the colonial and antebellum periods, the Creoles of Color had
existed as a separate class, distinct from the dominant whites
as well as from the slaves.
Although they did not enjoy full
citizenship rights and privileges, they did have considerably
more rights and privileges than the servile population. During
the Civil War, as portions of the state came under Union control,
the gens de couleur libre attempted to maintain the three-tier
social system that guaranteed them separate status.
Union officials, however, were
unwilling to recognize this distinction and insisted on treating
all persons of African ancestry as members of a single class.
This monolithic view of nonwhites was institutionalized by the
black codes that followed the war's end.
Once they accepted the realities of their new situation, the Creoles
of Color determined that if they were to be classed with the
freedmen they would be the social and political leaders of
their race (Vincent 17).
They reasoned that because they had
experienced the problems of being free in a white man's world,
were educated, and were property owners, they had earned the
right to leadership.
It is hardly surprising, then,
that the Creoles of Color, who constituted a small minority
of the African-American population in south-central Louisiana,
occupied a disproportionately large number of political positions
and wielded a disproportionately large amount of political
influence in the Reconstruction era.
Creoles of Color in the Bayou Country
by Carl A. Brasseaux,
Keith P. Fontenot,
and Claude F. Oubre