Labor and Working-Class History Association 8
This panel brings together three scholars whose work is in conversation about the ways that African and Afro-Creoles in New Orleans used their labor to change their lives. We bring new approaches to looking at the ways that Blacks in early New Orleans, through their economic efforts, were able to extend their autonomy within the context of slavery, move from slavery to freedom, and finally, to solidify their grip on freedom through the most profitable endeavor available to them at the time. Our panel members’ complimentary findings engage existing scholarship through the intersecting lenses of gender, race, and class to open new windows on the ways that people of African descent made contributions which defined the culture and economy of colonial and antebellum Louisiana. By putting our work in dialogue, we also suggest ties between the West African roots of gendered manumission patterns in New Orleans, the function of free and enslaved Black marketing women as the socio-economic linchpins in one of the most culturally diverse regions of the circum-Caribbean, and the profitable but ambivalent participation of free Black women in the slave trade. We underscore ways in which people of African descent shaped their lives as active if constricted agents and in doing so changed the lives of those around them. As Africans and Afro-Creoles worked to increase their autonomy, they both threatened and reified the slave system they lived in.