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Exploring the Diversity of New Orleans’ Free Black Community
March 7, 2017 @ 7:00 pm
Presented by Brian Mitchell
New Orleans is often compared to one of its signature dishes, gumbo. Gumbo is a complex stew which incorporates the culinary traditions of West African, Native American, and Gallic settlers. Like gumbo, New Orleans is an amalgamation and its unique culture could not exist without all of its component communities. Early historians, anthropologists, and linguists who studied the city’s communities attempted to address the black community monolithically. In doing so, they discovered perplexing levels of complexity which still present challenges to identifying what it means to be black in New Orleans. My discussion will explore New Orleans’s Free Black Community by examining its Free Black Register. The Mayor’s Register of Free Blacks in the City of New Orleans was signed by Free Blacks residing in the city between 1840 and 1864. The register, though incomplete, provides a fascinating glimpse into the African American community of Antebellum New Orleans and challenges many popular assumptions in regard to race, immigration, and cultural assimilation.