How New Orleans’ Creole Musicians Forged the Fight for Civil Rights


“While New Orleans’ Congo Square is acknowledged as the heart and birthplace of American music, New Orleans’ unique Creole musical community was the engine for what became America’s early civil rights movement. During French and Spanish rule, a combination of rights and opportunities helped Louisiana Creoles and free people of color develop a unique society. Colonial Louisiana under Spanish rule was a society with liberal manumission laws (granting freedom from slavery) and rights determined by birthright rather than the color of your skin. Creoles also enjoyed the right to testify against whites in court, inherit land and buy and sell property and make loans to and receive loans from whites. Louisiana was a multilingual society with inhabitants speaking French, Creole, Spanish and numerous Native American languages such as Choctaw, as well as open relationships between all the races and local tribes. Many Creole men and women were highly educated, skilled artisans, business and property owners, and entrepreneurs. In one of his last acts as prefect of Louisiana, Pierre De Lussat reinstated these laws — known throughout French colonies as Code Noir — before handing control over to the Americans following the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. New Americans streaming into the territory did not understand the unique society they encountered in Louisiana. Alarmed by what they saw, they immediately went about changing it from a ‘state with slaves’ to a ‘slave state.’ As racist legislators in Louisiana sought to take away public services based on race, there remained dances, balls, soirees, dinners and concerts sponsored by Creole clubs and societies to raise money for hospitals and other worthy community causes, from homes for aged slaves to schools for black orphans. Creoles and free people of color fought hard to maintain their rights against the American legislative onslaught, and responded by forming institutions that helped maintain their cultural integrity. … Both halls are now world famous for their musical history, but less well-known for the roles they played in the civil rights movement. …”
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This entry was posted in Civil Rights Mov., Jazz, Music and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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