The “Quadroon-Plaçage” Myth of Antebellum New Orleans: Anglo-American (Mis)interpretations of a French-Caribbean Phenomenon

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2012-01-17 18:37Z by Steven

The “Quadroon-Plaçage” Myth of Antebellum New Orleans: Anglo-American (Mis)interpretations of a French-Caribbean Phenomenon

Journal of Social History
Published Online: 2011-11-13
DOI: 10.1093/jsh/shr059

Kenneth Aslakson, Assistant Professor of History
Union College, Schenectady, New York

Although Thomas Jefferson’s likely affair with his slave, Sally Hemmings, has sparked controversy since James Callender first made it public in 1802, no place has attracted more attention with regard to miscegenation than Louisiana, and particularly its chief city of New Orleans. The general consensus holds that the inhabitants of New Orleans were unusually open about interracial relationships (or at least heterosexual ones in which the man was white), due to the cultural influence of the French and Spanish, and nothing epitomized this more than the city’s famed “quadroon balls,” dances open to young free women of mixed ancestry and white gentlemen of means. According to lore, the “lovely and refined” quadroon woman came to the ball “dressed in the most fashionable gown and chaperoned by her mother” looking for a wealthy white gentleman. “After dancing with a man, if the girl were attracted, he would be allowed to speak with her mother to make ‘arrangements’… [which] would include a furnished home that [the woman of color] would own and financial arrangements for her and any children.” The relationship thus established was called plaçage and the woman une placée. The relationship was temporary and ended when the man took a white wife. Nevertheless, a woman of color greatly benefitted from the patronage of an elite white man and often used the money bestowed upon her to establish herself in business “usually as a dressmaker, milliner, or by operating a boarding house.” Thus, the “quadroon balls” and plaçage relationships “provided a comfortable lifestyle for the quadroon ladies who had very limited options during the period.”

While this story of the quadroon balls and plaçage is enticing, it is based on scanty evidence, and, therefore, this paper will refer to it as the quadroon-plaçage myth. To be sure, something like the…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Oscar James Dunn: A Case Study in Race & Politics in Reconstruction Louisiana

Posted in Biography, Dissertations, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-01-11 02:36Z by Steven

Oscar James Dunn: A Case Study in Race & Politics in Reconstruction Louisiana

University of New Orleans
December 2011
296 pages

Brian Mitchell

A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the University of New Orleans in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Studies

The study of African American Reconstruction leadership has presented a variety of unique challenges for modern historians who struggle to piece together the lives of men, who prior to the Civil War, had little political identity. The scant amounts of primary source data in regard to these leaders’ lives before the war, the destruction of many documents in regard to their leadership following the Reconstruction Era, and the treatment of these figures by historians prior to the Revisionist movement have left this body of extremely important political figures largely unexplored. This dissertation will examine the life of one of Louisiana’s foremost leaders, Lt. Governor Oscar James Dunn, the United States’ first African American executive officeholder.
Using previously overlooked papers, Masonic records, Senate journals, newspaper articles and government documents, the dissertation explores Dunn’s role in Louisiana politics and chronicles the factionalization of the Republican Party in Reconstruction New Orleans. Born a slave and released from bondage at an early age, Oscar J. Dunn was able to transcend the stigma which was often attached to those who had been held in slavery. A native of New Orleans, born to Anglo-African parents, he was also able to transcend the language barrier that often excluded Anglo-Africans from social acceptability in Afro-Creole society. Although illiterate, Dunn’s parents made critical strides in securing his social mobility by providing him with both a formal education and a trade apprenticeship. Those skills propelled Dunn forward within his Anglo-African community wherein he became a key figure in the community’s two most important institutions, the York Rite Masonic Lodge and the African Methodist Episcopal church.
This dissertation argues that Dunn’s political ascent was linked to the political enfranchisement of antebellum Anglo-Africans in Louisiana, Dunn’s involvement in Anglo-African institutions (particularly the York Rite Masonic Lodge and the African Methodist Episcopal church) and Dunn’s ability to find middle ground in the racially charged arguments that engulfed Reconstruction New Orleans’s political arena.


  • CHAPTER I: Introduction
    • Understanding the complexities of Ethnicity and Class in Reconstruction New Orleans
  • CHAPTER II: Literature Review
    • Specific Literature in Regard to Oscar James Dunn
  • CHAPTER III: Methodology
    • The Problem
    • My Hypothesis
  • CHAPTER IV: Giving Roots to the Rootless: The Origin of Oscar James Dunn (1822-1865)
    • Dunn’s Parents
    • Oscar James Dunn’s Youth
    • Dunn the Music Teacher
    • A Plasterer Again
    • Dunn the Mason
    • Dunn the Soldier
    • What a Difference a Place Makes: Geography in Dunn‘s Early Life
    • Reaching a Consensus on Dunn’s Origin
  • CHAPTER V: Oscar J. Dunn’s Political Ascension
    • Outside of the Political Arena
    • Civil Rights and the Riot of 1866
    • White Lodge, Black Lodge
    • Cracks in the Foundation
  • CHAPTER VI: The Negro Lieutenant Governor and the Republican Schism (1868-1869)
    • The Reluctant Candidate
    • The Test Oath Imbroglio
    • Dunn‘s Inauguration
    • The Metropolitan Police Bill
    • The Civil Rights Bill
    • There and Back again: The First Black Political Junket
    • A Homecoming of Sorts
    • Ending the French Masonic Invasion
    • The Lieutenant Governor‘s New Home
  • CHAPTER VII: No Greater Divide (1870-1871)
    • The Masquerade Misadventure
    • Back in the Slammer Again
    • The Voodoo Exorcism
    • Airing Their Dirty Laundry in the Winds of Change
    • Warmoth‘s Presidential Visit
    • The Failed Coup: While the Cat was Away
    • The Two Conventions
    • The Longest Second Line
    • Hard Times and Fond Memories
  • CHAPTER VIII: Dunn-Forgotten Hero
  • APPENDIX A: John Parson’s Biography of Dunn
  • APPENDIX B: J. Henri Burch’s Masonic Eulogy of Oscar J. Dunn
  • APPENDIX C: Dryden’s Biography of Dunn
  • APPENDIX D: Dunn’s Inaugural Address
  • APPENDIX E: Louisiana’s Civil Rights Bill
  • APPENDIX F: Lieut. Gov. Dunn’s Letter to Horace Greeley
  • APPENDIX G: Oscar J. Dunn Commemoration ( J. Morris Chester’s Speech)
  • VITA:


  • Table 1. Attackers of James Dunn
  • Table 2. Discrepancies in the Eureka Lodge‘s Roll and the First Regiment‘s Service
  • Table 3. Dunn‘s Addresses and Dates of Residence
  • Table 4. Black Voter Registration Sites in the City of New Orleans in 1865
  • Table 5. First Ballot: Dunn‘s nomination for Lt. Governor
  • Table 6. Second Ballot: Dunn‘s nomination for Lt. Governor


  • Figure 1. The American Theater (The Old Camp)
  • Figure 2. Freedmen Voting in New Orleans (1867)
  • Figure 3. First Vote
  • Figure 4. The President Leaving the Willard Hotel (March 4,1853)
  • Figure 5. Lieutenant Governor Dunn. 137
  • Figure 6. Metropolitan Hotel (1863)
  • Figure 7. Canal Street above Claiborne Street circa 1860-1870
  • Figure 8. Lt. Governor Dunn and Family
  • Figure 9. Sketch of Dunn in Formalwear
  • Figure 10. Krewe of Comus Ball
  • Figure 11. Currier & Ives Image

Read the entire dissertation here.

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A More Noble Cause: A. P. Tureaud and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Louisiana

Posted in Biography, Books, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2011-12-25 18:30Z by Steven

A More Noble Cause: A. P. Tureaud and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Louisiana

Louisiana State University Press
April 2011
328 pages
6 x 9 inches, 21 halftones
Hardcover ISBN: 9780807137932

Alexander P. Tureaud, Jr.

Rachel L. Emanuel

Throughout the decades-long legal battle to end segregation, discrimination, and disfranchisement, attorney Alexander Pierre Tureaud was one of the most influential figures in Louisiana’s courts. A More Noble Cause presents both the powerful story of one man’s lifelong battle for racial justice and the very personal biography of a black professional and his family in the Jim Crow-era Louisiana.

During a career that spanned more than forty years, A. P. Tureaud was at times the only regularly practicing black attorney in Louisiana. From his base in New Orleans, the civil rights pioneer fought successfully to obtain equal pay for Louisiana’s black teachers, to desegregate public accommodations, schools, and buses, and for voting rights of qualified black residents.

Tureaud’s work, along with that of dozens of other African American lawyers, formed part of a larger legal battle that eventually overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized racial segregation. This intimate account, based on more than twenty years of research into the attorney’s astounding legal and civil rights career as well as his community work, offers the first full-length study of Tureaud. An active organizer of civic and voting leagues, a leader in the NAACP, a national advocate of the Knights of Peter Claver—a fraternal order of black Catholics—and a respected political power broker and social force as a Democrat and member of the Autocrat Club and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Tureaud worked tirelessly within the state and for all those without equal rights.

Both an engrossing story of a key legal, political, and community figure during Jim Crow-era Louisiana and a revealing look at his personal life during a tumultuous time in American history, A More Noble Cause provides insight into Tureaud’s public struggles and personal triumphs, offering readers a candid account of a remarkable champion of racial equality.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Underestimated and Misperceived
  • 2. Of Creole Heritage
  • 3. Educating Alex
  • 4. Southern Exodus
  • 5. Preparing for a Legal Career
  • 6. Return to New Orleans
  • 7. Meeting Lucille
  • 8. Growing Community Involvement
  • 9. The War Years
  • 10. NAACP Lawyer
  • 11. Law and Fatherhood
  • 12. “Separate but Equal” Strengthened in the Face of Desegregation
  • 13. Desegregation of Primary and Secondary Schools
  • 14. The Politician
  • 15. Desegregation Battles after Brown
  • 16. Enforcing Brown’s Mandate in New Orleans Grade Schools
  • 17. Catholics and Desegregation
  • 18. More to the Desegregation Mandate
  • 19. Reconstructing Public Education
  • 20. More Direct Action
  • 21. Courts Are the Way
  • 22. Race against Time
  • Notes
  • Index

Underestimated and Misperceived

He sat in that chair day after day, reflecting on his life as he spoke haltingly into the tape recorder. He was a man whose erect bearing had once projected calm assurance and deep human insight and whose physique had once reflected his lifetime enjoyment of the rich Creole cuisine of New Orleans.

He looked much older than his seventy-three years, and a casual visitor might have thought that his lack of movement and energy reflected a mental exhaustion as well. Despite the fact that he was now gaunt and barely had enough strength to rise from a chair without assistance, he refused to give in to the constant pain that increasing doses of medication could not relieve. As he ruminated over his life, he recalled names, dates, places, and events with unerring accuracy.

The depth of knowledge and perseverance the old man exhibited seemed implausible for one in his condition. But then his entire life had been one impossible challenge after another. Through sheer will, he had changed the face of Louisiana forever. He had helped to stifle rampant segregation through a series of historic lawsuits. He had altered attitudes and conquered adversity with a disarming but unyielding demeanor. The wizened old man in the chair did not look as if he had done any of those things. But then Alexander Pierre Tureaud had been consistently underestimated and was often misperceived by others.

Knocking on the doors of houses in the Faubourg Marigny of New Orleans, whose owners awaited their early morning deliveries of French bread and other baked goods, Alexander Pierre (“Alex”) Tureaud, nine years old, cheerfully greeted the customers as he delivered purchases to their doorstep. The white woman who managed the neighborhood store where he worked assumed, when hiring the curly-haired boy, that he was white.

When the owner of the store later discovered that Alex was a Negro, he instructed the manager to fire him. It did not matter that Alex did a good job, was conscientious, punctual, polite, and liked by the customers. In fact, the store manager paid him a little extra each week, called “lagniappe” by Creoles, because she was more than satisfied with his performance. Following the directive of the owner, the manager fired Alex, and the boy’s initial opportunity to earn his own money was taken away because of racial discrimination.

A wide-eyed, hopeful young Creole experienced his first painful rejection as a colored person during the early 1900s in the segregated South. The wages from the part-time job, though only $1 a week, enabled him to contribute to his family’s meager household income and allowed him to have his own spending money.

Years later, Alexander P. Tureaud greeted two white men with a collegial tip of his hat as he walked by them and entered the courthouse. “Seen that nigger lawyer, yet?” one ol the men asked. Realizing that the man was addressing him, Tureaud shook his head, chuckled to himself, and proceeded up the steps without a second glance in their direction. As he entered the building, he overheard the man’s next remark: “We’re gonna have some fun with that nigger today.” It was then that Tureaud realized that these men were his opposing counsel.

Instead of being angered by their racist comments, Tureaud was amused. Their off-the-cuff statements would create a psychological advantage when he confronted them later in court. Tlieir remarks served to fuel his enthusiasm for the legal battle ahead.

Once inside the courtroom, the two white lawyers could not conceal their surprise when Tureaud introduced himself as the attorney for the plaintiffs and smiled respectfully at the opposing counsel. Tureaud had been mistaken as white many times before, and he knew he could use it to advance his objectives…

…Born three years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which declared racial segregation the law of the land, Tureaud, in addition to his legal career, became a student of history. lie was particularly inquisitive about his lineage as a New Orleans Creole of color.

The desire to fight racial injustice had been set long ago in the Creole culture of Louisiana. Tureaud found within his culture role models of activism and aligned himself with men and women determined to achieve equality. Pride in his heritage taught him that it is more noble to fight injustice, no matter what, than to resign oneself to it…

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Creole Is, Creole Ain’t: Diachronic and Synchronic Attitudes toward Creole Identity in Southern Louisiana

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2011-12-25 17:54Z by Steven

Creole Is, Creole Ain’t: Diachronic and Synchronic Attitudes toward Creole Identity in Southern Louisiana

Language in Society
Volume 29, Number 2 (June, 2000)
pages 237-258

Sylvie Dubois, Gabriel Muir Professor of French Studies
Louisiana State University

Megan Melançon, Associate Professor of English
Georgia College

Creole identity in Louisiana acquired diverse meanings for several ethnic groups during the French and Spanish regimes, before and after the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, and through the last part of the 20th century. In spite of a strong shift toward “Black” identity by many African Americans in the state, those who are fluent Creole French speakers now seem to be the repository of Louisiana Creole identity. This article presents a diachronic study of the different meanings applied to Creole identity which resulted from dramatic social, political, and economic changes. It also delimits and defines the actual attributes of Creole identity within two representative African American communities. Because of the historical and political conditions underlying Creole identity, African Americans who still identify as Creoles insist on linguistic attributes, rather than on the criterion of race, as essential characteristics of their ethnic identity.

European colonization during the 17th and 18th centuries gave rise to numerous Creole societies all over the world. In the 1869 edition of the Larousse dictionary, the French term créole referred to those born in, or native to, the local populace; but the 1929 edition depicted Creole as correctly designating only a Caucasian population—further noting that, “by way of analogy, it could be used to refer to non-Caucasian peoples of current or former colonies” (Dominguez 1986:15). A recent English dictionary (American Heritage 1992) gives five definitions of the word créole which pertain to identity: (a) A person of European descent born in the West Indies or Spanish America; (b) a person descended from or culturally related to the original French settlers of the southern US, especially Louisiana; (c) a person descended from or culturally related to the Spanish and Portuguese settlers of the Gulf States; (d) a person of mixed Black and European ancestry who speaks a creolized language; and (e) a Black slave born in the Americas, as opposed to one brought from Africa. In Louisiana, “the term came early to include any native, of French or Spanish descent by either parent, whose non-alliance with the slave race entitled him to social rank. Later, the term was adopted…

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People of Color in Lousiana: Part I

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Slavery, United States on 2011-12-19 17:54Z by Steven

People of Color in Lousiana: Part I

The Journal of Negro History
Volume 1, Noumber 4 (October, 1916)
pages 361-376

Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935)



The title of a possible discussion of the Negro in Louisiana presents difficulties, for there is no such word as Negro permissible in speaking of this State. The history of the State is filled with attempts to define, sometimes at the point of the sword, oftenest in civil or criminal courts, the meaning of the word Negro. By common consent, it came to mean in Louisiana, prior to 1865, slave, and after the war, those whose complexions were noticeably dark. As Grace King so delightfully puts it, “The pure-blooded African was never called colored, but always Negro.” The gens de couleur, colored people, were always a class apart, separated from and superior to the Negroes, ennobled were it only by one drop of white blood in their veins. The caste seems to have existed from the first introduction of slaves. To the whites, all Africans who were not of pure blood were gens de couleur. Among themselves, however, there were jealous and fiercely-guarded distinctions: “griffes, briques, mulattoes, quadroons, octoroons, each term meaning one degree’s further transfiguration toward the Caucasian standard of physical perfection.”

Negro slavery in Louisiana seems to have been early influenced by the policy of the Spanish colonies. De las Casas, an apostle to the Indians, exclaimed against the slavery of the Indians and finding his efforts of no avail proposed to Charles V in 1517 the slavery of the Africans as a substitute.  The Spaniards refused at first to import slaves from Africa, but later agreed to the proposition and employed other nations to traffic in them. Louisiana learned from the Spanish colonies her lessons of this traffic, took over certain parts of the slave regulations and imported bondmen from the Spanish West Indies. Others brought thither were Congo, Banbara, Yaloff, and Mandingo slaves.

People of color were introduced into Louisiana early in the eighteenth century. In 1708, according to the historian, Gayarré, the little colony of Louisiana, at the point on the Gulf of Mexico now known as Biloxi, in the present State of Mississippi, had been in existence nine years. In 1708, the population of the colony did not exceed 279 persons. The land about this region is particularly sterile, and the colonists were little disposed to undertake the laborious task of tilling the soil. Indian slavery was attempted but found unprofitable and exceedingly precarious. So Bienville, lacking the sympathy of De las Casas for the Indians, wrote his government to obtain the authorization of exchanging Negroes for Indians with the French West Indian islands. “We shall give,” he said, “three Indians for two Negroes. The Indians, when in the islands, will not be able to run away, the country being unknown to them, and the Negroes will not dare to become fugitives in Louisiana, because the Indians would kill them.”…

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Racial Classification and History

Posted in Anthologies, Asian Diaspora, Books, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2011-12-18 02:20Z by Steven

Racial Classification and History

376 pages
Hardback ISBN: 978-0-8153-2602-1

Edited by

E. Nathaniel Gates (1955-2006)
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
Yeshiva University

Explores the concept of “race”

The term “race,” which originally denoted genealogical or class identity, has in the comparatively brief span of 300 years taken on an entirely new meaning. In the wake of the Enlightenment it came to be applied to social groups. This ideological transformation coupled with a dogmatic insistence that the groups so designated were natural, and not socially created, gave birth to the modern notion of “races” as genetically distinct entities. The results of this view were the encoding of “race” and “racial” hierarchies in law, literature, and culture.

How “racial” categories facilitate social control

The articles in the series demonstrate that the classification of humans according to selected physical characteristics was an arbitrary decision that was not based on valid scientific method. They also examine the impact of colonialism on the propagation of the concept and note that “racial” categorization is a powerful social force that is often used to promote the interests of dominant social groups. Finally, the collection surveys how laws based on “race” have been enacted around the world to deny power to minority groups.

A multidisciplinary resource

This collection of outstanding articles brings multiple perspectives to bear on race theory and draws on a wider ranger of periodicals than even the largest library usually holds. Even if all the articles were available on campus, chances are that a student would have to track them down in several libraries and microfilm collections. Providing, of course, that no journals were reserved for graduate students, out for binding, or simply missing. This convenient set saves students substantial time and effort by making available all the key articles in one reliable source.

Table of Contents

  • Volume Introduction
  • The Crime of Color—Paul Finkelman
  • Reflections on the Comparative History and Sociology of Racism—George M. Fredrickson
  • The Italian, a Hindrance to White Solidarity in Louisiana, 1890-1898—George E. Cunningham
  • Cornerstone and Stumbling Block: Racial Classification and the Late Colonial State in Indonesia—C. Fasseur
  • Racial Restrictions in the Law of Citizenship—Ian Haney Lopez
  • The Prerequisite Cases—Ian Haney Lopez
  • Blackface Minstrelsy and Jacksonian Ideology—Alexander Saxton
  • Introduction: Historical Explanations of Racial Inequality—Alexander Saxton
  • Sexual Affronts and Racial Frontiers: European Identities and the Cultural Politics of Exclusion in Colonial Southeast Asia—Ann Stoler
  • Irish-American Workers and White Racial Formation in the Antebellum United States—David R. Roediger
  • The Race Question and Liberalism: Casuistries in American Constitutional Law—Stanford M. Lyman
  • Introduction: From the Social Construction of Race to the Abolition of Whiteness—David R. Roediger
  • Acknowledgments
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Rewriting of the past and paradigm of the feminine in “The Quadroons of New Orleans” by Sidonie de La Houssaye

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2011-12-13 01:58Z by Steven

Rewriting of the past and paradigm of the feminine in “The Quadroons of New Orleans” by Sidonie de La Houssaye

Pennsylvania State University
231 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3336040
ISBN: 9780549923022

Christian Hommel

Les Quarteronnes de la Nouvelle-Orléans is a novel written by a Creole women of the white francophone aristocracy, and appeard as a serial in a Louisianan newspaper from 1894 to 1898. The action is set in a mythical immoral New Orleans of the early 19th century, and tells the story of multiple characters who belong to different social spheres, yet each linked in some way to quadroons. The Quadroons of New Orleans draws upon different literary genres and traditions, both French and English, to tell stories of love and seduction, but distinguishes itself from other romance novels by the progressive attention the novel gives to the condition of women. Stereotypical tales of seduction give way to complex tales of friendship, personal conflicts and love where quadroons and white heroines alike become less typified, hence permitting the gradual deconstruction of the categories, social class and race assigned to the characters at the start of the novel. In my dissertation, I analyse the substitution of a phallocentric point of view (male gaze) for a gynocentric one (female gaze), through the theoretical framework of narratology and semiotics. The adoption of a gynocentric point of view can be seen everywhere, in the narration of the narrator, but also in the numerous dialogues of the female characters. Women stand out and speak out. My analysis is not limited to the story but also considers the agency of the character of the quadroon (her use of power, knowledge, desire, etc.) and how that shifts throughout the novel. My dissertation concludes by suggesting that those shifts in agency serve as a critique of a male-run society and the moral disorder produced by it. Despite the idealized representation of a past and world that never existed, the character of the quadroon allowed Sidonie de La Houssaye to give birth to a female narrator and characters unimaginable in a novel with only white characters.

Purchase the dissertation here.

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Resistance, Silence, and Placées: Charles Bon’s Octoroon Mistress and Louisa Picquet

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2011-12-10 20:13Z by Steven

Resistance, Silence, and Placées: Charles Bon’s Octoroon Mistress and Louisa Picquet

American Literature
Volume 79, Number 1 (March 2007)
pages 85-112
DOI: 10.1215/00029831-2006-072

Stephanie Li, Assistant Professor of English
University of Rochester

In 1850, Mary Walker, a free woman of color, filed a petition in the Fourth District Court of New Orleans to enslave herself and her nine-year-old daughter to George Whittaker. Commenting on a similar case involving the voluntary enslavement of another free woman of color, the New Orleans Daily Picayune asserted that Amelia Stone “preferred” the liberty, security, and protection of slavery here, to the degradation of free niggerdom among the Abolitionists at the North, with whom she would be obliged to dwell, and in preference to which, she has sought the ‘chains’ of slavery.” With only this specious rationale, a political barb aimed at antislavery Northerners, there exists no historical record to explain Stone’s and Walker’s drastic choice. Nevertheless, we can offer some conjectures concerning the motives of women of color who sought enslavement. Throughout the nineteenth century, free people of color living in New Orleans were subjected to waves of discrimination that culminated in the ratification of laws restricting their mobility and basic liberties. They were required to carry proof of their freedom at all times, and their right of assembly was severely limited. An 1842 law required recently arrived free blacks to leave Louisiana. Had Walker been new to the state, enslavement would have been the only way for her to remain. Even if she had been born in Louisiana, she might have preferred the stability of enslavement to the troubles and insecurities of freedom.

In giving up her liberty, Walker made one final independent choice; she chose George Whitaker as her master. Perhaps she had some knowledge of his character and social position that led her to entrust her life and that of her daughter to him. He may have been her former…

Read or purchase the article here.

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One ‘Speck’ of Imperfection—Invisible blackness and the one-drop rule: An interdisciplinary approach to examining Plessy v. Ferguson and Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana

Posted in Dissertations, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2011-12-07 17:36Z by Steven

One ‘Speck’ of Imperfection—Invisible blackness and the one-drop rule: An interdisciplinary approach to examining Plessy v. Ferguson and Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana

Indiana University
371 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3315914
ISBN: 9780549675372

Erica Faye Cooper

Submitted to the faculty of the University Graduate School in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy

By 1920 virtually every state legislature had adopted “one-drop” laws. These laws were important because they served as the means for determining racial identity in the United States throughout the 20th century. In the past, scholars focus on either the social or legal history of the one-drop rule. Despite the exhaustive social and legal historical accounts, I argue that the “history” of the one-drop rule is incomplete without a rhetorical history. My findings suggest that a rhetorical history of the one-drop rule is vital because it explores how the doctrine emerged in legal and social discourse. In addition, a rhetorical history also uncovers the persuasive strategies used by rhetors to reinforce racist ideology.

In this dissertation, I found that the one-drop rule occupied a significant role in judicial rhetoric through the persuasive strategies of judicial actors—court justices and lawyers. I revealed that their language choices created a pseudo “racial” reality that was characterized by a rigid black-white racial binary. This “false” reality functioned persuasively to obscure the racial diversity that actually existed in the United States during specific moments in time. Using Critical Race Theory from legal studies and McGee’s notion of the “ideograph” from critical rhetorical theory, I examined the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and the Court of Appeals’ holding in Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana (1985). My findings show that such terms as “white,” “black,” and the “one-drop rule” were used by lawyers and court justices in disputes involving racial identity and legal rights beginning in 1896. In both cases, the one-drop ideograph dominated discussions regarding who was “black” or “white.” Based on its ideographic relationship with the one-drop rule, “black” was defined to include mixed and unmixed blacks as well as whites. Within this ideographic analysis, I describe how the notion of invisible blackness was rhetorically constructed from the language used by the court. The one-drop rule continues to influence legislation and social attitudes.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1
    • Introduction to Problem
    • Justifying for Research and Statement of Purpose
    • Research Questions, Methods, and Overview
      • Methods: Case Analysis
      • Preview of Chapters
  • Chapter 2
    • Socio-Cultural history
    • Definition of the one-drop rule
      • Rationales for why the one-drop rule emerge
      • The One-Drop Rule Today
      • Summary
    • Legal History
      • Emergence of the Color Line in the law
      • Summary
    • Prior Analyses of the Plessy and Phipps decisions
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3
    • The Coming
      • Social Context: Racial Identity in Post-Bellum Louisiana
      • Legal Context
      • Introduction to Plessy
      • Summary
    • The ideographs
      • Plessy and Ferguson Briefs
      • Supreme Court Response
    • Rhetorical Implications
  • Chapter 4
    • The Coming
      • Socio-Cultural Context
      • Summary of the Socio-Legal Context
      • Who is Suzy Phipps?
    • The ideographs
      • Phipps Briefs
      • The Judicial Responses
      • Summary
    • Rhetorical Implications
  • Chapter 5
    • Summary and Findings
    • Implications
    • Conclusions
  • Cases and Legislative Acts
  • References
  • Vitae


In the 1990s, a popular figure, Tiger Woods, attempted to claim an intermediate racial status by embracing his mixed race lineage. Woods, whose mother is Thai and whose father is Native American, African American, Caucasian, and Chinese, publicly refused the label of black. Woods created the term, “Cablinasian” to reflect his Caucasian, Native American, black, and Asian ancestry. Although many supported his attempts to embrace a multi-racial heritage, the doctrine known as the “one-drop-rule” shaped public opinion on the subject of his racial identity. The one-drop rule, also known as the rule of hypo-descent, recognizes a person as “black” if she possesses any trace of African ancestry.

After winning a Master’s Tournament, fellow golfer Fuzzy Zoeller’s responses to Tiger Woods reflected one-drop reasoning and racist thinking. Zoeller stated, “he hoped that Woods would not request that dinner consist of ‘fried chicken and black-eye peas’.” Zoeller assumes that because Woods’s father is partly “black” Woods must also be black. In this one-drop argument, the presence of other “blood lines” is irrelevant. Zoeller’s statement also supported a stereotype of black people, suggesting that all members of a group behavior the same. The stereotype is also racist because of the image of blacks eating fried chicken and/or watermelon supported white supremacist beliefs.3 Despite Woods’ attempt to embrace his ethnic and racially diverse heritage, some people continued to define him as black. In essence, this example illustrates how the doctrine known as the “one-drop rule” shapes contemporary public thought on matters involving race.

Although the one-drop rule has been studied by scholars in various disciplines, none have focused on how the one-drop rule operates rhetorically. Instead, scholars have traced its history or commented on how it influenced the formation of racial identity in the United States. In this dissertation, I offer a different perspective to understanding the significance of the one-drop rule by analyzing how this doctrine operates rhetorically in legal discourse. Through a rhetorical history of the doctrine I show how the one-drop rule becomes legally sanctioned through rhetorical commitments of court justices. I argue that one-drop reasoning serves as a persuasive strategy, used by court justices, operating as rhetors, in 1896 and 1985, to promote a commitment to racism.

Using, McGee’s theory of the ideograph, from Critical Rhetorical Theory, and Critical Race Theory, from legal studies, I reveal how race (Negro, mixed race, and white) is an integral component of legal discourse. Through this analysis I explore the relationship between racial identity, rhetoric, and power in legal discourse. The manner in which race is rhetorically defined in legal discourse highlights the racist nature of traditional legal theory and contributes to a racial hierarchy that is enforced through the law. Taking a critical rhetorical and legal approach, I believe, provides useful information to the on-going discussion of racial identity and the one-drop rule in rhetorical and legal studies…

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Origin, Development and Maintenance of a Louisiana Mixed-Blood Community: The Ethnohistory of the Freejacks of the First Ward Settlement

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2011-12-04 03:48Z by Steven

Origin, Development and Maintenance of a Louisiana Mixed-Blood Community: The Ethnohistory of the Freejacks of the First Ward Settlement

Volume 26, Number 2 (Spring, 1979)
pages 177-192

Darrell A. Posey
Georgia State University

The Fifth Ward Settlement is composed of approximately 2,500 mixed-blood (Black, While and Indian) inhabitants called “Freejacks.” The Settlement has developed as a result of various social, racial and legal distinctions that have altered the nature of the Settlement over its 150 year history. The origins and early development of the community are rooted in racial oppression, geographical isolation and cultural diversity. Today most of the restrictive racial barriers are removed, yet the Freejacks themselves seek to maintain boundaries to delineate the Settlement and preserve a distinctive identity.

The purpose of this paper is to trace the history of a single mixed-blood community, the Fifth Ward Settlement, to examine the changing social and political forces that have moulded the modem ethnically distinct group. The myth that mixed-blood groups are homogenous in origin is refuted and sub-group leadership patterns within the community are traced to historical heterogeneity. The community is seen as one delineated and characterized by established racial models, yet existent today as the result of various self-maintenance strategies to establish ethnic boundaries and preserve an idealized cultural and historical tradition.

The Fifth Ward Settlement is a mixed-blood community composed of approximately 2,500 individuals known in the area as “Freejacks,” who are said to be a racial mixture of Black, White, and Indian. The name “Freejack” is derogatory because of its connotations of racial mixture and is abhorred by residents of the Settlement. Freejacks claim to be White and vehemently deny racial mixture.

The Fifth Ward Settlement is located in Louisiana near the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain (Fig. 1). The Settlement is bounded to the west and east by two White communities known as Germantown and Whiteville; it is bordered to the north by swamp and to the south by timberland. Two Black communities are found within the limits of the Settlement, one on the eastern…

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