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The Free People of Color of New Orleans: An Introduction

Book: Free People of Color of New Orleans


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The uniqueness of New Orleans lies in its Creoles and their history, often ignored by black and white. This book reveals their stories, contributions, names and professions.  This is a comprehensive, easy-to-read history of LES GENS DE COULEUR LIBRE - as the French called them in the 1700's (the free people of color) known as Creoles of color after the Civil War and today, simply as Creoles. The pocket sized book, illustrated and with notes and index, describes a missing link in most histories of the African-American experience. Freed from the 1730's on, these people emerging in French and Spanish colonial Louisiana, formed a large and powerful community. Some of them owned wealthy estates and others dominated trades such as leatherworking, cigar making and carpentry. On the eve of the Civil War, these Creoles of color numbered in the thousands, owned $15 million of property in New Orleans and were active in the slave trade; thus some of them fought with the Confederacy. The book explains contributions of free people of color in education, politics, religion, journalism, art, etc.; the laws that tried to keep them in their place; and the major role of PLACAGE, liaisons between free women of color and white men. It discusses the ongoing effect of this group on New Orleans today, as well as ongoing issues of race and the Creole controversy resulting in their unique history. Includes an extensive bibliography and index.

"I found this book especially helpful in highlighting as aspect of history that is too often neglected. Free people of color played a major, but little understood, role in the course of Louisiana's French, Spanish, and American experience. This short work is a quick [yet complete] read for students. It gives them an opportunity to learn about these often forgotten people, and provides an excellent resource for comprehending a unique aspect Louisiana's rich and varied culture." -- Ron Chapman, Instructor of Louisiana History, Chalmette, LA

ISBN 978-0-9616377-2-2; trade paperback; 152 pp.  

Mary Gehman is an historian, researcher, writer and publisher. Her book Women and New Orleans led her to study the origins of hundreds of free women of color who owned property in New Orleans in the late 1700s, and led to the writing of the book The Free People of Color of New Orleans. She has also written about free blacks from Louisiana who emigrated to Mexico in the years prior to the Civil War and the consequent Creole community of their descendants today in Mexico. Since flooding out in Hurricane Katrina in N.O. she has relocated upriver to Donaldsonville, Louisiana.


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