- Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans by Lakisha Michelle Simmons
"Queen Mother" Audley Moore is best known as a leading twentieth-century black nationalist and a cofounder of the Republic of New Afrika. However, it is the often-overlooked accounts of Moore's early encounters with racialized sexual violence and harassment on the streets of New Orleans that nurtured her black nationalism and characterize the narratives found in Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans. Historian and women's studies scholar Lakisha Michelle Simmons examines black girlhood, gendered and spatial contours, subjectivities, and the struggle for pleasure against the backdrop of Jim Crow between the 1930s and 1954 in New Orleans. Through the voices and lived experiences of young black girls, Simmons presents a dynamic story of black girl subjectivities and the search for pleasure within preexisting confines. By sharing these young black girls' voices in the larger context of segregation in New Orleans, Simmons captures the complex lives of black girls and girlhood that rejected imposed silences, exclusion, and invisibility.
Simmons frames her narratives within W. E. B. Du Bois's double consciousness in order to describe the fracture between black girls' lived experiences versus the boundaries imposed by Jim Crow. Simmons provocatively includes in this the warring perceptions of black girls—that of their actual racialized, [End Page 187] sexualized, and spatialized lived experiences—versus that of the dominant power structure. It is this context of Jim Crow and its inherent double bind for black girls and black girlhood that influence Simmons's definition of subjectivity as black women's construction of self within the preexisting physical, linguistic, sexual, cultural, familial, and emotional boundaries in the Jim Crow South. Each subsequent chapter of Crescent City Girls reinforces this mapping of black women's bodies in historic New Orleans.
In the first chapter, "Suppose They Don't Want Us Here: Mental Mapping of Jim Crow New Orleans," Simmons draws from black women's oral histories of growing up in New Orleans to emphasize the interconnectedness of geography, race, gender, and oppression. Simmons includes maps to highlight the physical and ideological boundaries of the city and their intersections with race, class, politics of respectability, and the subsequent internalized "geographies of niceness." Simmons describes the "geographies of niceness" as ideologies of "nice" established on the politics of respectability, including factors of geography, race (Creole American versus black American), income, and familial background. Simmons supports this claim with narratives that explain the prominence of a literal color line in the city (Canal Street) and how this line divided uptown from downtown, and how one's "niceness" could blur this line.
The following chapter discusses Queen Mother Moore's experiences growing up in New Orleans. In oral history interviews conducted by scholars later in life, Queen Mother Moore vividly described the street harassment she regularly experienced as a child in New Orleans. Moore explained that because of these insults and street harassments "you had no peace" (56). Moore elaborated by recounting the verbal slurs, sexual harassment, and constant struggles inherent in maneuvering the city as a young black girl. Queen Mother Moore's experiences were hardly unique. Simmons includes numerous accounts of black women who regularly encountered street harassment. These insults served to enforce symbolic boundaries based on race, class, gender, and politics of respectability.
In the next two chapters, "Defending Her Honor: Interracial Sexual Violence, Silences and Respectability" and "Silences and the Politics of Respectability," Simmons juxtaposes motivations behind the silences enforced by the mainstream media and state versus those of the black community and its media. The silence imposed by the white community and mainstream media functioned to maintain the myth of Jim Crow—that black women were unrapeable. The silence of the black community and its media aimed to protect black girl purity and virtue, but the silence of black girls on this same issue was internalized as a form of...