The Louisiana Creole Research Association is a New Orleans based non-profit family research organization dedicated to the study of the history and culture of the Creoles of Color of Louisiana through ancestral research, education, and celebration.
THE CREOLES OF COLOR OF LOUISIANA
Who are the Creoles?
There is evidence that both French and Spanish Colonial Louisiana identified all of its residents as Creole. This population comprised white, black, and mixed; free and enslaved. It included the offspring of Europeans (predominantly French and Spanish), Africans, and mixtures 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 themselves became a unique ethnic group.
The gens de couleur libres (free people of color) gained their freedom during the colonial and American periods prior to the Civil War through manumission, emancipation, self purchase, military service, or (as established under Spanish rule) by living as free for at least 20 years. The gens de couleur libre rose to an 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 and 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 Creoles of Color, 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 the rural communities many of the free people of color owned vast tracts of land, including large sugarcane plantations. They 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 libres were educated in France. Several became literary and musical giants who gained prominence in Europe because they were unable to publish their works in a race-biased America. Others returned to Louisiana to become professionals, artists, and businessmen.
A large number of the people of color in Louisiana remained enslaved until the Civil War and Emancipation. Once emancipated, they easily assimilated into the culture created by the gens de coleur libre. Following the Civil war, many of the politically astute Creoles of Color served admirably in the Reconstruction government.
Jim Crow and Beyond
In the repressive Jim Crow era that followed Reconstruction, Creoles of Color 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 20th century, which culminated in the successes of the 1960s.
The recent surge of interest in genealogy and family history has brought a closer look at the history and culture of the Creoles of Color of Louisiana. A keen awareness has developed, through research and historical documents, of the many contributions the Creoles of Color have made to the state of Louisiana throughout its history and pride in those accomplishments by their many descendants.