New Orleans After the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom by Justin A. Nystrom (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2014-01-29 17:33Z by Steven

New Orleans After the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom by Justin A. Nystrom (review)

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
Volume 111, Number 4, Autumn 2013
pages 617-619
DOI: 10.1353/khs.2014.0023

Aaron Astor, Associate professor of History
Maryville College, Maryville, Tennessee

Nystrom, Justin A., New Orleans after the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).

The narrative arc between the birth of Radical Reconstruction and its final death in Jim Crow is bookended by two events in the city of New Orleans. The infamous “Riot of 1866” showcased for the nation the unwillingness of defeated Confederates to concede any political power to the black masses of the South emerging from slavery. The massacre of black Republicans at the Mechanics’ Institute would play a key role in undermining Johnsonian Reconstruction in the congressional elections of that year. Thirty years later, a mixed-race New Orleanian named Homer Plessy would challenge the Louisiana Separate Car Act, only to have the United States Supreme Court enshrine the “separate but equal” doctrine for the nation at large. But between these tragic moments of racial oppression and humiliation was a remarkably complex, multifaceted, and highly contingent struggle between myriad ethnoracial, class, regional, and partisan forces that complicated any teleological understanding of the rise and fall of Reconstruction.

Justin A. Nystrom’s lucid and colorful account of New Orleans after the Civil War explores this remarkable and ongoing battle for power and dignity among the various forces converging on the streets and in the local and state legislative halls. Nystrom’s portrait of nineteenth-century New Orleans reveals the webs of kinship that seamlessly crossed the color line and lent the city caste system a distinctive three-class character—whites, black slaves, and mixed-race Afro-Creoles. The delicate balance of New Orleans society, further complicated by sizable white ethnic immigrant populations pouring into the city in the 1850s, would explode as early as April 1862 when the Union navy captured the city with hardly a fight.

Nystrom’s study follows the interconnected lives of southern white elites like Ezekiel John Ellis and Frederick Nash Ogden, Afro-Creoles like Charles St. Albin Sauvinet and Louise Drouet, white Creoles like Arthur Toledano and Aristee Louis Tissot, white and black “carpetbaggers” like Algernon Sydney Badger, Henry Clay Warmoth, and Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, and ex-slaves like Peter Joseph. The intersection of these colorfully named characters produced an entropic political culture with self-serving factions vying for power in the city, the state, and the region. Nystrom expends considerable effort detailing epic street clashes like the “Battle of Liberty Place” in 1874, when a new Democratic White League movement briefly wrested control of the city from its Republican Customs House–based leadership. Added to the paramilitary violence were competing Mardi Gras floats with explicitly political messages that inscribed new and competing racial discourses that undermined the legitimacy of the mixed-race political order. Nystrom’s analysis reveals a tumultuous era of intraparty factionalism that simultaneously complicated revisionist accounts of postwar Republicanism, while also showcasing the difficulty that “Redeemer” factions faced in shaping a white supremacist order long after 1877.

This is an important book for understanding postwar urban politics in the largest city in the South. It is deeply researched, splendidly written, and well contextualized within the larger historiography of Reconstruction. There are some limitations to the personality and kin-based methodology, however. The two infamous bookending moments—the 1866 riot and the Plessy case—ironically receive only cursory treatment in this book. Nystrom’s central characters were mostly bystanders to these events, which meant that they appeared only in the narrative shadows despite their national significance. Another problem, of course, is the exceptionalism of New Orleans itself. For several obvious reasons, New Orleans was (and is) simply atypical as a southern locale. As such, a study of the city is going to have limited implications for understanding the national drama of Reconstruction. Still, Nystrom manages to extrapolate from the complex and contingent history of New Orleans to make the convincing case that the racial politics of the post–Civil War South was much more unpredictable and contested than even post–Foner historians have appreciated…

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New Orleans after the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom

Posted in Books, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2014-01-29 15:04Z by Steven

New Orleans after the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom

Johns Hopkins University Press
344 pages
Hardback ISBN: 0801894344, 9780801894343

Justin A. Nystrom, Assistant Professor of History
Loyola University, New Orleans, Louisiana

We often think of Reconstruction as an unfinished revolution. Justin A. Nystrom’s original study of the aftermath of emancipation in New Orleans takes a different perspective, arguing that the politics of the era were less of a binary struggle over political supremacy and morality than they were about a quest for stability in a world rendered uncertain and unfamiliar by the collapse of slavery.

Commercially vibrant and racially unique before the Civil War, New Orleans after secession and following Appomattox provides an especially interesting case study in political and social adjustment. Taking a generational view and using longitudinal studies of some of the major political players of the era, Nystrom asks fundamentally new questions about life in the post–Civil War South: Who would emerge as leaders in the prostrate but economically ambitious city? How would whites who differed over secession come together over postwar policy? Where would the mixed-race middle class and newly freed slaves fit in the new order? Nystrom follows not only the period’s broad contours and occasional bloody conflicts but also the coalition building and the often surprising liaisons that formed to address these and related issues. His unusual approach breaks free from the worn stereotypes of Reconstruction to explore the uncertainty, self-doubt, and moral complexity that haunted Southerners after the war.

This probing look at a generation of New Orleanians and how they redefined a society shattered by the Civil War engages historical actors on their own terms and makes real the human dimension of life during this difficult period in American history.

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From Mushkegowuk to New Orleans: A Mixed Blood Highway

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Canada, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2014-01-16 20:14Z by Steven

From Mushkegowuk to New Orleans: A Mixed Blood Highway

NeWest Press
April 2008
48 pages
ISBN: 978-1-897126-29-5

Joseph Boyden

In 2007, Joseph Boyden, author of the bestselling novel Three Day Road and 2008 Giller Prize winner for Through Black Spruce, was invited by the Canadian Literature Centre | Centre de littérature canadienne to deliver the inaugural Henry Kreisel Lecture at the University of Alberta. Boyden spoke passionately, relating Aboriginal people in Canada to poor African Americans, Whites, and Hispanics in post-Katrina New Orleans. At the end of his lecture he presented a manifesto to the audience, demanding independence from the shackles of North American governments on behalf of these oppressed cultures. The lecture was received with much acclaim and enthusiasm.

In collaboration with the Canadian Literature Centre, NeWest Press is pleased to present the Henry Kreisel Lecture Series publications, a forum for open, inclusive critical thinking, and a tribute to Henry Kreisel himself.

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Concubinage Law Reaches Negro Only

Posted in Articles, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2014-01-14 21:44Z by Steven

Concubinage Law Reaches Negro Only

Lafayette Adviser
Lafayette, Louisiana
Friday, 1910-04-29
page 1, columns 3-4
Source: Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers (Library of Congress)

By Vote of 3 to 2 Supreme Court Upholds Decision of the Lower Court.


Mulattoes, Quadroons and Octaroons Not  included—Opinion Read by Justice Provosty.

Dally States.

Justices Nicholls and Land dissenting, the State Supreme Court Monday handed down a decision sustaining the decision of Judge Chretien, in the case of the State vs. Octave Treadway and Josephine Treadway, charged with violating the law prohibiting concubinage. In the Criminal Court the defense maintained that Josephine Treadway could not be considered a “colored person,” because she is an octoroon. It was pointed out that the Supreme Court had already decided that an octaroon is not a colored person in the accepted sense of the term as employed years ago. Judge Chretien sustained this argument, and dismissed the accused of the charge of concubinage. Both accused came to New Orleans from Plaquemine Parish.

Associate Justice O. O. Provosty, who was the organ of the Court, says in part:

“This sole question is whether an octoroon is ‘a person of the negro or black race’ within the meaning of the statute.”

Scientifically or ethnologically, a person is Caucasian or negro in the same proportion in which the two strains of blood are mixed in his veins; and therefore, scientifically or ethnologically, a person with seven-eighths white blood in his veins and one-eighth negro blood is seven-eighths white and one-eighth negro. But the words of a statute are not to be understood in their technical, but in their popular sense; and the prosecution contends that the popular meanings of the word negro includes an octoroon. The dictionaries show that the word negro does not include an octoroon within its meaning. In North Carolina a person who has one-sixteenth or more of African blood is a negro, but it gives as us authority for that statement the decision of the Supreme Court of the State, the Court having simply applied or enforced the following statute:

“All free persons descended from negro ancestors to the fourth generation inclusive, though one ancestor in each generation may have been a white person, shall be deemed free negroes and persons of mixed blood.”

The court points out the fact that the Louisiana statute does not define the word negro as including a person of mixed blood.  Had it done so there would, be an end of all questions. The prosecution contends that the word does not need to be defined in a statute; that popularly it has a definite well-known meaning.

The Court says: “There is a word in the English language which does express the meaning of a person of mixed negro and other blood, which has been coined for the very purpose of expressing that meaning, and because the word negro was not known to express it, and the need of a word to express it made itself imperatively felt. That word is the word ‘colored.’ The word ‘colored,’ in the United States at least, when used to designate the race of a person is unmistakable; it means a person of negro blood, pure or mixed, and the term applies no matter what may be the proportion of the mixture, so long as the negro blood is traceable. In our constitution and laws when it has become necessary to use a word comprehending within its meaning both negroes, properly so called, and persons of mixed blood, the term ‘colored’ has invariably been used.”

The court says there are no negroes who are not persons of color, but there are persons of color, who are not negroes. The term ‘color’ as applied to race, was given the meaning of the word negro for the very purpose of having in the language a term including within its meaning both persona of pure and of mixed blood; but the converse is not true.

The word negro was never adopted into the language for the purpose of designating persons of mixed blood. On the contrary, it was for the purpose and the sole purpose of expressing the meaning of persons of the pure race, and it can have now a different or more enlarged meaning only by wrenching it from its original meaning, as was done with the word “colored” and imparting to it a meaning different from that which it was intended to bear and has always borne in the language. The legislature might do this but the statute by which it did it would have authority only in Louisiana and the word negro would still continue to mean, the world over, outside of Louisiana, a person of the pure African race.

“We do not think,” says the court, “there could be any serious denial of the fact that in Louisiana the meaning of the words, mulatto, quadroon and octoroon are of a definite meaning as the words man or child, and that among educated people at least, they are as well and widely known, and we think that there can be no serious denial of the fact that in Louisiana and indeed throughout the United States, except on the Pacific slope, the word colored when applied to race, has the definite and well-known meaning of a person having negro blood in his veins. We think also that any candid mind must admit that the word ‘negro’ of itself unqualified, does not necessarily include within its meaning persons possessed of only an admixture of negro blood; notably those whose admixture is so slight that in their case even an expert can not be positive.”

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A Daughter Discovers Branches of the Family Tree Pruned by Her Father

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Biography, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-01-13 10:48Z by Steven

A Daughter Discovers Branches of the Family Tree Pruned by Her Father

The New York Times

Mimi Read

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 6 — In a white-box living room in an apartment on lower St. Charles Avenue here, the dining table was set for a family party: plastic bowls of chips, dip and salsa; a plastic bag of sepia-toned family photographs waiting to be opened; and a copy of Bliss Broyard’s new book, “One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life — A Story of Race and Family Secrets.”

In town late last month for a publicity tour, Ms. Broyard, 41, grabbed and greeted cousins one after another as they came through the door. The gathering was at the temporary apartment of one cousin, Sheila Marie Prevost, 43, who lost her Upper Ninth Ward house and most of her possessions in Hurricane Katrina. Swing-era jazz filled the room. Ms. Broyard was guest of honor and auxiliary hostess.

In one animated moment she stood in a doorway tossing her dark curls, waving a chicken leg in one hand and a bowl of red beans and rice in the other.

“Thank you for letting us invade your house — it’s Creole domination!” she called out to Ms. Prevost’s companion.

It has been a decade since Ms. Broyard discovered her New Orleans kin. Despite skin tones ranging from alabaster to brown, most of them regard themselves as black. Ms. Broyard believed herself to be completely white until 17 years ago. She grew up in an idyllic enclave in Southport, Conn., and spent weekends at an all-white yacht club there. She attended prep school and summered on Martha’s Vineyard.

Her father was Anatole Broyard, a longtime book critic and essayist for The New York Times. Somewhere during his years at Brooklyn College he slipped over the color line and began passing as white.

It was only on Mr. Broyard’s deathbed in 1990 that his daughter, then 24, learned the family secret: “Your father is part black,” her mother, Alexandra, blurted out to Ms. Broyard and her brother, Todd, when their father couldn’t muster the words…

…When Ms. Broyard first showed up in New Orleans in 1993 to research her book, released last month, she couldn’t help noticing several Broyards in the phone book. On a later trip she worked up the courage to call some.

“I was worried they wouldn’t want to know me or they’d be angry,” she said.

In fact, many cousins who convened at the family get-together last month had known about Ms. Broyard and her father long before she contacted them. Even though they kept his secret, they talked about him among themselves. Anatole Broyard had been their high-achieving superstar. Occasionally, a Broyard aunt would clip one of his reviews and pass it around town

Read the entire article here.

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Creole Echoes: The Francophone Poetry of Nineteenth-Century Louisiana

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Poetry, United States on 2013-12-09 04:15Z by Steven

Creole Echoes: The Francophone Poetry of Nineteenth-Century Louisiana

University of Illinois Press
January 2004
280 pages
6 x 9 in.
1 black & white photograph
Paper ISBN: 978-0-252-07149-2

Translated by:

Norman R. Shapiro, Professor of French
Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut

A collection of the first published works of Creole poets of the 1800s, in French, appearing beside the new English translations by the award-winning translator Norman R. Shapiro

Creole poets have always eluded easy definition, infusing European poetic forms with Louisiana themes and Native American and African influences to produce an impressive variety of often highly accomplished and always strikingly engaging verses. The first major collection of its kind, Creole Echoes contains over a hundred of these poems by more than thirty different poets—Louisiana residents of European, African, and Caribbean origin.

The poems gathered here exhibit the Creole poets’ wide range of theme, tone, and sensibility. Somber elegies, whimsical verse, animal fables, love sonnets, odes to nature, curses, polemics, and lauds all find voices here.

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Louisiana Creole Literature: A Historical Study

Posted in Biography, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2013-12-05 20:01Z by Steven

Louisiana Creole Literature: A Historical Study

University Press of Mississippi
256 pages
6 x 9 inches, bibliography, index
Hardback ISBN: 9781617039102

Catharine Savage Brosman, Professor Emerita of French
Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana

Louisiana Creole Literature is a broad-ranging critical reading of belles lettres—in both French and English—connected to and generally produced by the distinctive Louisiana Creole peoples, chiefly in the southeastern part of the state. The book covers primarily the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the flourishing period during which the term Creole had broad and contested cultural reference in Louisiana.

The study consists in part of literary history and biography. When available and appropriate, each discussion–arranged chronologically–provides pertinent personal information on authors, as well as publishing facts. Readers will find also summaries and evaluation of key texts, some virtually unknown, others of difficult access. Brosman illuminates the biographies and works of Kate Chopin, Lafcadio Hearn, George Washington Cable, Grace King, and Adolphe Duhart, among others. In addition, she challenges views that appear to be skewed regarding canon formation. The book places emphasis on poetry and fiction, reaching from early nineteenth-century writing through the twentieth century to selected works by poets still writing in the early twenty-first century. A few plays are treated also, especially by Victor Séjour. Louisiana Creole Literature examines at length the writings of important Francophone figures, and certain Anglophone novelists likewise receive extended treatment. Since much of nineteenth-century Louisiana literature was transnational, the book considers Creole-based works which appeared in Paris as well as those published locally.

Catharine Savage Brosman, Houston, Texas, is professor emerita of French at Tulane University. She is the author of numerous books of French literary history and criticism, two volumes of nonfiction prose, and nine collections of poetry.


  • Preface
  • Chapter One. Louisiana and Its Population: The Historical Background
  • Chapter Two. Features of Early Louisiana Literature and the Cultural Milieu
  • Chapter Three. Pere Rouquette and Other Early Francophone Poets
  • Chapter Four. Mercier and Other Novelists Born in the Early Nineteenth Century
  • Chapter Five. Mid-Nineteenth-Century Immigrant Francophone Authors
  • Chapter Six. Fiction and Drama by Mid-Nineteenth-Century Free People of Color
  • Chapter Seven. Poetry by Mid-Nineteenth-Century Free People of Color
  • Chapter Eight. Cable and Hearn
  • Chapter Nine. Late Francophone Figures: de la Houssaye, du Quesnay, Dessommes
  • Chapter Ten. Kate Chopin
  • Chapter Eleven. King, Stuart, and Others
  • Chapter Twelve. Some Twentieth-Century Louisiana Prose Writers
  • Chapter Thirteen. Louisiana Creole Poets of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
  • Notes
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index
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Know Louisiana: Storyville (1897-1917)

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2013-11-15 02:31Z by Steven

Know Louisiana: Storyville (1897-1917)

NolaVie: Life and Culture in New Orleans

with Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

Emily Epstein Landau
Department of History
University of Maryland, College Park

As part of a new collaboration with the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, NolaVie will spotlight entries from—the Digital Encyclopedia of Louisiana, including unique events and people in our state’s history.

This month, we commemorate the end of Storyville. On November 12th, 1917, Mayor Martin Behrman acquiesced to pressure from the US Navy and ordered the red light district closed at midnight. Here’s the story, written by Emily Landau.

Created by municipal ordinance in 1897, Storyville was New Orleans’s infamous red-light district. It remained open until 1917, when the federal government shut it down as part of a nationwide crackdown on vice districts. While Storyville was only one of many red-light districts during these years—every major and most minor American cities hosted at least one such district—it stood out for several reasons.

First, New Orleans had long maintained an international reputation for sexual license and a flamboyant disregard of traditional morality. Storyville’s notoriety perpetuated that image of the city and raised it to a new level. Second, New Orleans’s history as a French, and then Spanish, colonial city lent it a foreign feel, even after nearly a century of American rule. This foreign-ness, along with its subtropical climate and large mixed-race population, made New Orleans an exotic enclave within the Deep South.

Storyville took advantage of the city’s colorful history by promoting the availability of both “French” and “octoroon” women in its guidebooks and through tabloid press. “French,” in the context of a sex district, signaled special sexual services; women purported to be one-eighth black were available for the exclusive use of white gentlemen, recalling the antebellum quadroon balls. In addition to so-called octoroons, Storyville further violated the segregation laws by advertising “colored” and later “black” women for the use of white men. Sex across the color line was, according to a prominent citizen in the 1910s, Storyville’s “notorious attraction.”…

Read the entire article here.

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The Rise and Demise of the Gens De Couleur Libre Artists in Antebellum New Orleans

Posted in Arts, Dissertations, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2013-10-10 21:08Z by Steven

The Rise and Demise of the Gens De Couleur Libre Artists in Antebellum New Orleans

University of Florida
173 pages

Karen Burt Coker


The gens de couleur libres of New Orleans occupied a unique position as worldly practitioners of the arts. This situation was created by social, legal and cultural circumstances. Louisiana, as a French colony, implemented the “Code Noir,” to control the large population of free people of color. These laws, although designed to control, granted opportunities for free people of color. This led to a three-caste social system with the gens de couleur libres occupying the central position, between whites and enslaved peoples.

Restrictions forbidding the marriage of free people of color to whites, or enslaved blacks, combined with the fact that free women of color outnumbered free men of color, led to the system of plaçage, an extralegal system of common-law marriage between white men and women of color. When children resulted from plaçage unions, additional laws sought to hinder those children from obtaining an education. This was remedied by the custom of wealthy white fathers sending their sons to Paris for schooling. This education frequently concentrated on the fine arts.

New Orleans was a rapidly growing city, eager to prove its sophistication and dispel any reputation as a backwater colony. The newly French-educated artists were eagerly received by Francophile New Orleans patrons keen for the newest demonstration of the superior culture of their motherland.

This thesis explores the work of these artists, while focusing upon the rise and fall of the tri-caste system that created a positive environment for artists of color when most free blacks faced open hostility elsewhere.

Read the entire thesis here.

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Creole Culture: Identity and Race in the Bayou Country

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2013-09-23 19:05Z by Steven

Creole Culture: Identity and Race in the Bayou Country

Kreol Magazine
October-December 2013, Issue 7
pages 42-45

Christophe Landry

Louisiana is what many have come to refer to as the northern-most point of Latin America, where créolité, a Latin-based people, culture and consciousness, emerged early in the 1700s. From its earliest stages, the international melting pot of cultures that came to simmer along Louisiana’s bayous linked Louisiana Creoles with three continents in a global market economy including the Indian Ocean.

When the French crown ceded Louisiana to the Company of the Indies in 1717, Nantes (France), Goree (Senegal), Port-Louis (Mauritius), Saint-Denis (La Reunion) and New Orleans, became intimately related. For instance, between 1721 and 1745, 3,818 slaves were transported from Senegambia to Louisiana with roughly equal numbers destined for the Mascareigne Islands. In addition, Bretons, Picards and Normands came to represent the largest Francophone elements in early French Louisiana and in the French Indian Ocean islands. Not surprisingly, in Louisiana and in the Mascareignes, virtually the same Creole language developed, the first lengthy written examples of which date back to 1745 in Mauritius and 1748 in Louisiana.

As early as 1710, native-born Louisianians of Latin culture self-identified as Créole. Slave and free, tan, brown, yellow and fair have used Creole to differentiate themselves from Anglophones in North America. Where Spanish, Creole, and French languages were spoken and Catholicism practiced in Colonial Louisiana, people were sure to define themselves as Creole. This distinction between Américain and Créole became more pronounced after 1812 when Louisiana officially became an American state, and continued after the Civil War when Anglophone America’s binary racial system came to play a more immediate role in the socioeconomic destiny of Louisianians…

Read the entire article here or here.

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