I had heard the stories of the gens de couleur libres. Their stories were the stories of my ancestors, the "old Creole ladies" as my late aunt used to call her grandmother and their circle of friends, these mono-lingual ladies who reluctantly learned English when they came to St. Louis. In hearing the stories, and the ones long gone from this Earth, I have been devouring a lot of literature about Saint-Domingue (before it was Haiti), Haiti, New Orleans (before 1812, before the Civil War), and the sweet period of the late 1700's, early 1800s when the Free People of Color, the Creoles, reined supreme in the French Quarter, in a society almost to themselves, apart from the emerging Americans, Irish, German, and Italian immigrants who teamed upon the Gulf Shores, bringing with them things that upset the delicate balance.
The stories of these people, my people, have lead me to many of the books I've read or reviewed of late. I just finished A Million Nightingales and am currently reading Anne Rice's The Feast of All Saints.
If you are equally intrigued about this unique culture, race of people, the following books may be of interest:
A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight - while the heroine is a mulatto slave, she shares many of the same African ancestry as the Creole gens de couleur libre. What separates her is the Code Noir and the way of the mother, her mother was an African slave.
The Feast of All Saints by Anne Rice - written in the third person and chronicling a few FPC families in New Orleans a generation after the revolution that brought Louisiana into statehood and with it, more and more complicated restrictions upon the FPC. This period of time before the Civil War also illustrates just how complicated the culture and the realities of plaçage . http://www.knowla.org/entry.php?rec=764
Cane River and Red River by Lalita Tademy - these are a fictionalized account of her own Creole and Indian family history.
Breath Eyes Memory by Edwidge Danticat - a more modern history of our ancestral homeland of Haiti. Almost all Creole families of Louisiana can trace their heritage back to Haiti. Her books tell the story of what happened to this tiny black nation after the revolution that left her devastated, the oppression of France and America's demand for repayment too much for island to bear. Generations and generations of poverty and wealthy in one place.
I invite you to read these stories and learn more about this unique culture. New Orleans, Louisiana remains a magical place, a place of mystery, a place of life, a place of hope, and like these stories, a place of possibility.
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