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Reviews99 Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization. Edited by Arnold R. Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon. Louisiana State University Press, 1992. 334 pp. Cloth, $42.50; paper, $16.95. Reviewed by Karen Trahan Leathern, who recently received a Ph.D. in American history from the University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her dissertation is titled " ? Carnival According to Their Own Desires': Gender and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, 1870-1941." Through the lens of race, Creole New Orleans explores a city that is in many ways unlike the rest of the South, yet inextricably embedded in it. In a remarkably cohesive collection of essays, the authors advance from the colonial period to the present with broad strokes, illuminating odd twists and turns. Borrowing from C. Vann Woodward's notion of historical counterpoint, they juxtapose "the Franco-African protest tradition of New Orleans and the tragic racial mind-set of Anglo-America." The essays by Jerah Johnson and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall in part 1, "The French and African Founders," redefine the history of colonial New Orleans. In place of well-worn stories of French explorers and Spanish rulers, the authors present engaging revisions that emphasize racial and ethnic intermingling. Johnson shows that the French initially encouraged Indian assimilation and French and Indian intermarriage. Although it clearly envisioned a French rather than a multicultural society, the colonial administration's attitudes in fact fostered a pluralistic assemblage. The attempt to blend Indians into the dominant society also brought Indians into close contact with African slaves, with whom they intermarried. Hall further expands on this notion of a permeable society by focusing on the development of Afro-Creole culture, which included both slaves and free blacks. Part 2, "The American Challenge," traces the decline of French influence and the evolution of American dominance. These essays are most valuable as contributions to a current dialogue in American history as scholars begin to explore the social construction of whiteness—how people came to understand what it meant to be white in the South. Paul F. Lachance shows how white and black refugees from the 1791 Haitian revolution and immigrants from France propped up a French-speaking white majority in the city until the 1830s. Next, Joseph G. Tregle Jr. compellingly dissects the creation of the Creole myth. In the antebellum years, all Louisiana natives, black and white, fell under the rubric of Creole. But after the Civil War, partly in reaction to George Washington Cable's fictional depiction of white Creoles as uncouth, hypocritical miscegenists, eminent historian Charles Gayarré and others promoted the image of Creoles as aristocratic, educated, refined, racially pure whites of French or Spanish descent. According to this scheme, only an unfortunate confusion led outsiders and racially mixed New Orleanians to consider persons of mixed blood as Creoles. Ironically, this new myth undermined white Creoles' identification with French culture because it emphasized their whiteness over their Frenchness. Part 3 addresses the Americanization of black New Orleans. Both essays explain how the permeable racial world presented in part 1 became enmeshed first in the racial dualism of Jim Crow and then in the racial politics of the civil rights era and afterward. Joseph Logsdon and Caryn Cosse Bell present a dynamic portrait of the French-speaking, free, black Creole community from the antebellum period to the end of the century. This privileged group saw its world slip away in the 1850s, when sectional conflict and changes in local government brought repression. Meanwhile, they absorbed revolutionary ideas from the French emancipation of 1848, which granted "full political rights" to former slaves in the French West Indies. These experiences molded a new generation that 100Southern Cultures formed the vanguard of a movement for racial equality. But the Civil War and its aftermath altered the demographic composition of New Orleans, which came to include an increasing number of English-speaking, Protestant blacks. Moreover, the two communities possessed different racial ideals. Opposed to caste divisions, black Creoles drew upon their antebellum heritage to seek an integrated society, while Anglo-Protestant blacks sought refuge and resistance in all-black institutions. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Rodolphe Desdunes, editor of the daily newspaper the Crusader, and others in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 99-100
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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