No American city's history better illustrates both thepossibilities for alternative racial models and the role of the law in shapingracial identity than New Orleans, Louisiana, which prior to the Civil War washome to America's most privileged community of people of African descent. Inthe eyes of the law, New Orleans's free people of color did not belong to thesame race as enslaved Africans and African-Americans. While slaves were"e;negroes,"e; free people of color were gensde couleur libre, creoles of color, or simply creoles. New Orleans'screoles of color remained legally and culturally distinct from "e;negroes"e;throughout most of the nineteenth century until state mandated segregationlumped together descendants of slaves with descendants of free people of color. Much of the recent scholarship on NewOrleans examines what race relations in theantebellum period looked as well as why antebellum Louisiana's gens de couleur enjoyed rights andprivileges denied to free blacks throughout most of the United States. This book, however, is less concerned with the what and why questions than with how peopleof color, acting within institutions of power, shaped those institutions in ways beyondtheir control. As its title suggests, Making Race in the Courtroom argues that race is best understood notas a category, but as a process. It seeks to demonstrate the role offree people of African-descent, interacting within the courts, in this process.
Making Race in the Courtroom
The Legal Construction of Three Races in Early New Orleans