Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

“Free People of Color in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana” documents the presence, land ownership, business development, and personal relationships of free people of color in a rural Louisiana parish. Beginning with how free people of color came to be in the parish, it shows an absence of segregation by skin color in home ownership, business relationships, and friendships. Free people of color found themselves accepted in a community that valued their talents and skills and disregarded the color of their skin.

Free people of color bought and sold homes in whatever part of the parish suited them. Most lived surrounded by white neighbors in both of the two towns of the parish and in its outlying areas. Free people of color and white people bought and sold goods and services to one another, loaned and borrowed money from one another, sued and were sued by one another, and participated in litigation where they both were treated with fairness. Free people of color and white people in the community cared for one another and interacted as trusting neighbors. A few of the white slaveholders who fathered children with enslaved women freed them and their children and lived openly with them.

Free people of color, in sum, were a part of their community and not separate from it. The skin color spatial segregation so well known in the early twentieth century was unknown in early nineteenth century West Feliciana Parish.

In the last decade before the Civil War, tensions over slavery, yellow fever, and frequent flooding led nearly 40 percent of the parish’s free people of color to leave. A change came over the parish that worked to separate free people of color from white people. People of color who had been free before the Civil War took no part in Reconstruction politics and found themselves economically marginalized and conceptually subsumed within the class of newly freed people of color. Where free people of color had been integrated into their community before the war, those few who remained were no longer a part of it.

Committee Chair

Foster, Gaines

Available for download on Friday, October 20, 2023

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