The Louisiana Creole Research Association, Inc. known as LA Creole,
was founded in August 2004 as a New Orleans-based, non-profit family research and educational organization. LA Creole assists Creoles of Color
in researching their ancestry, provides programs about Creole culture
for its members and the general public throughout the year, and
celebrates the legacy of a unique, sometimes forgotten people.
THE CREOLES OF COLOR OF LOUISIANA
Who are the Creoles?
There is evidence that both French and Spanish colonial Louisiana identified all its people (white, black, and mixed), both free and enslaved, who were born in the new world of old world stock as Creole. That included the offspring of Europeans (predominantly French and Spanish), Africans, and a mixture of both that could also include Native American. Therefore, the descendants of all these people can claim Creole heritage.
Who are the Gens de Couleur Libre?
LA Creole identifies the gens de couleur, or people of color, as the mixed-race descendants of those early colonial inhabitants of Louisiana who became a unique ethnic group.
The gens de couleur libres, or free people of color, gained their freedom during the colonial period and the American period prior to the Civil War through manumission, emancipation by father/owner, self purchase, military service, and (as established under Spanish rule) by living as free for at least 20 years. The free people of color rose to economic and limited social prominence denied the enslaved population, while being denied the political and civil rights enjoyed by the white ruling class. Thus, Louisiana developed a unique three-tiered social order – white, slaves, and the free people of color. Caught in the middle, not fully accepted by the other two groups, the free people of color created their own society that gave rise to a distinct, sophisticated culture. They identified themselves as Creole, maintained close family ties creating kinship networks, maintained the French language, placed a high value on education, established and ran their own businesses, rose to prominence in the building trades, and clung tightly to the “faith of their fathers” as members of the Roman Catholic Church. In rural communities, many free people of color owned vast tracts of land, including large sugar cane plantations, traveled to New Orleans to conduct commerce, networked with other families through business partnerships and marriages, and created family dynasties to protect their land and wealth.
Some of the gens de couleur libreswere educated in Franceand became literary and musical giants who gained prominence in Europe because they were unable to publish their works in race-biased America. Others returned to Louisiana, becoming professionals, artists, and businessmen.
A large number of the people of color of Louisiana remained enslaved until the Civil War and Emancipation. However, they easily assimilated into the culture the free people of color had created. Following the Civil War, many of the politically astute Creoles of Color served admirably in Reconstruction government.
Jim Crow and Beyond
In the Jim Crow era that followed, they led the way in an organized civil rights movement in Louisiana beginning as early as the 1870s. Politically active Creoles of Color continued the movement throughout the 20thcentury, which culminated in its success in the 1960s.
The recent surge of interest in genealogy and family history has prompted a closer look at the history and culture of the Creoles of Color of Louisiana. Research has brought to light the many contributions Creoles of Color have made to Louisiana and the to the world and today their descendants take pride in those accomplishments.
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