‘It’s no disgrace to a colored girl to placer’: Sexual Commodification and Negotiation among Louisiana’s “Quadroons,” 1805-1860

Posted in Dissertations, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2015-08-22 01:13Z by Steven

‘It’s no disgrace to a colored girl to placer’: Sexual Commodification and Negotiation among Louisiana’s “Quadroons,” 1805-1860

Ohio State University
284 pages

Noel Mellick Voltz

Doctor of Philosophy in History

In 1805, a New Orleans newspaper advertisement formally defined a new social institution, the infamous Quadroon Ball, in which prostitution and plaçage – a system of concubinage – converged. These balls, limited to white men and light-skinned, free “Quadroon” women, became an interracial rendezvous that provided evening entertainment and the possibility of forming sexual liaisons in exchange for financial “sponsorship.” At these balls, money and other forms of payment were exchanged for the connubial placement of free women of color with wealthy white men.

My dissertation entitled, “‘It’s no disgrace to a colored girl to placer’: Sexual Commodification and Negotiation Among Louisiana’s “Quadroons,” 1805-1860” seeks to understand how free women of color used sex across the colorline as a tool of negotiation in various spaces, like the Quadroon Ballroom, in antebellum Louisiana. More specifically, utilizing contemporary travelers’ journals, newspapers, poems, songs, letters, notarial and ecclesiastical records, court cases and other legal documents, my dissertation examines the sexual agency exerted by Louisiana’s free women of color in four sites of contestation – the body, the ballroom, the courtroom and the sanctuary.

Free women of color occupied a precarious position in antebellum Louisiana, often subjugated because of their race, gender and class; yet, this very positioning also afforded them a space in which to maneuver socially and economically. I contend that in these literal and figurative spaces, these women drew upon their sexuality to make strategic claims to their freedom advancing themselves socially and economically. This work pushes the boundaries of current scholarship engaging questions of sexual agency and trauma, race and identity, hegemonic myth and cultural reappropriation. In so doing, I build upon and push beyond historiographic discussions of the fetishizing and fanticizing gaze of white men and the overly simplistic dichotomous images of the hypersexualized jezebel and the totally victimized yet “respectable” free woman of color. Ultimately, this research illuminates a more nuanced understanding of black female agency in the antebellum era.

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Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-06-07 19:00Z by Steven

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

Richard Wormser, Series producer, Co-writer

Jim Crow was not a person, yet affected the lives of millions of people. Named after a popular 19th-century minstrel song that stereotyped African Americans, “Jim Crow” came to personify the system of government-sanctioned racial oppression and segregation in the United States.

In June 7, 1892, 30-year-old Homer Plessy was jailed for sitting in the “White” car of the East Louisiana Railroad. Plessy could easily pass for white but under Louisiana law, he was considered black despite his light complexion and therefore required to sit in the “Colored” car. He was a Creole of Color, a term used to refer to black persons in New Orleans who traced some of their ancestors to the French, Spanish, and Caribbean settlers of Louisiana before it became part of the United States. When Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act, legally segregating common carriers in 1892, a black civil rights organization decided to challenge the law in the courts. Plessy deliberately sat in the white section and identified himself as black. He was arrested and the case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Plessy’s lawyer argued that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. In 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States heard the case and held the Louisiana segregation statute…

Read the entire article here.

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The Gains and Losses of Passing for White – Ernest Torregano

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-06-04 19:59Z by Steven

The Gains and Losses of Passing for White – Ernest Torregano


Jari Honora, Founder and Consultant

In 1912, Ernest Joseph Torregano, a thirty-year old New Orleans native, was a porter on the Southern Pacific Railroad. For about three years, Torregano had worked the run from New Orleans to San Francisco. After each successful run, he would return home to his wife, Viola Perrett Torregano, and his only child, Gladys Marguerite, who had been born on 7 February 1904. Like so many other Southerners of color, Ernest Torregano found moving to California to be a golden opportunity to better himself. In his case however, it came at a drastic cost – the loss of his wife and child. He was able to use what was undoubtedly his God-given intelligence and aptitude, but to do so, he passed for white. In his early adult years, Ernest had worked as a singer and handyman for a traveling minstrel troupe. It was while with the troupe, that he met one of it’s pretty stars, a guitar-playing young lady named Viola Perrett. They were married and soon had their daughter Gladys, after which they quit the show so that he could sign-on with the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Concurrent with his employment on the railroad, Ernest completed his high school studies and through independent study courses and classes at the Saint Ignatius College of Law, he was able to pass the California bar examination on 7 April 1913. During all of this time, he maintained a foot in both worlds – telling friends and relatives in New Orleans that he was working as a warehouseman in San Francisco, even having relatives to visit, while all the way he kept up a separate white identity for the sake of his schooling and his intended profession. He regularly went back to New Orleans, spending time with his wife and daughter who lived in the home of his mother, Mrs. Louise Johnson Torregano…

Read the entire article here.

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Mystery, and Discovery, on the Trail of a Creole Music Pioneer

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2015-05-28 16:09Z by Steven

Mystery, and Discovery, on the Trail of a Creole Music Pioneer

The New York Times

Campbell Robertson, Southern correspondent

PINEVILLE, La. — Somewhere among the thousands beneath a grassy hill here lies the body of Amédé Ardoin.

He was singular in life: one of the greatest accordion players ever to come out of south Louisiana. A Creole prodigy who traveled the countryside playing his bluesy two-steps and waltzes, he changed Cajun music and laid down the roots for zydeco.

At his death at the age of 44 in 1942, he was Case No.13387 in the state psychiatric hospital, destined for an anonymous burial.

Years of attempts to recover the body of Amédé, as he is widely known, have come to nothing. As with Mozart’s grave, Amédé’s is known only by its general vicinity: the area where the blacks were buried. But a desire for some sort of physical commemoration of his life, beyond a few documents and a blurry photograph, has not gone away.

“I started thinking of possible symbolic ways of bringing Amédé home, placing a kind of image of him in the culture, something physical,” said Darrell Bourque, a former state poet laureate, who has been trying to raise funds to have a statue erected, most likely in Eunice, La., where Amédé spent much of his life.

Mr. Bourque described Amédé as bringing the white Cajun and black Creole traditions together in a society that policed racial boundaries so rigidly that it ultimately brought about his death. His music, Mr. Bourque said, represented “a little pocket of possibility that didn’t get replicated in the larger culture.”

It was only after he began looking for Amédé that Mr. Bourque came to learn how complicated those boundaries could be for whites and blacks at that time — and how deeply connected he was to the people who crossed them…

Read the entire article here.

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The Kidnapping of Mollie Digby: Was the Fair-Haired Stranger Actually Mollie?

Posted in Articles, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2015-02-24 01:37Z by Steven

The Kidnapping of Mollie Digby: Was the Fair-Haired Stranger Actually Mollie?

All Things Crime

Darcia Helle

In 1870, New Orleans was a city divided by politics, class, and race. The Civil War had left much of the south reeling, and now the government’s Radical Reconstruction attempted to force change by integrating the black population into the white-dominated hierarchy. Some whites rebelled, clinging to their Confederate roots, while others who supported the change suffered ridicule and disdain within their community. The atmosphere was tumultuous. Racism was not only openly practiced but encouraged.

Former United States Supreme Court Justice John Campbell, who resigned in order to join the Confederacy, illustrates this point well. He had this to say to his fellow New Orleanians: “We have Africans in place all about us, they are jurors, post office clerks, custom house officers & day by day they barter away their obligations and duties.”

By 1870, this self-appointed elite class had become the minority. Foreign born immigrants made up 75% of the city’s population. Prejudices went much deeper than skin color. Irish and German immigrants were considered lowlifes, their presence tolerated by the upper class only slightly more than the presence of African-Americans. This hostile environment made New Orleans one of the most dangerous places in America during the late 1800s.

Thomas and Bridgette Digby were two of the city’s Irish immigrants living in relative obscurity. They had fled their country during the mid-1800s, along with thousands of others known as the “Famine Irish”. By June of 1870, the couple had three children and were living in a working class section of New Orleans. Thomas drove a hackney cab, and Bridgette took in laundry and sewing from the wealthy residents. Nothing about them or their lives was remarkable at the time. Certainly nothing suggested that their names would be committed to history…

…The details of this case are too complicated and convoluted to share here. For a full account of this story, as well as fascinating details of the historical period, I highly recommend reading The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Rage, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era by Michael A. Ross. The short version of this story is that the outraged and outspoken media and citizens pushed the police department toward an arrest. In fact, they demanded nothing less…

Read the entire article here.

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The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era [Tejada Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2015-02-03 21:56Z by Steven

The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era [Tejada Review]

Washington Independent Review of Books

Susan Tejada

When a Crescent City toddler goes missing, the tensions of the post-Civil War South are exposed.

Ross, Michael A., The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)

The case was combustible. Two mixed-race women, abetted by the son of one of them, stood accused of kidnapping a blonde, blue-eyed white baby girl in New Orleans in 1870. How did it end? Author Michael Ross expertly keeps readers in suspense as he weaves this true tale of crime, culture, politics, and colorful Southern characters — including a riverboat captain, “mulatresses,” and a precedent-setting Afro-Creole detective.

The case began on the afternoon of June 9, 1870, when Bridgette Digby sent her 10-year-old son, Georgie, and toddler daughter Mollie outside to play under the supervision of a teenage babysitter. Two stylish, fair-skinned African-American women happened to be strolling by. As they stopped to admire Mollie, a fire broke out a few blocks away, and the excited babysitter asked Georgie to hold his sister while she ran to watch the fire.

“No bubby, I will take the baby,” one of the women said. The women asked Georgie to lead them to the home of a certain neighbor. Once there, they told Georgie it was the wrong house, and then sent him to the market to buy a treat for his sister. A heart-stopping shock awaited Georgie when he came out of the market. The women were gone, and so was his baby sister…

Read the entire review here.

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The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era

Posted in Books, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2015-02-03 21:24Z by Steven

The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era

Oxford University Press
320 Pages
30 half-tones
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9780199778805

Michael A. Ross, Associate Professor of History
University of Maryland

  • Offers a glimpse into the volatile racial world of Reconstruction era New Orleans
  • Guides readers through one of the first sensationalized kidnapping trials of the late 19th Century
  • Offers fresh insights on the complexities and possibilities of the Reconstruction era

In June 1870, the residents of the city of New Orleans were already on edge when two African American women kidnapped seventeen-month-old Mollie Digby from in front of her New Orleans home. It was the height of Radical Reconstruction, and the old racial order had been turned upside down: black men now voted, held office, sat on juries, and served as policemen. Nervous white residents, certain that the end of slavery and resulting “Africanization” of the city would bring chaos, pointed to the Digby abduction as proof that no white child was safe. Louisiana’s twenty-eight-year old Reconstruction governor, Henry Clay Warmoth, hoping to use the investigation of the kidnapping to validate his newly integrated police force to the highly suspicious white population of New Orleans, saw to it that the city’s best Afro-Creole detective, John Baptiste Jourdain, was put on the case, and offered a huge reward for the return of Mollie Digby and the capture of her kidnappers. When the Associated Press sent the story out on the wire, newspaper readers around the country began to follow the New Orleans mystery. Eventually, police and prosecutors put two strikingly beautiful Afro-Creole women on trial for the crime, and interest in the case exploded as a tense courtroom drama unfolded.

In The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, Michael Ross offers the first full account of this event that electrified the South at one of the most critical moments in the history of American race relations. Tracing the crime from the moment it was committed through the highly publicized investigation and sensationalized trial that followed, all the while chronicling the public outcry and escalating hysteria as news and rumors surrounding the crime spread, Ross paints a vivid picture of the Reconstruction-era South and the complexities and possibilities that faced the newly integrated society. Leading readers into smoke-filled concert saloons, Garden District drawing rooms, sweltering courthouses, and squalid prisons, Ross brings this fascinating era back to life.

A stunning work of historical recreation, The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case is sure to captivate anyone interested in true crime, the Civil War and its aftermath, and the history of New Orleans and the American South.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Ch 1 A Kidnapping in the Back of Town
  • Ch 2 Detective John Baptiste Jourdain and His World
  • Ch 3 A Trace of a Missing Child?
  • Ch 4 A Knock at the Digbys’ Door
  • Ch 5 The Arrest of the Alleged Accessories
  • Ch 6 The Woman in the Seaside Hat
  • Ch 7 The Recorder’s Court
  • Ch 8 A Highly Unusual Proceeding
  • Ch 9 Unveiling the Mystery
  • Ch 10 The Case “That Excited All New Orleans”
  • Afterword and Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
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Erasing the Color Line: The Racial Formation of Creoles of Color and the Public School Integration Movement in New Orleans, 1867-1880

Posted in Dissertations, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2015-01-20 02:00Z by Steven

Erasing the Color Line: The Racial Formation of Creoles of Color and the Public School Integration Movement in New Orleans, 1867-1880

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mishio Yamanaka

A thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the master’s degree of History in the Department of History

This thesis examines the public school racial integration movement of Creoles of color, a francophone interracial group in New Orleans, from 1867 to 1880. During Reconstruction, Creoles of color succeeded in desegregating about one-third of the city public schools. This thesis argues that the integration campaign of Creoles of color was an attempt to maintain their in-between identity – being neither fully whites nor fully blacks and being both Creoles and Americans – and an effort to erase the color line by improving the social status of black Americans to equal that of white Americans. Creoles of color forged desegregation by manipulating their ambiguous ethno-racial heritage and by negotiating with white radical Republicans, white New Orleanians and Anglophone blacks. Focusing on the political, legal and grass-root struggles of Creoles of color, this thesis reveals that they challenged segregation as it symbolized the emergence of biracial hierarchy in post-Civil War New Orleans.

Read the entire thesis here.

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Plaçage and the Performance of Whiteness: The Trial of Eulalie Mandeville, Free Colored Woman, of Antebellum New Orleans

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2015-01-15 22:11Z by Steven

Plaçage and the Performance of Whiteness: The Trial of Eulalie Mandeville, Free Colored Woman, of Antebellum New Orleans

American Nineteenth Century History
Volume 15, Issue 2, 2014
pages 187-209
DOI: 10.1080/14664658.2014.959818

Carol Wilson, Arthur A. and Elizabeth R. Knapp Professor of American History
Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland

Depictions of plaçage, a type of concubinage found in pre-Civil War New Orleans, have tended toward the romantic. A group of scholars have shown recently that, contrary to popular perception, many plaçage unions were no different from common-law marriages. This article takes a case-study approach to examine one such relationship in detail – one that was the subject of a legal challenge involving the fortune of perhaps the wealthiest free black woman in Louisiana. I apply Ariela J. Gross’s theory of “performance of whiteness” to demonstrate why free woman of color Eulalie Mandeville won her case over her white partner’s numerous white relatives at a time when free blacks in Louisiana and the rest of the nation were losing rights.

Read or purchase the article here.

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The New Creole Movement

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2015-01-09 18:12Z by Steven

The New Creole Movement

Jambalaya Magazine & Clothing

Julia Dumas

There is a movement brewing. It is a movement with a mission to reclaim Louisiana Creole culture.

Many Louisianians have been scarred by a painful past full of racism and colorism. Darker people were banned from claiming Creole heritage, if unable to pass the brown paper bag test. Lighter Creoles of Color who closely identified with their African roots consciously chose not to claim Creole heritage, as a means not to seem separate. This left an impression that the only true Creoles were of primarily European descent. Our internal struggle with race and color has done a great injustice to us as a people.

As many Louisiana Creoles migrate across the country and the world, we have discovered how truly unique our culture is. I believe this is why there is a cultural revival brewing. We proudly live our culture, but refuse to name it. Before we can all proudly reclaim our Creole heritage, we must first answer some basic questions…

Read the entire article here.

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