The Civil Rights Plank, No. 4

By June, 1873, the white citizens of New Orleans were weary of the Republicans fighting over patronage spoils. The African-Creoles simply wanted stability. These two groups formed the Committee of One Hundred. They called themselves Fusionists, for bringing together various parties. They arrived at policy platforms, known as the Unification Movement. They adopted ten resolutions. These resolutions included all the civil rights planks that had percolated for the past few years. Full integration of public accommodations and public amusement. Integration of public schools, restaurants, taverns and hotels. These planks essentially represent what would later be codified in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Among the men behind the Unification Movement was Harry T. Hays, of the famous Hay’s Brigade and one of Lee’s most reliable lieutenants. P.G.T. Beauregard, then in charge of the Louisiana Lottery Company, was one of the 100. Perhaps no one single person had as much influence in New Orleans as Gen. Beauregard. Conservative whites (meaning they were moderate in their views) from the Reform movement in 1872 were involved. The African-Creoles included Aristide Mary, Charles Roudanez, Edmund Rillieux, and others. These African-Americans had been squeezed out by Henry Clay Warmoth. The Unification Movement represented an opportunity for them to regain influence.

Lack of Support

But, the movement attracted little or no support outside of New Orleans. The Committee of 100 also included a few black politicians who owed much to the Republican party, then controlled by the Custom House ring. Within weeks, Gen. Beauregard felt it necessary to defend his position regarding integration of public schools and transportation. Fr. Abram Ryan, the Poet of the Confederacy and editor of the Catholic Morning Star and Catholic Messenger,  claimed Beauregard’s arguments were “lame.”

The Unification Movement pledged to have a meeting in July at which it would announce these political goals. The meeting came, but many of the leading voices did not attend. Gen. Beauregard did not attend. The attendance was mostly black. One Republican, more loyal to the Custom House ring, attended. He congragulated the whites sarcastically, for finally seeing the light regarding racial equality.

Racial Polarization

The Unification Movement flamed out within just a couple of months. In the end, white support was not deep. The 1870’s saw a rising focus on racial purity among some elite whites. The ancient Creole system of plaçage became embarrassing for the French Creoles. Plaçage was a long-time Creole practice of forming a relationship with a “free woman of color,” whether as a mistress or otherwise. Starting in the 1870’s, many well-known Creoles stated to find it embarrassing that they shared last names with prominent African-Creoles. The ascension of William P. Kellogg to the governor’s office further polarized racial politics. See this site for more about plaçage here.

George Washington Cable’s short story, “Belles Demoiselles Plantation,” with its mixing of the races, was published in Scribner’s magazine in April, 1874. Much of New Orleans found it offensive, even though plaçage had been an institution since the city’s founding. Dr. Nystrom suggests the Unification Movement was partly a desperate attempt by the conservative whites to retain control and also a throw back to a more tolerant time in New Orleans.

Source:

Justin A. Nystrom, New Orleans: After the Warr, Vol. 9 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 2010), p. 150-154

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