The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case

Posted in Articles, Audio, History, Interviews, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2016-06-18 20:36Z by Steven

The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case

Tripod: New Orleans At 300
89.9 FM WWNO
New Orleans, Louisiana

Laine Kaplan-Levenson, Producer

The Provost Guard in New Orleans taking up Vagrant Negroes. (1974.25.9.190)

It was June. It was hot. Kids were out of school, keeping busy outdoors. Parents were inside. Kind of like how it is now, except it was 146 years ago.

“It is a world turned upside down,” says Michael Ross, historian and author of ‘The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era.’ He’s talking about the year 1870, at the height of reconstruction. “You have five cities in the South that have integrated their police forces, at a time when not a single police force in the North had integrated.

It’s true. The NOPD first hired black officers in the 1860s. New York City didn’t have an African American in their ranks until 1911. This is one of the many things that makes New Orleans a stage for social change in the U.S. after the Civil War. One crime in particular brought these changes into focus.

Molly Digby is 17 months old and playing outside with her older brother. Two women of color walk up to the kids and start talking to them, until they’re all interrupted by a loud noise down the street. The women tell the boy he can go see what all the excitement is about, and they’ll watch the baby. He runs off, and when he comes back, the women, and baby Molly, are gone.

“A white baby is abducted by two mixed race women called Mulattos at the time,” Ross explains. “That story would have been just one of many terrible stories of that day that would have been buried in the third page of the newspaper. But a number of factors lead to it getting front page attention.”…

Read the story here. Listen to the episode here.

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Becoming American in Creole New Orleans: family, community, labor and schooling, 1896-1949

Posted in Dissertations, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2016-06-18 19:22Z by Steven

Becoming American in Creole New Orleans: family, community, labor and schooling, 1896-1949

University of Sussex
May 2015
371 pages

Darryl G. Barthé, Jr.

Doctorate of Philosophy in History

The Louisiana Creole community in New Orleans went through profound changes in the first half of the 20th-century. This work examines Creole ethnic identity, focusing particularly on the transition from Creole to American. In “becoming American,” Creoles adapted to a binary, racialized caste system prevalent in the Jim Crow American South (and transformed from a primarily Francophone/Creolophone community (where a tripartite although permissive caste system long existed) to a primarily Anglophone community (marked by stricter black-white binaries). These adaptations and transformations were facilitated through Creole participation in fraternal societies, the organized labor movement and public and parochial schools that provided English-only instruction. The “Americanization of Creole New Orleans” has been a common theme in Creole studies since the early 1990’s, but no prior study has seriously examined the cultural and social transformation of Creole New Orleans by addressing the place and role of public and private institutions as instruments and facilitators of Americanization. By understanding the transformation of Creole New Orleans, this thesis demonstrates how an historically mixed-race community was ultimately divided by the segregationist culture of the early-twentieth century U.S. South.

In addition to an extensive body of secondary research, this work draws upon archival research at the University of New Orleans’ Special Collections, Tulane University Special Collections, the Amistad Research Center, The Archdiocese of New Orleans, and Xavier University Special Collections. This thesis makes considerable use of census data, draws upon press reports, and brings to bear a wide assortment of oral histories conducted by the author and others.

Most scholars have viewed New Orleans Creoles simply as Francophone African Americans, but this view is limited. This doctoral thesis engages the Creole community in New Orleans on its own terms, and in its own idioms, to understand what “becoming American” meant for New Orleans Creoles between 1896-1949.

Read the entire dissertation here.

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A Creole melting pot: the politics of language, race, and identity in southwest Louisiana, 1918-45

Posted in Anthropology, Dissertations, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2016-06-17 18:04Z by Steven

A Creole melting pot: the politics of language, race, and identity in southwest Louisiana, 1918-45

University of Sussex
September 2015
353 pages

Christophe Landry

Doctorate of Philosophy in History

Southwest Louisiana Creoles underwent great change between World Wars I and II as they confronted American culture, people, and norms. This work examines that cultural transformation, paying particular attention to the processes of cultural assimilation and resistance to the introduction and imposition of American social values and its southern racial corollary: Jim Crow. As this work makes clear, the transition to American identity transmuted the cultural foundations of French- and Creole-speaking Creole communities. World War I signalled early transformative changes and over the next three decades, the region saw the introduction of English language, new industries, an increasing number of Protestant denominations, and the forceful imposition of racialized identities and racial segregation. Assimilation and cultural resistance characterized the Creole response, but by 1945, southwest Louisiana more closely resembled much of the American South. Creole leaders in churches, schools, and the tourism industry offered divergent reactions; some elite Creoles began looking to Francophone Canada for whitened ethnic identity support while others turned toward the Catholic establishment in Baltimore, Maryland to bolster their faith. Creoles were not the only distinct community to undergo Americanization, but Louisiana Creoles were singular in their response. As this study makes clear – in ways no historian has previously documented – Louisiana Creoles bifurcated as a result of Americanization. This study also contributes to, and broadens, the literature on Acadian identity. Previously, scholars simply assumed that whitened Latins in Louisiana had always identified with Acadia and their black-racialized brethren with Haiti. This thesis, however, suggests that Cajun and Creole are not opposites. Rather, they derive from the same people and culture, and their perceived and articulated difference emerged in response to Americanization. Through a critical analysis of that bifurcation process, this thesis demonstrates how Acadianized identity and culture emerged in the first half of the 20th century.

Read the entire dissertation here.

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News Alert | Four new theses in Europe explore Louisiana history

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2016-06-17 17:40Z by Steven

News Alert | Four new theses in Europe explore Louisiana history

Louisiana Historic and Cultural Vistas

Christophe Landry

For immediate release

European theses explore Louisiana history

In 2015 and 2016, students in England and the Netherlands finalized research on Louisiana history, culminating in dissertations (called theses in the United Kingdom and Holland). It probably will sound far-fetched, but there’s good reason behind it. The University of Sussex in Brighton, England, has a scholar named Richard Follett. Richard conducted his doctoral research at LSU in Bâton Rouge and has written and spoken extensively on the sugarcane industry in Louisiana, especially on race and emancipation in Louisiana’s sugarcane-growing parishes. The University of Leiden, in Leiden, Holland, has Adam Fairclough. Adam’s career also hinges on US history, specifically on race, racism and the African American experiences in the US South.

Richard supervised 3 theses on Louisiana. Carin Peller-Semmens’s thesis discusses issues preventing Reconstruction from materializing its intended goals on a longterm basis in Louisiana’s Anglo Red River valley (northwest Louisiana). Darryl Barthé and I both wrote on 20th century transformations in the Creole community of New Orleans and southwest Louisiana.

Mark Leon de Vries, like Carin, explored Reconstruction in Louisiana’s Red River valley.

Below is a summary of each of those theses, as well as a URL where they can be downloaded free of charge. I’ve grouped them in Creole and Red River, since they present different periods, cultural milieux, ethnic groups, realities and experiences in Louisiana’s Latin and Anglo communities…

Read about the four theses here.

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“[She] Passed Down Orleans Street, a Polished Dandy”: The Queer Race Romance of Ludwig von Reizenstein’s The Mysteries of New Orleans

Posted in Articles, Gay & Lesbian, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2016-06-09 00:40Z by Steven

“[She] Passed Down Orleans Street, a Polished Dandy”: The Queer Race Romance of Ludwig von Reizenstein’s The Mysteries of New Orleans

Studies in American Fiction
Volume 43, Issue 1, Spring 2016
pages 27-50
DOI: 10.1353/saf.2016.0005

Lauren Heintz, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow
Department of English Department
Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana

Ludwig von Reizenstein’s sensational, serialized novel, The Mysteries of New Orleans (1854–1855), opens with the lament that in New Orleans, “the chains of a maligned race rattle day and night” because “no angels have yet appeared to our Negritians to announce the birth of a Toussaint L’Ouverture!” Foreshadowing what is to come at the end of Reizenstein’s five-volume text, the prologue provides the first and only glimpse of the prophetic child, the “sun-god” Toussaint. The reincarnated revolutionary leader will deliver the entire U.S. South from the “evils” of slavery, instigating a bloody race war at the future date of 1871. Shortly after this auguration, we meet the couple that is to give birth to the new Toussaint. Much of the novel hinges on the fact that Toussaint L’Ouverture is to be born of a light-skinned mulatto woman (Lucy) and an effeminate, white German aristocrat (Emil), both of whom are introduced as an eroticized, cross-dressing couple. Curiously, it is when they are masquerading in each other’s clothes that the text’s revolutionary design is announced: an anachronistic and anatopistic re-imagination of the Haitian revolution led by the now interracial Toussaint.

Reizenstein is somewhat of a self-professed rogue novelist. In a spat between the newspaper that Reizentein’s text was published in, Louisiana Staats Zeitung, and its rival newspaper, the Deutsche Zeitung, the editors of the latter denounce the “wanton wiles” of Reizenstein’s text as “betraying a lack of propriety that borders on moral decadence,” a decadence that “should not be brought into the family for a few cents” (Mysteries xxi). Reizenstein returns the stab to mock the kind of domestic, sentimental piety in fiction that “will only be read by shy, superannuated virgins” (Mysteries xx). Rejecting the genre of sentimentality, Reizenstein takes his rebuttal one step further as he, too, separates himself from the “disreputable novelist Ned Buntline,” who Reizenstein claims “launched the literature of mysteries on American soil and thereby utterly killed all their enchantment” (Mysteries 1). Whether or not Reizenstein was attempting to revamp the sensational “mysteries” genre or distance himself from it, and despite Reizenstein’s all out refusal of sentimentality, he still predominantly employs the trope of the “race romance” that remains typical to both sensational “mysteries of the city” novels as well as sentimental domestic fiction. Yet in Mysteries, the cross-dressing, extramarital race romance between Lucy and Emil is certainly bawdy enough for an illicit readership searching for something beyond the sentimental romance.

While the race romance in Mysteries between Lucy and Emil is caught up in gender-play, adultery, licentiousness, and scandal, the race romance as a predominant trope in nineteenth-century sensational and sentimental fiction most commonly dramatizes the scenario of a white man falling in love with a woman of color, who is often described as being tragically light skinned. The race romance seeks to advance the promise of incorporating the person of color into the imagined white republic of the United States. But also, the race romance most often hinges on the quintessential sensationalist promise of the mixed-raced child, one who is born of an interracial union that ushers in a type of racialized utopianism. The intent of the race romance is to instigate the dissolution of the races through the appropriation and incorporation of the interracial child into whiteness. Yet, while the above is the idealized scenario of the race romance introduced in nineteenth-century fiction, more often than not the race romance unravels as an all out doomed enterprise by the end of the novel. In Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon (1859), for example, in the U.S. version of the play, the story ends with the tragic death of the octoroon heroine Zoe in the arms of her white lover George; in Lydia Maria Child’s Hobomok (1824), the “noble savage” Hobomok leaves his white lover, Mary, and their son, Hobomok, for the sake of white domesticity as Mary nurtures her…

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The Mysteries of New Orleans

Posted in Books, Louisiana, Media Archive, Novels, United States on 2016-06-08 21:47Z by Steven

The Mysteries of New Orleans

Johns Hopkins University Press
June 2002
600 pages
3 halftones
Paperback ISBN: 9780801868825

Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein (1826-1885)

translated and edited by:

Steven Rowan, Professor of History
University of Missouri, St. Louis

“Reizenstein’s peculiar vision of New Orleans is worth resurrecting precisely because it crossed the boundaries of acceptable taste in nineteenth-century German America and squatted firmly on the other side… This work makes us realize how limited our notions were of what could be conceived by a fertile American imagination in the middle of the nineteenth century.”—from the Introduction by Steven Rowan

A lost classic of America’s neglected German-language literary tradition, The Mysteries of New Orleans by Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein first appeared as a serial in the Louisiana Staats-Zeitung, a New Orleans German-language newspaper, between 1854 and 1855. Inspired by the gothic “urban mysteries” serialized in France and Germany during this period, Reizenstein crafted a daring occult novel that stages a frontal assault on the ethos of the antebellum South. His plot imagines the coming of a bloody, retributive justice at the hands of Hiram the Freemason—a nightmarish, 200-year-old, proto-Nietzschean superman—for the sin of slavery. Heralded by the birth of a black messiah, the son of a mulatto prostitute and a decadent German aristocrat, this coming revolution is depicted in frankly apocalyptic terms.

Yet, Reizenstein was equally concerned with setting and characters, from the mundane to the fantastic. The book is saturated with the atmosphere of nineteenth-century New Orleans, the amorous exploits of its main characters uncannily resembling those of New Orleans’ leading citizens. Also of note is the author’s progressively matter-of-fact portrait of the lesbian romance between his novel’s only sympathetic characters, Claudine and Orleana. This edition marks the first time that The Mysteries of New Orleans has been translated into English and proves that 150 years later, this vast, strange, and important novel remains as compelling as ever.

Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein (1826-1885) was born in Bavaria and emigrated to America in 1848. By 1851 he had established himself as a civil engineer, architect, journalist, amateur naturalist, and publisher in New Orleans, where he lived until his death.

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On Becoming Black, Becoming White and Being Human: Rachel Dolezal and the Fluidity of Race

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-06-05 01:22Z by Steven

On Becoming Black, Becoming White and Being Human: Rachel Dolezal and the Fluidity of Race


Channing G. Joseph

Library of Congress

For decades, no one knew my cousin Ernest Torregano was black. At least, no one who mattered in his new life.

Not the clients or associates of the prominent bankruptcy law firm with which he had built his reputation and his fortune. Not the other members of the San Francisco Planning Commission, of which he had been president. And certainly not the mayor, Elmer Robinson, with whom Ernest had been close since their days as fresh new lawyers in the city. It is quite likely, I think, that Ernest never admitted, even to Pearl, his second wife of 30 years, that she had married an African-American man.

Few understood the true extent of my cousin’s labyrinth of secrets until he was already dead and buried. By then, he had successfully “passed for white” for more than 40 years.

When his only child, Gladys Stevens, learned that her father had not died in 1915 but had been alive until 1954, she filed suit to claim her share of his estate—worth about $300,000 then, or about $2.6 million today. After a protracted legal battle to prove she really was Ernest’s daughter, she won. Meanwhile, her story—and Ernest’s—made national headlines for nearly seven years. One Oklahoma newspaper announced: “Widow Claims Rich Lawyer Was Really Her Negro Father.” A Connecticut paper proclaimed: “Daughter’s Suit Reveals Double Life of Man Who Passed Over Color Line.” But Newsweek magazine’s headline captured the essence of the story in just three words: “The Second Man.”

Born into a mixed-race family in New Orleans in 1882, the First Man was the fair-skinned son of a white father and a mixed-race mother. And because he so loved to sing and to laugh and to travel, he joined a touring minstrel troupe, performing in blackface makeup for cheering crowds across the South. In that show, he met Viola, who played the guitar, and they married. After their daughter, Gladys, was born, the First Man took a job as a Pullman porter on the Southern Pacific Railroad line from New Orleans to San Francisco—to make a better living for his new family. But at some point along the way—perhaps as he gazed through a train car window at the countryside rolling by or as he wandered along Market Street among white people who did not sneer at him or call him “boy”—he decided he would never return home. (According to one account, his mother, who supported the idea of his passing, convinced him that Viola and Gladys had been killed and that he should forget them forever.)…

Read the entire article here.

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New Orleans II: the Halloween Ghost Post

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-05-29 21:53Z by Steven

New Orleans II: the Halloween Ghost Post

The History Tourist

Susan Kalasunas

My first chance to encounter a ghost at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel in New Orleans came not long after check-in.

“Can we see the ballroom?” I asked the receptionist.

“Yes. We don’t have an event tonight, but the doors should be open. It’s right up those stairs.” That would be the grand one with the double staircase that swept up to the second floor.

The doors were unlocked but the only light in the room was from street lights peeking through large, heavily draped windows. We wandered in the dark. There’s a ghost associated with the ballroom: a woman who dances, alone, or who hides behind the curtains. I searched for the woman while Mr. History Tourist searched for the light switches. Mr. HT found the switches first and set the chandeliers alight.

This was once the Orleans Ballroom. Says the Bourbon Orleans website: “In 1817, entrepreneur John David…built the Orleans Ballroom: the oldest, most historic ballroom in New Orleans. When it opened, the ballroom became the setting for…the forever famous Quadroon Balls.”…

Read the entire article here.

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A Son of the Wealthiest Planter in the South Convicted of a Great Crime.

Posted in Articles, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2016-03-11 20:51Z by Steven

A Son of the Wealthiest Planter in the South Convicted of a Great Crime.

The Anderson Intellingencer
Anderson Court House., South Carolina
Thursday Morning, 1875-05-20 (Volume X, Number 44)
page 1, column 3
Source: Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. United States Library of Congress.

“William S. Calhoun, convicted of forgery on evidence of his quadroon mistress, Olivia Williams!”

This announcement in the Sunday papers supplies the text for a long and instructive moral discourse, and a very interesting chapter of domestic history.

The Calhoun referred to above is the only son of the late Meredith P. Calhoun, for many years before the war the largest and most lordly planter in the South. The wife of Mr. Calhoun was the daughter of Judge Smith, formerly of South Carolina, where he played a very prominent part in the politics and society of that State. Judge Smith was one of the most ancient and respected families in South Carolina, and inherited large estates, which he augmented in value by his judgment and enterprise. In the political arena he was regarded as the only formidable rival of the great John C. Calhoun. Judge Smith was the acknowledged leader of the Union party in the great secession fight of 1835. Shortly after this he removed to Huntsville, Alabama, where he bought large estates and established himself in an elegant residence, which was the home of a large and generous hospitality. The eldest daughter of Judge Smith married Meredith Calhoun, a young adventurer from the North, of polished manners and good address. Mrs. Calhoun received as her dowry a large sum, which was invested in an immense tract of the rich land on Red River, then held in great demand as the most valuable and productive in the State. This is the land which embraces the greater portion of what is now known as Grant parish. It extends ten miles on the river, and has been leveed at a vast expense, and possesses unlimited resource for the production of cotton and sugar. Upon this estate Mr. Calhoun expended a very great sum, stocking it with eleven hundred slaves, and all the expensive structures and machinery required to produce cotton and sugar. In the palmy days of this culture the yield of this large investment was highly remunerative. For several years before the war the regular income was between $250,000 and $300,000.

Having made several visits to France with his family, Mr. Calhoun acquired a taste for French society and habits, and during the latter period of his life resided in Paris. Here he expended his large income in affording his wife and daughter every opportunity of participating in the elegant and fashionable enjoyments of the gay and luxurious capital. Besides his daughter, an accomplished and elegant young lady, who was born and educated in France, so that she speaks the French language with more facility than her own, Mr. Calhoun had a son who came into this world partially deformed, but not on that account was regarded with less affection and tenderness by his parents. No child was ever more carefully and tenderly watched and cared for than the poor little hunchback, Willie Calhoun. Preferring to live on the plantation rather than expose himself in the brilliant society of Paris, Willie did not accompany his parents abroad. Devoting himself to agricultural life, he finally became a sort of head manager or agent for his father. This was the condition of the family when the war broke out. Mr. Calhoun was residing with his wife and daughter in France, and Willie had charge of the plantation. Of course the war produced most disastrous effects on the Calhoun estate. The destruction of the slave property alone was enough to swamp the whole estate. Mr. Calhoun died about the close of the war, and the widow had given her power of attorney to Willie. In 1868 she returned with her daughter to Louisiana, and proceeded on a steamboat to the landing now known as Colfax, with a view of seeing her son and investigating the condition of her affairs. Her mind had been greatly disturbed by rumors of her son’s “carryings on” from old servants and others. Among other stories which had reached her was one to the effect that he had become a practical as well as a political miscegenationist—that he had been elected by an exclusive negro vote to the Legislature, and had formed a liaison with a buxom quadroon who claimed to be his lawful wife, and who assumed all the airs and authority of the lady of the Calhoun mansion.

It may be imagined with what crushing force these terrible stories fell upon the pride of the high-born mother. Whether it was from the realization of their truth or from some other warning, Mrs. Calhoun, after a brief conversation with some of her old servants at the river landing, came to the conclusion not to expose herself to the humiliation of witnessing the son’s degradation and the profanity of the family mansion, so with her daughter she returned on the boat to the city, and procuring board for herself and daughter at the Bay of St. Louis, sojourned there for some months. Here Mrs. Calhoun died in the summer of 1868, leaving her daughter alone in the world, moneyless and almost friendless. Nothing could be got from the estate. It had been hopelessly involved by Willie.

Miss Ada had been nurtured with boundless indulgence. She had never known what it was to want anything which money could command; and here was she, totally inexperienced, an orphan thrown upon the world, from a position of long-assured wealth and high rank, with no other relative but a brother, who was now her most bitter enemy; but the young lady proved equal to her great emergencies. It would perhaps be an intrusion upon her private affairs to refer to shifts and expedients to which she was driven to regain her fortune, and to save her from the miseries of a poverty which would be tenfold bitter to one reared as she had been.

Suffice it to say that, with the aid of a zealous and persevering young lawyer, she has been placed beyond the reach of the perils so much feared by her, and we sincerely hope her fortunes are in a fair train to restoration, and that her future will realize the old dramatic climax of “virtue rewarded and vice punished.”

And surely this conviction of the bad brother for forgery would seem to fill the last condition of dramatic and poetic justice. After degrading and disgracing himself and family by a disreputable alliance, and incumbering his mother and sister’s estate by consenting to a judgment of breach of promise of marriage of $50,000, in favor of his quadroon mistress, he sought to rid himself and the estate of this incumbrance by an act which the jury had decided to be a forgery.

Truly has the psalmist declared “the ways of the transgressor are hard.” —New Orleans Times.

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Off the record: Wright State’s Natasha McPherson pulls histories of Creole women from obscure public documents

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Religion, United States, Women on 2016-03-11 01:58Z by Steven

Off the record: Wright State’s Natasha McPherson pulls histories of Creole women from obscure public documents

Dialogue: Newsletter for Faculty & Staff
Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio

Jim Hannah, Assistant Director of Public Relations

Natasha McPherson, an assistant professor of history, has spent 10 years documenting the previously untold history of Creole women.

With the nuns of the Sisters of the Holy Family butterflying around her, Natasha McPherson used a pencil to painstakingly scrawl hundreds of names and histories down on paper at the copy machine-less mission in New Orleans.

Many of those records would be washed away when Hurricane Katrina battered and wounded the city, leaving more than 1,800 people dead and causing $108 billion in property damage.

But McPherson’s hand-copied records have survived and are part of a manuscript the Wright State University history professor has produced in a 10-year labor of love that reveals a previously untold history of Creole women.

“Getting this manuscript published is extremely important in preserving some of the history that might have been lost,” McPherson said. “My handwritten copy is the only thing left of some of these records.”…

…For most of their history, Creole women lived in the margins of two political classes — free and slaves. In the 19th century, they had more social freedom than African-Americans and even white women. But after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed the slaves, Creole women found themselves more strongly associated with African-Americans and thus more socially restricted.

McPherson discovered that many Creole women were able to preserve their status and previous privilege even without political representation by marrying white or Creole men and turning that into financial opportunity.

“Creole women have very shrewd business practices,” she said. “Even if they are given just a little bit of money, they will turn it into a business. If they own their own home, they rent out rooms in their house for income.”…

Read the entire article here.

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