Fashioning and Refashioning Marie Laveau in American Memory and Imagination

Posted in Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2012-03-18 19:58Z by Steven

Fashioning and Refashioning Marie Laveau in American Memory and Imagination

Florida State University
2009
201 pages

Tatia Jacobson Jordan

A Dissertation submitted to the Department of English in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Fashioning and Refashioning Marie Laveau in American Memory and Imagination follows the life and literary presence of the legendary figure, Marie Laveau. This female spiritualist lived in antebellum Louisiana from 1801-1881. After her death, her legend has continued to grow as evidenced by her presence in contemporary print and pop culture and the tens of thousands of visitors to her grave in New Orleans every year. Here, I contextualize Laveau in a pre-Civil war America by looking at the African American female in print and visual culture. I trace the beginnings of several tropes in literature that ultimately affect the relevancy of the Laveau figure as she appears and reappears in literature beginning with Zora Neale Hurston’s inclusion of Laveau in Mules and Men. I offer close readings of the appearance of these tropes in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, interrogate her connection to Caribbean lore in Tell My Horse, and show the evolution of this figure in several of Hurston’s short stories. I then offer close readings of the refiguring of Laveau in Robert Tallant’s works, Ishmael Reed’s novel The Last Days of Louisiana Red, and Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Marie Laveau trilogy. I intervene with contemporary scholarship by suggesting that novels like Corregidora by Gayl Jones, Mama Day by Gloria Naylor, and The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara draw not on a general conjure figure, as previously thought, but instead implicitly refashion feminist heroines that resemble Marie Laveau, characters with a circum-Atlantic consciousness that arise from Hurston’s literary legacy.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • List of Figures
  • Abstract
  • INTRODUCTION: “Looking for the Join”: Positioning Laveau Lore in American Studies
  • CHAPTER ONE: Historical Context: Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Print Culture and Literature
  • CHAPTER TWO: “That’s what the old ones said in ancient times and we talk it again”: The Retelling of Laveau in Hurston’s Canon
  • CHAPTER THREE: “Dismissing” Laveau: Male Authorship in the Laveau Canon
  • CHAPTER FOUR: Glimpses of the Ghost: Hurston’s Legacy in Gloria Naylor, Toni Cade Barnbara, and Gayl Jones
  • CHAPTER FIVE: Hearing Voodoo, Writing Voodoo: Cultural Memory in Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Marie Laveau Trilogy
  • CHAPTER SIX: Coda
  • Appendix
  • References
  • Biographical Sketch

LIST OF FIGURES

  • Figure 1: “Marie Laveau,” 1920s; Franck Schneider after George Catlin Courtesy of the Louisiana State Museum
  • Figure 2: The Original Cover of Chesnutt’s The Conjure Woman, 1899
  • Figure 3: “This is a white man’s government,”from Harper’s Weekly, 1868; Library of Congress
  • Figure 4: “‘Well, Missy! Heah we is!'”1913; Library of Congress
  • Figure 5: “Jinnoowine Johnson ticket. ‘Carrying the war into Africa,”‘ 1836; Library of Congress
  • Figure 6: “An Affecting Scene in Kentucky,” 1836; Library of Congress
  • Figure 7: “Children on the Lawn at Brookhill (Nanny Hiding Behind the Children) Courtesy of the Valentine Richmond Historical Center
  • Figure 8: Racist Mammy Postcard 1, 1900; Library of Congress
  • Figure 9: Racist Mammy Postcard 2, 1900; Library of Congress
  • Figure 10: “Mr. T. Rice as the original Jim Crow,” 1832; Sheet Music Cover Illustration
  • Figure 11: Zora Neale Hurston in the Caribbean; Library of Congress
  • Figure 12: Hurston’s Ft. Pierce Chronicle Column circa 1958
  • Figure 13: Cover of Fire!! Literary Magazine, 1926
  • Figure 14: “Voodoo Painting/’ Courtesy of the Robert Tallant Photograph Collection, Louisiana Division, New Orleans Public Library
  • Figure 15: “Marie Laveau,”2007, Courtesy of Artist Holly Sarre

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Catholic records of slave baptisms in colonial New Orleans go online

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2012-03-12 05:22Z by Steven

Catholic records of slave baptisms in colonial New Orleans go online

New Orleans Times-Picayune
2011-02-01

Bruce Nolan, Beat Reporter

On Sunday, the 6th of May, 1798, an enslaved New Orleans woman named only Manon, owned by Mr. LeBlanc, presented her 2-year-old child, Antoine Joseph, at St. Louis Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas to be baptized at the hands of Father Luis Quintanilla, a Capuchin friar there.

Manon was probably accompanied by her owner, as was the custom of the day, according to Emilie Leumas, an expert on the era and the keeper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ sacramental records.

In racially complex, laissez-faire New Orleans, where categories of race were faithfully noted then sometimes dismissed, Quintanilla noted the pertinent details. Manon was a mulatto, or mixed-race woman, and the baby’s father was officially unrecognized but apparently white, as the baby is described with the Spanish term “quarteroon,” which means three-fourths white.

The record of that event has always been preserved in the rich archives of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. But it has never been easily accessible.

But Tuesday, the 1798 baptism of Antoine Joseph, with thousands of similar baptismal records from colonial New Orleans, were posted on the Internet as a new tool for genealogists everywhere.

“Now people can sit in their slippers at 11 o’clock at night and read away,” said Leumas, the archdiocese’s archivist…

..In Antoine Joseph’s case, the godparents were there: Marie Joseph and Antonio, neither with a family name. Still attentive to the complex categories of race and color, Quintanilla noted that the baby’s godfather was “metis”—another mixed-race classification, perhaps suggesting American Indian blood, according to Leumas.

By the end of 2012, the archdiocese hopes to go both forward and backward in time, posting all of its sacramental records—baptisms, marriages, funerals and other life cycle events—from the founding of the city in 1718 to the date of Louisiana’s admittance to the union in 1812, Leumas said…

Read the entire article here.

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Re-Writing Race in Early American New Orleans

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2012-03-07 15:59Z by Steven

Re-Writing Race in Early American New Orleans

Miranda
n°5 (December 2011)

Nathalie Dessens, Professor of American History and Civilization
Université Toulouse 2, Le Mirail

This article examines the representation of the racial pattern and pattern of race relations in early American New Orleans. Starting with a historical and historiographical contextualization, the article shows that race relations were more complex than is usually depicted, partly because considerations based on other criteria than race were superimposed on the traditional categories. It concludes that there was not one way of representing races and race relations in the first decades of the postcolonial era, and suggests that these representations greatly varied from one group to another and did not necessarily correspond to the current representation based on the American/Creole dichotomy.

Louisiana’s first century of history accounts both for its inclusion in the antebellum American South and for the specificities it displayed in the young American republic. After six decades of French rule, it became a Spanish colony at the end of the Seven Years’ War, before briefly—and secretly—returning to French rule, in 1800, and being eventually sold, in 1803, to the United States by France. Its colonial past made it a slave colony, like the rest of the Anglo-American South, but it also made its social order slightly different from the rest of the South. Its three-tiered order, although it was by no means an exception in the plantation societies of the North-American continent, contradicted the biracial order that prevailed in most of the South and in the psyche of the new American rulers of Louisiana in the early 19th century.

When Louisiana was turned over to the United States, many historians contend, the old Creole population and the new rulers of Louisiana started conflicting over how to legislate on the racial order and how to deal with race relations in this new territory (then state) of the Union. Until relatively recently, the Creole/American opposition has been set forth by historians of Louisiana as the backbone of racial representations in early American Louisiana.

Recent historiography, however, has tended to show that, if this binary opposition is often a correct representation of the debates over racial questions in early American Louisiana, it is most certainly an oversimplification and cannot account for all the representations of race relations in Louisiana in the first four decades of American rule. This article is a contribution to these new historiographical trends.

Relying on a specific testimony, that of Jean Boze, a Frenchman arrived in New Orleans with the large wave of refugees from the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue at the time of the Haitian Revolution, this article contends that the pattern of race interactions and race relations was much more complex than that defined by the Creole/American opposition. It will first examine the history and historiography of race relations in colonial and early American Louisiana, before examining the way in which testimonies of residents of Louisiana in the early national period may help revisiting the writing of race in the early postcolonial Crescent City…

Read the entire article here.

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The ‘white’ slave children of New Orleans: Images of pale mixed-race slaves used to drum up sympathy among wealthy donors in 1860s

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2012-02-28 16:09Z by Steven

The ‘white’ slave children of New Orleans: Images of pale mixed-race slaves used to drum up sympathy among wealthy donors in 1860s

Daily Mail
2012-02-28

  

When eight former slaves aimed to drum up support for struggling African-American schools in the 1860s, they believed they had just the thing.

In order to garner sympathy – and funds – from rich northerners as they toured the country, organisers from New Orleans portrayed the slaves as white for a propaganda campaign, using four children with mixed-race ancestry and pale complexions.

They believed the white faces of Charles Taylor, Rebecca Huger, Rosina Downs and Augusta Broujey would encourage donors to sympathise with the plight of recently-emancipated slaves and give more generously…

…They soon discovered it was near-impossible to find sympathy and support in a war-torn and racially-prejudiced county…

Read the entire article and view 11 other photographs here.

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We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson

Posted in Books, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2012-02-26 21:35Z by Steven

We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson

Pelican Publishing Company
2003
176 pages
5½ x 8½
20 photos – Notes – Index
ISBN: 1-58980-120-2
EAN: 978-1-58980-120-2 hc

Keith Weldon Medley

In June 1892, a thirty-year-old shoemaker named Homer Plessy bought a first-class railway ticket from his native New Orleans to Covington, north of Lake Pontchartrain. The two-hour trip had hardly begun when Plessy was arrested and removed from the train. Though Homer Plessy was born a free man of color and enjoyed relative equality while growing up in Reconstruction-era New Orleans, by 1890 he could no longer ride in the same carriage with white passengers. Plessy’s act of civil disobedience was designed to test the constitutionality of the Separate Car Act, one of the many Jim Crow laws that threatened the freedoms gained by blacks after the Civil War. This largely forgotten case mandated separate-but-equal treatment and established segregation as the law of the land. It would be fifty-eight years before this ruling was reversed by Brown v. Board of Education.

Keith Weldon Medley brings to life the players in this landmark trial, from the crusading black columnist Rodolphe Desdunes and the other members of the Comité des Citoyens to Albion W. Tourgee, the outspoken writer who represented Plessy, to John Ferguson, a reformist carpetbagger who nonetheless felt that he had to judge Plessy guilty.

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Assessing the Identity of Black Indians in Louisiana: A Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis

Posted in Dissertations, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Social Work, United States on 2012-02-20 02:34Z by Steven

Assessing the Identity of Black Indians in Louisiana: A Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis

Louisiana State University
May 2004
193 pages

Francis J. Powell

A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in partial fulfillment of the Doctor of Philosophy In The School of Social Work

This study shows the existence of Black Indians in Louisiana and investigates whether differences exist between Black Indians who are members of officially recognized tribes and those who do not have any type of recognition. The study examined if a relationship exist between tribal recognition and ethnic identity, subjective well-being, and social support. A cross-sectional survey design was used. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to obtain qualitative data. The sample consisted of 60 participants. 30 were from recognized tribal groups and 30 were from non-recognized tribal communities.

The study specifically examined variables related to the perceptions of Black Indians in Louisiana to see if this group perceives themselves to be Black, Indian, or both. The independent variable included demographic characteristics and tribal designation. The dependent variables were ethnic identity, subjective well-being and social support.
 
Results showed that Black Indians in recognized groups had higher levels of Native American identity when compared to their levels of African American identity (p< .01). There were no significant differences in the levels of Native American identity when compared with the African American identity among the non-recognized samples (p< .342). Differences did emerge with respect to income, age, and tribal designation. Results indicated that those Black Indians in recognized tribes were significantly more likely to be younger with higher annual incomes than those Black Indians in non-recognized groups (p < .01).
 
There were no significant differences between the two groups for the variables social support and subjective well-being. Findings imply that “race”, as a social construct, is designed by arbitrary categories that are inconsistent with ethnic heritage or cultural identity development.

Table of Contents

  • ACKOWLEDGEMENTS
  • ABSTRACT
  • 1 INTRODUCTION
    • Mixture of African and Native Americans
    • Historical Indian Tribes in Louisiana
    • Purpose of the Study
    • Importance of the Study
    • Operational Definition of Key Concepts
    • Legal Definitions and Racially Mixed People
  • 2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
    • Empowerment Approach Theory
    • African American Perspective
      • The Black Experience
      • Church and Family
    • Racial Identity Theories
    • Native Americans
      • Precontact
      • Postcontact
      • Cultural Beliefs
      • Indian Identity
      • Who is an Indian?
    • Historiography of Southern Race Relations
    • Theoretical Perspectives on Biracial Individuals
    • Theoretical Perspectives on Ethnicity and Culture
    • Measuring Ethnic Identity
    • Life Satisfaction and Subjective Well-Being
      • Well-Being and Social Support among African Americans
      • Well-Being and Social Support among Native Americans
    • Social Support Theory
    • Literature Review Summary
  • 3 METHODOLOGY
    • Conceptual Framework
    • Combining Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
    • Research Design
    • Population and Samples
    • Instrumentation
    • Data Collection Procedure
    • Data Analysis
      • Research Hypothesis
    • Definition of Key Concepts
    • Protection of Human Subjects
    • Purpose of the Research Study
    • Major Research Questions
    • Qualitative Research Process
      • Research Design
      • Instrument
      • Data Collection
  • 4 DESCRIPTION AND ANALYSIS OF QUANTITATIVE SAMPLE
    • Sample Characteristics
    • Univariate Analysis
      • Objective One
        • Recognition
        • Gender
        • Income
        • Age
        • Education
      • Objective Two
      • MEIM (Ethnic Identity and Affirmation, Belonging, Commitment – African American)
      • MEIM (Ethnic Identity and Affirmation, Belonging, Commitment – Indian)
      • Well-Being (Life Satisfaction and Social Status)
      • Social Support
      • Emotional Support (family)
      • Socializing (family)
      • Practical Assistance (family)
      • Financial Assistance (family)
      • Advice/Guidance (family)
      • Emotional Support (friends)
      • Socializing (friends)
      • Practical Assistance (friends)
      • Financial Assistance (friends)
      • Advice/Guidance (friends)
    • Bivariate Analysis
      • Objective Three
  • 5 DESCRIPTION AND ANALYSIS OF QUALITATIVE SAMPLES
    • Sample Characteristics
    • Dual Cultural Identity
    • Racial Dissonance
    • Racism
    • Marginalization
    • Chapter Summary
  • 6 QUANITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE FINDINGS: SUMMARY, DISCUSSION, IMPLICATIONS, LIMITATIONS
    • Demographic Variables
    • Ethnic Identity
    • Well-Being (Life Satisfaction and Social Status)
    • Qualitative Findings
    • Implication of Social Work Practice
    • Implication of Social Work Education
    • Limitation of the Study
    • Direction for Future Research
  • REFERENCES
  • APPENDIX
    • A. MANDATORY CRITERIA FOR FEDERAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
    • B. RESEARCH STUDY PROJECT INSTRUMENTS
    • C. QUALITATIVE INTERVIEW GUIDE
  • Qualitative Interview Guide
  • VITA

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Free Soldiers of Color

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2012-02-19 00:40Z by Steven

Free Soldiers of Color

The New York Times
2012-02-17

Donald R. Shaffer, Lecturer in History
Upper Iowa University
and blogger at Civil War Emancipation

On Feb. 15, 1862, Louisiana dissolved all its militia units as part of a military reorganization law. Among the organizations disbanded was a militia unique in the Confederacy, the 1st Louisiana Native Guards. What made the New Orleans unit special was that it was composed of African-Americans.

It was natural that the only black militia regiment in the Confederacy would be found in Louisiana, and more specifically in New Orleans, which boasted French, Spanish and African roots. The Crescent City was a cosmopolitan metropolis, by far the largest in the antebellum South, with an 1860 population of over 168,000 people (in contrast, the runner-up, Charleston, S.C., had just 40,000).

A distinctive group in the diverse city was the French-speaking gens de couleur libre, or “free people of color.” The progeny of European men and women of African descent, this group carved out a place in Louisiana society somewhere between the white population and the more purely African-descended slaves. Their position largely was as an inheritance of French and Spanish rule in Louisiana, which exhibited greater toleration for mixed-raced persons. Indeed, many gens de couleur libre owned property (some even owned slaves), worked at skilled or professional occupations, and embraced the cultural trappings of respectable society. Yet as hard as they tried to gain acceptance as a third caste, the gens de couleur libre still found many whites hostile on account of their obvious if muted African ancestry. If their position was better than that of most Southern blacks, it was by no means equal to that of Louisiana whites…

Read the entire essay here.

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Opinion: What does Blackness look like?

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Louisiana, Media Archive, Social Science, United States, Videos on 2012-01-30 20:19Z by Steven

Opinion: What does Blackness look like?

Cable News Network (CNN)
In America: You define America. What defines you?
2012-01-21

Yaba Blay, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Editor’s note: Yaba Blay, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Africana studies who teaches courses at Lafayette College. Her research focuses on black identity, with specific attention to skin color and hair politics. She is the recipient of a 2010 Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant through which she embarked upon the book project, (1)ne Drop: Conversations on Skin Color, Race, and Identity.

I always thought I could spot a Black person anywhere. My eyes were trained in New Orleans—home to a historically preeminent group of folks who self-identify as “Creoles.”   Many of them would make it a point to announce that they are different—not White, not Black, but “Creole.”  A mix of African, Native American, French, and sometimes Spanish heritage, some Creoles are light-skinned enough to be mistaken for—or “pass”—for White people. We call them “passé blanc.”

One of my favorite pastimes as a youth in New Orleans was “picking out Black people” – people whom everyone else might have thought were White or “something else,” but whom I knew for a fact were Black. Somehow. Without even knowing it at the time, I had blindly accepted the “one-drop rule,” the early 1900’s law turned social rule that held that anyone with 1/32 of “African Black blood” was Black. And somehow I made it my mission to identify that “one-drop” any chance I could get. Maybe it was my way of retaliating against those who didn’t want to be associated with my kind – those whom I felt were somehow rejecting their own kind.

In my limited experiences, it seemed that people whose physical appearance gave them the “option” to be something else, chose to be something else.  So in my adult life, when I left New Orleans and began to meet people who were very adamant about their black identity, even though they could have easily identified as “mixed” or “Latino” or “Creole” or could have even “passed” for white, I found myself intrigued. On one particular occasion, I was on a panel hosted by the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI); and for as “learned” and as well-versed as (I thought) I was in global skin color politics, I found myself somehow taken aback each time either of my co-panelists, whom I would have identified as “Latino/a,” self-identified as “Black” and “African.”  In that moment, I felt ashamed of myself for questioning their identities based upon the stereotypical visions of “Blackness” that lived in my head. Afterwards, as I continued to struggle with myself, I knew that I wanted to do something with my feelings that could be useful to others like myself. I wanted to explore the “other” sides of Blackness.

So began my journey into the (1)ne Drop project

Read the entire opinion piece here.

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Race, Sex, and Social Order in Early New Orleans

Posted in Books, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States on 2012-01-30 01:15Z by Steven

Race, Sex, and Social Order in Early New Orleans

Johns Hopkins University Press
2009
352 pages
7 halftones
Hardback ISBN: 9780801886805

Jennifer M. Spear, Associate Professor of History
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

Winner, 2009 Kemper and Leila Williams Prize in Lousiana History, The Historic New Orleans Collection and the Louisiana Historical Association

A microcosm of exaggerated societal extremes—poverty and wealth, vice and virtue, elitism and equality—New Orleans is a tangled web of race, cultural mores, and sexual identities. Jennifer Spear’s examination of the dialectical relationship between politics and social practice unravels the city’s construction of race during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Spear brings together archival evidence from three different languages and the most recent and respected scholarship on racial formation and interracial sex to explain why free people of color became a significant population in the early days of New Orleans and to show how authorities attempted to use concepts of race and social hierarchy to impose order on a decidedly disorderly society. She recounts and analyzes the major conflicts that influenced New Orleanian culture: legal attempts to impose racial barriers and social order, political battles over propriety and freedom, and cultural clashes over place and progress. At each turn, Spear’s narrative challenges the prevailing academic assumptions and supports her efforts to move exploration of racial formation away from cultural and political discourses and toward social histories.

Strikingly argued, richly researched, and methodologically sound, this wide-ranging look at how choices about sex triumphed over established class systems and artificial racial boundaries supplies a refreshing contribution to the history of early Louisiana.

Table of Contents

  • Ackowledgements
  • Introduction
  • 1. Indian Women, French Women, and the Regulation of Sex
  • 2. Legislating Slavery in French New Orleans
  • 3. Affranchis and Sang-MĂŞlĂ©
  • 4. Slavery and Freedom in Spanish New Orleans
  • 5. Limpieza de Sangre and Family Formation
  • 6. Negotiating Racial Identities in the 1790s
  • 7. Codification of a Tripartite Racial System in Anglo-Louisiana
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Essay on Sources
  • Index
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The Free People of Color In Louisiana and St. Domingue: A Comparative Portrait of Two Three-Caste Slave Societies

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Louisiana, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2012-01-17 19:53Z by Steven

The Free People of Color In Louisiana and St. Domingue: A Comparative Portrait of Two Three-Caste Slave Societies

Journal of Social History
Volume 3, Number 4 (1970)
pages 406-430
DOI: 10.1353/jsh/3.4.406

Laura Foner

Recently historians of slavery in the Americas have been engaged in a heated debate over the widely differing racial patterns that emerged in the slave societies of this hemisphere. Despite their often bitter disagreements over the origins of these patterns, most agree that it was the treatment and position of the ex-slave in these societies which distinguished one racial pattern from another.

In Portuguese and Spanish America the racial and social pattern allowed the ex-slave to gain acceptance in free society and even to move from a lower to a higher social level through economic advancement. Such a change in social status was possible even in a system of racial ranking that placed whites on top and blacks on the bottom, because of the absence of a strict color line. Not only did these slave societies have many racial categories between black and white, but also a man’s status in society was not as much defined by membership in one of these racial groups as by his economic success.

In the British and French West Indies the racial lines were more sharply defined, and the same kind of racial mobility did not exist. Yet there the ex-slave could fit into a three-caste pattern which allowed a substantial group of free mixed bloods with many privileges to exist as an intermediate caste between whites and blacks.

Although in all these societies the enslavement of an easily distinguishable racial grouping produced certain racial distinctions between white and colored free men, in the United States these distinctions took on a form unique in the hemisphere. There all Negroes—free and slave—were cut off from the rest of society and confined to a distinctly separate and lower caste. This was accomplished both by increasing restrictions on manumission, which confined the Negro as much as possible to a slave status, and by a whole series of legal and social restrictions which rigidly excluded the free Negro from white society. Almost everywhere in the United States even the smallest amount of Negro blood was enough to make a man a Negro and therefore a member of a subordinate caste.

Unsuspecting travelers in the antebellum South were therefore startled to find that the deep South state of Louisiana had a large and privileged free colored community, not unlike the free colored communities of many West Indian islands. Louisiana’s free colored community was not only the biggest in the deep South. but its members had a social, economic, and legal position far superior to that of free Negroes in most other areas of the South, even whose in which the free Negro population was substantial. Travelers were struck by the unusual degree of wealth, education, and social standing of the Louisiana free Negro. They noted “Negroes in purple and fine linen,” “pretty and accomplished young women,” and ‘”opulent, intelligent colored planters.” It was not only this elegant elite which distinguished the free colored population, as only a minority belonged to it, for although they did not live in luxury the typical members of the free colored community nevertheless generally found employment at some skilled occupation. In 1860 only one tenth of the free colored population of New Orleans were classified as common laborers” In fact the free Negroes had a near monopoly of certain trades, including those of mechanic, carpenter, shoemaker, barber, and tailor…

…In 1850 the mulattoes and others of mixed blood formed about eighty percent of Louisiana’s total free Negro population.” Some of them came from stable families which had been free for generations,” But almost all had their origins in some extramarital union (by this time perhaps quite far removed) between a white man and a black woman. The beginnings of this long-established practice dated back to the early eighteenth century when Louisiana was first being settled by the French. The small group of early settlers consisted mostly of those “in the pay of … the King” and especially garrison soldiers. Among the hardships faced by these men in their pioneering work of founding a colony was a scarcity of women. They solved the problem, according to the French Governor Bienville, by running “in the woods after Indian girls.”…

Read the entire article here.

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