CREOLE=Always a controversial and confusing term, the word Creole, to put it simply, means many things to many people. It derives from the Latin creare, meaning "to beget" or "create." After the New World’s discovery, Portuguese colonists used the word crioulo to denote a New World slave of African descent. Eventually, the word was applied to all New World colonists, regardless of ethnic origin, living along the Gulf Coast, especially in Louisiana. There the Spanish introduced the word as criollo, and during Louisiana’s colonial period (1699-1803) the evolving word Creole generally referred to persons of African or European heritage born in the New World. By the nineteenth century, black, white, and mixed-race Louisianians used the term to distinguish themselves from foreign-born and Anglo-American settlers. It was during that century that the mixed-race Creoles of Color (or gens de couleur libre, "free persons of color") came into their own as an ethnic group, enjoying many of the legal rights and privileges of whites. They occupied a middle ground between whites and enslaved blacks, and as such often possessed property and received formal educations. After the Civil War, most Creoles of Color lost their privileged status and joined the ranks of impoverished former black slaves. All the while, however, the word Creole persisted as a term also referring to white Louisianians, usually of upper-class, non-Cajun origin (although, confusingly, even Cajuns sometimes were called Creoles, primarily by outsiders unfamiliar with local ethnic labels). Like the Creoles of Color, these white Creoles (also called French Creoles) suffered socioeconomic decline after the Civil War. In Acadiana, newly impoverished white Creoles often intermarried with the predominantly lower-class Cajuns, and were largely assimilated into Cajun culture. Many names of French Creole origin, like Soileau, Fontenot, and François, are now widely considered Cajun. And today Creole is most often used in Acadiana to refer to persons of full or mixed African heritage. It is generally understood among these Creoles that Creole of Color still refers to Creoles of mixed-race heritage, while the term black Creole refers to Creoles of more or less pure African descent. Increasingly, both African-derived groups are putting aside old animosities (based largely on skin color and social standing) to work for mutual preservation, and as such often merely describe themselves as Creole. In 1982 they founded a preservation group, C.R.E.O.L.E., Inc. (Cultural Resourceful Educational Opportunities toward Linguistic Enrichment), which operates along the lines of CODOFIL. In 1990 they began to publish Creole Magazine, which contains articles by and about Creoles in southwest Louisiana. Their popular ethnic music, known as zydeco, is celebrated annually at the Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Festival in Plaisance. Creoles of African descent exerted a strong influence on Cajun culture (and vice versa), affecting, for example, the Cajuns' music, foodways, and religious practices. Ultimately, however, the word Creole remains murky, with some individuals (black, white, and mixed-race) futilely claiming the right of exclusive use. As the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture states, perhaps the "safest" course is to say that a Creole is "anyone who says he is one."This definition was obviously written by a non-Creole. There are many non-Creoles that attempt to define the Creole community, when we are perfectly able to articulate who we are as a people and do not need any outside help. This writer of Cajun heritage prmotion wouldnt like a Creole saying that a Cajun is ANYONE who wants to say that they are! Cajuns have their own history and culture, as do Creoles. NOTE by N. Duplessis (THE ONLY WAY, IT SEEMS FOR ME TO PAINT THE PICTURE IN PEOPLE'S MIND AT HOW DIFFERENT CREOLE HISTORY/HERITAGE WAS FROM AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY/HERITAGE, IS THIS FACT-WHEN WEALTHY MIXED-RACE MULATTO CREOLES CAME TO NEW ORLEANS WITH WHITE FRENCH-CREOLES FROM THE FRENCH-CARIBBEAN, THERE WERE ABOUT 500,000 AFRICAN SLAVES AND CREOLES OF COLOR HAD OWNERSHIP TO ABOUT 150,000 OF THE SLAVES! THESE WERE NOT FIELD SLAVE BUT MORE OF WHAT A MODERN DAY MAID OR BUTLER WOULD LOOK LIKE AND OFTEN TIMES CREOLES OF COLOR PURCHASED THEIR AFRICAN BLOOD RELATIVES TO STOP THEM FROM GOING ON THE SLAVE BLOCK IN NEW ORLEANS OR RENTED THEIR RELATIVES FROM SLAVE OWNING WHITES TO GET THEM OUT OF THE FIELD. THERE WERE ALSO ASIAN SLAVE OWNERS IN THE CAROLINAS AND INDEED, FREED AFRICANS-AMERICANS WHO WERE FULL BLOOD AFRICAN (NOT CREOLES)TOOK ON AFRICAN AND NATIVE AMERICAN SLAVES! CREOLES OF NEW ORLEANS HAD OUTRAGEOUS AMOUNTS OF WEALTH AND INFLUENCE-AND CREOLES IN OTHER PARTS WERE SIMPLY NOT AS WELL OFF TO BE ABLE TO LEASE OR BUY BACK THEIR COUSINS WHO HAPPEN TO BE BORN OUTSIDE THE FRENCH-CREOLE BLOOD LINES. CREOLES, WHO LIVED JUST 20 MILES SOUTH OF NEW ORLEANS HAD A MORE HUMBLE LIFESTYLE OF PLANTERS AND FIHSERMEN. ( INDEED THE WORD CREOLE REFERED TO WHITE CREOLES FROM FRANCE AND THEIR MIXED-RACE RELATIVES. THERE WERE ALOT OF AFRICANS WHO HAPPEN TO LIVE IN THE FRENCH COLONIES AS SLAVES, WHO WERE DESCRIBED AS CREOLE LIKE ONE WOULD REFER TO CREOLE ORANGES, OR CREOLE RUGS, OR CREOLE SLAVES AND AFTER THE CIVIL WAR LARGE NUMBER OF BLACKS JUST WERE CALLED BLACK CREOLE BUT MOST OF THEM HAVE NO FRENCH-CREOLE BLOODLINES BUT YOU DO HAVE CREOLES WHO ARE LILLY WHITE OR MIDNIGHT BLACK(CREOLES HAVE ALL SKIN TONES AND OFTEN TIMES MANY MEMBERS OF THE SAME FAMILY CAN PASS FOR DIFFERENT RACES!)-SO THATS NOT REALLY CREOLE AS DEFINED IN THE FRENCH-CREOLE COMMUNITY IN LOWER SOUTH EASTERN LOUISIANA.(MIXED-RACE FRENCH-INDIAN CREOLES ARE A LARGE POPULATION IN LOWER SOUTH-EASTERN La. BUT EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE "MIXED" THEY HAVE NO BLACK BLOOD-THIS IS SOMETING THAT CREOLES OF COLOR, IN OTHER PARTS OF THE STATE, CANT ACCEPT,BEING THEY, THEMSELVES, ARE VERY ASSIMILATED INTO THE BLACK POPULATION AND CARRY THAT JIM CROW MINDSET) THE CREOLES OF LOWER SOUTH WESTERN AND CENTRAL LOUISIANA HAVE BEEN THE CREOLES WHO HAVE BEEN LEADING THE FIGHT FOR CREOLE IDENTITY IN RECENT YEARS-CANE RIVER CREOLE FAMILIES HAVE BEEN VERY HIGH PROFILE IN THE CREOLE MOVEMENT-THEY HAVE A PASSION FOR CREOLE IDENTITY IN THAT PART OF LOUISIANA, THAT CREOLES IN THE LOWER SE REGION HAVE LOST AND THE SAME CAN BE SAID FOR THE CAJUNS OF THAT REGION-THEN AGAIN THEIR NOT ON A MAJOR PORT OR THE MISSISSIPPI AND HAVENT BEEN INVADED BY OUTSIDERS TO THE EXTENT OF THE LOWER SOUTH EAST REGION WHICH ATTRIBUTED TO ASMILIATION WITH ANGLO PROTESTANTS.) p>Sources: Brasseaux, Creoles of Color in the Bayou Country; Dormon, "Preface"; Encyclopedia of Southern Culture; Reed, 1001 Things Everybody Should Know about the South; Tregle, "Creoles and Americans"; Tregle, "On that Word ‘Creole’ Again."
Creole Girls, Plaquemines Parish, 1935. Library of Congress.
FRENCH QUARTER...NEW ORLEANS FIRST CREOLE HOT SPOT!
The French Quarter, is in actuality the original city of New Orleans founded by Bienville in 1718 but built and made famous by the beautiful Creoles of Color. It was the Creoles of Color that designed and built the famous balconies and Creole cottages. It was the Creoles of Color that dominated a majority of all the businesses and shops. Also known as the Vieux Carré, or Old Square, this historic neighborhood was once enclosed by ramparts. Rampart Street is today one of the boundaries of the Quarter, as is Esplanade Avenue, the Mississippi River and Iberville Street. New Orleans was named for Philip II, Duke of Orleans and Regent during the infancy of Louis XV of France.
The original city had streets named for the bastard children of King Louis XIV(rumored to have been mixed with African/Indian/French bloodlines). Many of the elite French aristocrats attended Creole Balls or Octaroon Balls in the French quarter to meet a female Creole of Color being that most white French women were unable to cope with the humidity and climate of New Orleans it was common to see unofficial marriage arrangements between wealthy Frenchmen and Creole women. This arrangement would include the off-spring inheriting property, wealth and an education in France. Creole women were the backbone and rise of the Creole community in New Orleans. Creole women were so "En Vogue" and considered so beautiful with their soft textured hair, light skin tone and slim tall figures that France started passing laws trying to keep Creole females in their cottages after certain hours and making them wear their hair up in a wrap!Creole women and their families owned a majority of the real estate in the French Quarter. Through their unofficial marriages and business arrangements-they would have their unofficial husbands finance the building of a cottage located in the French Quarter which the Creole of Color woman would own. Creole women would operate beauty shops, coffee houses, bordellos and Octaroon balls-(called Placage)
The French Quarter was basically, an entire area where the most wealthy and elite Frenchmen kept their Creole of Color lovers and children. This put Creoles of Color in an "in-between" world of class and privilege while other people of color were slaves and even newly arrived whites from England, Germany and Ireland had lower class status than Creoles of Color. It was often a more serious crime to assault a Creole woman then it was to assault a white (non-Creole) in New Orleans. Creoles of Color in New Orleans and the lower SE region were, without a doubt, more educated and well-off than any other person of color or even other Creoles in other parts of the state. New Orleans was an area where the aristocratic French settlers laid down roots with Creole women, while other areas of the colony contained more common Frenchmen that were unable to cope with the class systems of Europe.
It was also common to see Creole men with wives who were African, mulatto(African/European-not Creole because they were non-property owners and often had Euro-English on one side and a slave parent on the other side), Native American, and even newly arrived white Cajun females who were drifting after being exiled from Acadia. After the exiled many Cajuns were taken in by Creoles throughout Louisiana and the Caribbean. Cajun women were well known for their survival skills and they were rumored to have the strength of 10 men. Cajuns still appear to be the only ones that can tame a wild, dark, dangerous bayou. Cajun blood can be just as mixed as that of Creole folks but to a lesser degree. Many Creoles and Cajuns have Italian blood-lines, being that Italians were Catholics like Creoles/Cajuns and often lived among Creole Catholic communities in New Orleans. Often Cajun and Creoles of Color view themselves as distant cousins. The rule was Creole married Creole-this was more based on Creoles acting out the class structures of France and Europe than anything else. Creoles would arrange marriages with cousins and off-spring of other Creoles of Color. This inter-marrying happened for generations and was the only way that Creoles of Color survived the pouring in of Anglo-whites and Africans into the colonies of France. With Creoles of Color it wasn't a skin tone or color issue-it was a matter of class and upbringing that determined who a Creole would marry
Everyday life in the New Orleans French Quarter was a very cultural event. While most of the British colonies were still living in forest and having to fight with Native American tribes, the French-Creoles of Color in La. were talking about poetry, writing books, making perfumes, composing music, holding political town hall type meetings about voting and tax, running publications and theaters along with organizing lavish style balls.
New Orleans was not an American colonial city but a well developed Creole mecca for culture, politics and going against the status quo of the times. After the Louisiana Purchase the U.S. needed Creoles to run the region and the government didn't start passing laws against people of color until after the Civil War when Anglo-whites and newly freed African-American slaves decided that the status of Creoles were too high and should be legislated to a lower level more typical for "Colored" people. Many Creoles sold their entire estate to the government due to growing hostilities from Anglo-whites and Africans in Louisiana. Creoles were granted passage from the U.S. into France, Mexico, Caribbean, Cuba and French Canada or Cajun country(Cajun communities were not on a port city so they were more protected from Anglo-Protestant assimilation because they lived in very secluded areas that were hard to get in) and many mixed in with the African-American community but many stayed and continued to preserve their identity even after the Creole or FPC term was banned from legal records and documents in the state.
Sometimes, accomplishments achieved by Creoles of Color are labeled as African-American but Creoles were Creoles and Africans and whites were legally separate and different distinctions-it is what it is! Thats the history-nothing more and nothing less. In fact WEB Dubois-a Creole of Color, found himself being called an African-American and having to take on the African-American culture, as well as his own Creole heritage, but he had less than 1/10 of African blood. W.E.B. Dubois was of French/Native American and Spanish/Dutch heritage with like maybe 1 great grandparent of African bloodline(There's not one scientist that can classify that as black but the U.S. love of racial class systems replaced the European system of royalty).(Just like a Creole he formed the N.A.A.C.P.-which benefited African-Americans) African-Americans, Whites and Native Americans and even Hispanics in the Americas have benefited greatly from the Creoles of Color and even though it wasn't recognize by state law to be documented as a Creole, some hospitals in the state of Louisiana up until the 70's put the term "Creole" as a racial category on many folks birth certificate-especially if it was a Catholic hospital being that Creoles were 100% Catholic.