'It's a cultural thing'

Michael Tortorich
Donaldsonville author Mary Gehman signs copies of her books after her presentation at the Ascension Parish Library in Gonzales Wednesday night. Gehman focused on the history of Creoles in Louisiana.

"It's gone through so many transformations," said Gehman.

Creole is not about color, but culture, she explained.

"It really has very little to do with skin color."

With the presidential election of Barack Obama, the son of a black man and white woman, more interest has been focused on people of mixed races.

In her research, Gehman found differences in how Louisiana related to people of color compared to other states. She found that free women of color owned "prime property" on the New Orleans riverfront, in the area that is now Jackson Square.

"Nothing was very clear about that history," Gehman said.

In analyzing New Orleans records, she found that in 1720 the city had 248 white residents, 172 slaves and 50 others. She speculated the "others" could have been free people of color.

Gehman also found differences in the Code Noir, or Black Code, which was prescribed for the treatment of slaves. She said slaves in the Louisiana colony were thought to have "souls" in contrast with other territories where slaves were thought to have no souls. Also slavery was not thought of as permanent. Slaves could be freed upon the death of their master. Faithful servants, sometimes dozens at a time, were given their freedom, Gehman said.

"This did not happen in other states and colonies," she said.

Gehman also talked about Congo Square, known as Place de Negres, which was a section of New Orleans where slaves would set up a market, play music and dance.

"This didn't happen anywhere else in the United States," Gehman said.