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The History and Legacy of Louisiana's Free People of Color

Sybil Kein

Publication Year: 2000

The word Creole evokes a richness rivaled only by the term’s widespread misunderstanding. Now both aspects of this unique people and culture are given thorough, illuminating scrutiny in Creole, a comprehensive, multidisciplinary history of Louisiana’s Creole population. Written by scholars, many of Creole descent, the volume wrangles with the stuff of legend and conjecture while fostering an appreciation for the Creole contribution to the American mosaic. The collection opens with a historically relevant perspective found in Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson’s 1916 piece “People of Color of Louisiana” and continues with contemporary writings: Joan M. Martin on the history of quadroon balls; Michel Fabre and Creole expatriates in France; Barbara Rosendale Duggal with a debiased view of Marie Laveau; Fehintola Mosadomi and the downtrodden roots of Creole grammar; Anthony G. Barthelemy on skin color and racism as an American legacy; Caroline Senter on Reconstruction poets of political vision; and much more. Violet Harrington Bryan, Lester Sullivan, Jennifer DeVere Brody, Sybil Kein, Mary Gehman, Arthi A. Anthony, and Mary L. Morton offer excellent commentary on topics that range from the lifestyles of free women of color in the nineteenth century to the Afro-Caribbean links to Creole cooking. By exploring the vibrant yet marginalized culture of the Creole people across time, Creole goes far in diminishing past and present stereotypes of this exuberant segment of our society. A study that necessarily embraces issues of gender, race and color, class, and nationalism, it speaks to the tensions of an increasingly ethnically mixed mainstream America.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. xi-xii

I wish to thank the many people who contributed to this project in various ways. First of all, I am grateful to Mary L. Morton, professor emerita at Nicholls State University, for her hours of labor and devotion at the beginning of this project. I would also like to thank Greg Osborn, Brenda Square, Rebecca Hankins, and my dear...

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pp. xiii-xxiv

When examining the history of the Louisiana French, one may wonder why the Louisiana Creoles have been marginalized by scholars, and why no extensive study of the group has been done before now. One reason may well be the seemingly infinite number of possible definitions of Creole. The...


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1. People of Color in Louisiana

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pp. 3-41

The possible title of a 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...

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2. Marcus Christian's Treatment of Les Gens de Couleur Libre

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pp. 42-56

In 1936 Lyle Saxon asked Marcus Christian (1900-1976), reporter for the Louisiana Weekly (a black New Orleans newspaper in existence from 1925 to the present), poet, and owner of a small dry-cleaning business, to participate in "a Negro unit" of the Federal Writers' Project. The unit would be housed at Dillard University and would...

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3. Plaçage and the Louisiana Gens de Couleur Libre: How Race and Sex Defined the Lifestyles of Free Women of Color

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pp. 57-70

Sexual relations among European settlers, African slaves, and native Americans during the period of French rule in Louisiana (1718-1768) resulted in the creation of a third race of people neither white nor black and neither slave nor completely free. These are the gens de couleur libre, or free people of color. The history of this...

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4. Composers of Color of Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The History Behind the Music

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pp. 71-100

Perhaps the least noted of the many kinds of music that New Orleans has produced is its nineteenth-century popular sheet music. Essentially genteel entertainment music on the European model, it is now sometimes called "concert" music, but a person was as likely to encounter this music at the theater as at the concert...

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5. The Yankee Hugging the Creole: Reading Dion Boucicault's The Octoroon

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pp. 101-116

Zoe Peyton, the central character in Dion Boucicault's play, The Octoroon; or, Life in Louisiana, which opened in New York in 1859, is the supposedly freed "natural" daughter of a Judge Peyton, original owner of Terrebonne, the Louisiana plantation where the story takes place. In this melodrama the heroic lovers, Zoe and the...

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6. The Use of Louisiana Creole in Southern Literature

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pp. 117-154

These words from a Creole lullaby allude to the origin of that language and its roots in African culture. For purposes of this essay, the Creole language is best understood as a language that was developed in Louisiana by Africans, black slaves, and free people of color during the state's early colonial period. In...


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7. Marie Laveau: The Voodoo Queen Repossessed

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pp. 157-178

The past twenty years have yielded an enormous body of work aimed at recovering sources that give rise to a reconception of the role women have played in religious life. The task of discerning the total participation of women in the major "literary religions"—those religions whose foundations or practices are set down in written...

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8. New Orleans Creole Expatriates in France: Romance and Reality [Contains Image Plates]

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pp. 179-207

In the nineteenth century, France was often claimed by New Orleans Creoles of color as a spiritual home to which they felt they belonged culturally. The sons and daughters of the New Orleans French-speaking elite typically studied in institutions like the Sainte-Barbe Academy or the Couvent School, which provided primary...

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9. Visible Means of Support: Businesses, Professions, and Trades of Free People of Color

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pp. 208-222

Strolling down Chartres and Royal Streets in New Orleans in the 1830s one passed dozens of elegant shops and offices with proprietors named LaCroix, Dumas, Colvis, Foucher, Legoaster, and Forneret, all proper French surnames, all wealthy businessmen of the ethnic group known as les gens de couleur libre. Impeccably...

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10. The Origin of Louisiana Creole

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pp. 223-243

Many linguists and ethnographers have discussed the three varieties of French that coexist in Louisiana: the Louisiana Creole (LC), the Cajun, and the Colonial French. According to William Read, only the first two varieties are considered "Louisiana French." Much controversy exists regarding all three, especially on the origin of...

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11. Louisiana Creole Food Culture: Afro-Caribbean Links

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pp. 244-251

The old saying "Too many cooks spoil the pot" might, in reference to Creole cooking, be revised to "Many cooks spawn the pot." The historical links of food preference and methods of cooking for the dishes famous around the world as "Louisiana Creole cuisine" extend to all those countries that trace the pattern of the...

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12. Light, Bright, Damn Near White: Race, the Politics of Genealogy, and the Strange Case of Susie Guillory

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pp. 252-275

Because most whites believed in white supremacy, their attitudes had a profound effect on the way Negroes viewed themselves. Since white skin was glorified, since whites had all of the power and most of the wealth and education, many Negroes accepted the concept of the...

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13. Creole Poets on the Verge of a Nation

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pp. 276-294

In September of 1866 an editorial in the Tribune de la Nouvelk-Orleans a newspaper published by Creoles of color in New Orleans, warned its readers to beware the volatile political climate of Reconstruction. "Never in the history of our dear but unfortunate country," the editorial read, "has there been a time whose events and...

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14. "Lost Boundaries": Racial Passing and Poverty in Segregated New Orleans

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pp. 295-316

Aversion of this paper, entitled "The Risks of Passing and the Stigma of Blackness: The Economics of Race and Racism in Segregated New Orleans," was presented at the joint meeting of the California and Rocky Mountain American Studies Associations at the University of Nevada, Reno, May 1, 1993. Special thanks to Barbara Bradshaw, Raul Fernandez, John Higginson, and...

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15. Creole Culture in the Poetry of Sybil Kein

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pp. 317-325

New Orleans has been built on a rich ethnic mix. Part of its cultural history consists of traditions shared among many groups, yet each group has its own particular history. Ironically, just when the leveling forces of the twentieth-century have threatened the diversity of Louisiana's cultural groups, Sybil Kein has perpetuated the...


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pp. 327-330


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pp. 331-344

E-ISBN-13: 9780807142059
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807126011

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2000