Racial Identity and Reconstruction: New Orleans's Free People of Color and the Dilemma of Emancipation
This chapter looks at case studies of the way the Civil War and its aftermath affected free Creoles of color. Antebellum New Orleans society was divided broadly into three groups, with Creoles of color forming the vital middle ground between bound black slaves and free whites. Because these Creoles both obscured the relationship between race and freedom and served as a model to those slaves who would be free, white governments passed a series of laws increasingly restricting Creoles' freedoms. The war and early fall of New Orleans changed this three-tiered system in dramatic and unexpected ways. The ensuing end of slavery destroyed Creoles' former racial identity and forced them into a more rigid social structure of white and nonwhite. Many families reacted by taking a series of small steps across several generations to assume a white identity in this new bichromatic society—with varying degrees of success.
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