How New Orleans’ Creole Musicians Forged the Fight for Civil Rights

1960s: Days of Rage

“While New Orleans’ Congo Square is acknowledged as the heart and birthplace of American music, New Orleans’ unique Creole musical community was the engine for what became America’s early civil rights movement. During French and Spanish rule, a combination of rights and opportunities helped Louisiana Creoles and free people of color develop a unique society. Colonial Louisiana under Spanish rule was a society with liberal manumission laws (granting freedom from slavery) and rights determined by birthright rather than the color of your skin. Creoles also enjoyed the right to testify against whites in court, inherit land and buy and sell property and make loans to and receive loans from whites. Louisiana was a multilingual society with inhabitants speaking French, Creole, Spanish and numerous Native American languages such as Choctaw, as well as open relationships between all the races and local tribes. Many Creole men and women were highly educated, skilled…

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