New Orleans, LA

French-Speaking Poets during Civil War New Orleans

Pierre St-Jean

New Orleans, LA- New Orleans is a place where many events related to the civil rights for African-Americans and so-called people of color happened. But, little was known about the first civil rights movement initiated by local people of color during the Civil War in French-language poetry.

New Orleans was known for Homer Plessy and his Comité des Citoyens during the late 19th century, which led to Separate but Equal laws. It is also known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) 's birthplace during the 1960s.

Yet, the city of New Orleans has its own history, as the poems gave a slightly different point of view about the Big Easy in the 1860s. The poems were themed about black suffrage, voting rights, denouncing racism, and even commemorating an infamous event, such as one poem about the 1866 Mechanics' Institute massacre.

The poets were from the French-speaking free people of color, which put their poems into two local newspapers, L'Union founded in 1862 and La Tribune de la Nouvelle-Orléans, founded in 1864. Both of them were praised as the first Black-owned newspaper across America and bilingual one.

The newspapers directly represent the equality movement during the Reconstruction Era up until the late 19th century in New Orleans. Even W. E. B. Du Bois, an early civil rights leader, remarked that La Tribune became so-called "an unusually effective organ for the Negroes”, which proved crucial in the history both of Black America and the French-speaking world.

As opposed to editorials and other prose, poetry was an effective way to tackle social injustice and other weighty topics during that time. The Creole writers demonstrated their mastery of language with aesthetic form and literary codes to prove their intellectual worth to shown their idealism and egalitarian approach than the mostly credited 'elite class.'

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