understand the cultural milieu in which both authors wrote, specifically the flattening of racial binaries during the period, and to understand each author’s presentation of the increasing modernity of rural Louisiana during the early-to-mid part of the twentieth century.

In April 1923, Saxon made his first visit to Melrose Plantation on the Cane River. Invited there by Cammie Garrett Henry, whose husband inherited the plantation in 1898, Saxon would make frequent trips to the artist colony that Henry established in order to compose what would eventually become Children of Strangers, a novel that took him close to fourteen years to complete. Known for his newspaper writing and nonfiction works, Saxon attained celebrity status both at Melrose and in New Orleans writing about the Crescent City’s history, the flood of 1927, Jean Lafitte, and local folklore. However, he always wanted to write fiction, and…

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Know Your Black History: Deconstructing the Quadroon Ball

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2017-04-30 21:03Z by Steven

Know Your Black History: Deconstructing the Quadroon Ball

Afropunk
2016-10-27

Nick Douglas, AFROPUNK Contributor


“The swooning woman of color” This was an advertisement from 1858 New Orleans and is the first proof I had ever seen of a Quadroon Ball. I had never come across any proof that these balls actually happened. I fully believed these balls were the creation of Southern white male fantasies about needy, swooning, sexual women of color hoping to have the opportunity to have a relationship with them—i.e., a white male privilege fantasy. But as I looked in wonder at the very first proof I had ever seen of a Quadroon Ball, everything about the advertisement struck me as wrong and contradicted every bit of history I knew about New Orleans and Louisiana society. Then I did something that too few consumers of history do: I began deconstructing the advertisement in the context of the history of Louisiana and New Orleans. When I did this it crushed and destroyed the mythical ideals behind Quadroon balls.

Quadroon” Referred to women of color whose ancestry was supposedly mixed with only one quarter black blood. The term was popularized by President Jefferson, a slaveholder who never arranged to free his own black children, borne by his slave Sally Hemmings, or any of the other 200 slaves he held at his death.

Grand, Fancy, Superior” In the myth of Quadroon Balls women of color attended lavish dances with the hope of forming a plaçage relationships with eligible white men. But the historic practice of plaçage relationships between white men and free women of color were legally binding contractual agreements, drawn up in the presence of a notary public. In these arrangements for monogamous or extramarital relationships, women were typically set up with a house and income, and any children were financially provided for by the white father. Americans had outlawed marriages between races and made it very difficult for children of color to inherit from their colonial fathers. Plaçage agreements were a logical alternative; couples also simply cohabited.

Free women of color in Louisiana were a powerful group in their own right…

Read the entire article here.

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The first real New Orleans saint? Henriette Delille’s path to canonization

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Religion, United States, Women on 2017-04-30 00:56Z by Steven

The first real New Orleans saint? Henriette Delille’s path to canonization

The Times-Picayune
2017-03-02

Kim Chatelain


Portrait of Henriette Delille. This “carte de visite” albumen photo was taken by New Orleans photographer A. Constant at his studio on Hospital Street (now Governor Nichols). It’s the only known portrait of Delille.

It was 2011, and Archbishop Gregory Aymond was seeking a sacred antidote to the violence, murder and racism infesting his hometown. He turned to a venerable figure in New Orleans history, but a person only vaguely known to even the most ardent Roman Catholics, and composed a prayer that is now recited at every local Mass. It ends with the plea: “Mother Henriette Delille, pray for us that we may be a holy family.”

Unknown to many Catholics, the object of their prayers was a French-speaking woman of African descent. She was born in 1812 and grew up in the 500 block of Burgundy Street, and she lived a part of her life as a mistress in a social system known as placage, whereby wealthy white European men entered relationships with free women of color to circumvent laws against interracial marriage.

After the deaths of her two young children born through a concubine relationship, however, Delille at age 24 formally rejected the societal norms and experienced a religious transformation that eventually led to the formation of the Sisters of the Holy Family order. The community of Creole nuns provided care for those on the bottom rung of antebellum society, administering to the elderly, nursing the sick and teaching people of color who at the time had limited education opportunities. To this day, Holy Family nuns continue to serve out the mission launched in the mid-1800s by doing good works around the globe.

Now, 175 years after she founded the order, Delille stands at the doorstep of sainthood. If canonized, she will become the first New Orleanian, and the first U.S.-born black person, to be recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church…

Read the entire article here.

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