Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Les Gens de'Couleur Libres,Creoles_The 3rd Race"

To be sure,I've been thinking of my many trips to New Orleans in the 70's.With Mardi Gras 2012 upon us,visions of King Cake,Crawfish Etouffee,Beignets,Pat O'Brien's Hurricanes, Zydeco Music,Jackson Square,Rue Bourbon St, Gumbo,the parades,the costumes,the crazy party people & the creme de la cream _visions of me almost backing up my VW1967 Bug into one of the Canals! I mean REALLY people that happened! Now that I'm more settled_don't get me wrong,as I'm still a Party-Person_I'm just more sensible! I've always wanted to know about the History of the Creole people as many of my friends are of that heritage.So,for the rest of the month_tag along on this quest for a Creole Education! Make a bowl of Crawfish Etouffee,French Bread and a bottle or two of Wine,read one of the book suggestions (to the right of page)AND watch the movie "A Feast For All Saints"_it's Mardi Gras Time,people! Let's begin where my first eating experience took place_
                         "Dooky Chase Restaurant" in 5th Ward,New Orleans

Dooky Chase's was flooded by Hurricane Katrina and was not scheduled to reopen until the summer of 2006. To save Chase's African-American art collection from damage, her grandson placed the art collection in storage.The New Orleans restaurant community got together on April 14, 2006 (Holy Thursday) to hold a benefit, charging $75 to $500 per person for a gumbo z'herbes,fried chicken, and bread pudding lunch at a posh French Quarter restaurant. The guests consumed 50 gallons of gumbo and raised $40,000 for the 82-year-old Mrs. Chase. Dooky Chase restaurant was scheduled to open April 5, 2007. It opened mostly for take-out and special events . When I dined there in the 70's it was a full service dining experience. The African-American Art was beautiful and the food beyond words.I met Mrs.Chase,took lots of pictures and had some great laughs! Mrs Chase is the epitome of a modern day Creole.
                           Mrs Leah Chase aka the Queen of Creole Cuisine

From the Colonial Days of New Orleans_the city was the most European City in America.Mrs.Chase's descendants were called Gens de' Couleur Libres_Creoles,the third race at that time. In the 19th century free people of color coexisted with those of European extraction.Some were former slaves who were able to buy their freedom.Thousands of free people of color arrived in New Orleans from Saint-Domingue(now Haiti) after the Slave Revolts in the late 1700's & early 1800's.Many others came from Cuba after 1809. Although they did not have all the rights as their white counterparts Creoles prospered in the 19th century.When you visit the French Quarters much of what you see and taste was due to Creoles of Color.The wrought iron on balconies,houses and atop cemetery crypts is due to the Artisans of iron work that brought this craft from Africa in colonial times.The coffee in the French Market was the idea of an enterprising femme de couler who formulated the idea of selling coffee in the market place.Creole food was the blending of spices & local produce,seafood,meats with the African methods of cooking.Remember folks_Okra came from Africa_as in Okra Gumbo.Cigar making techniques were brought from Cuba  by the creoles.
"Creole in a Red Turban"_by Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans(1840) in Historic NO Collection

Planters,Artisans,Teachers,Composers,Doctors,Musicians,Poets,Hairdresser's,Tailors,etc added to the wealth of the city.Some femmes de couleur were property owners either by wise business ventures or were given property by either inheritance or through placage(next series blog).As of the 1850's Free People of Color owned over 2 million dollars of property!

New Orleans free people of color prospered until the time before the Civil War when the economies of New Orleans attracted "AMERICANS".Until then New Orleans was a "EUROPEAN" city with European customs and mores. Americans had a distaste for the Creole Way of Life. Early in the Civil War NO was seized making life hard for both whites and gens de couler.At the end of the war when slaves were freed and a wave of immigrants came to NO_the Creoles of color were no longer considered a "third race".

Group Portrait of Creole Children,by Francois Bernard(1872) The Historic NO Collection

The Gens de Couler Libre left a lasting imprint in New Orleans.Their rich culture and heritage still exist today in the descendants living all over America. Large Creole population reside in Los Angeles,Chicago,Houston and East Texas.Many you would NOT know because they appear white and some have_even_ passed for white.

"Until next time...let's continue this journey...."

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