"#COLORED" FOLKS "The term “#Creole” has long generated confusion and controversy. The word invites debate because it possesses several meanings, some of which concern the innately sensitive subjects of race and ethnicity. In its broadest sense, Creole means “native”—or, in the context of Louisiana history, “native to Louisiana.” In a more narrow sense, however, it has historically referred to black, white, and mixed-raced persons who are native to Louisiana. In short, the word means different things to different people, and more than one ethnic group arguably has a claim to the term.
The word Creole derives from the Latin creare, meaning “to beget” or “to create.” It appears to have been used first by the Portuguese in the form crioulo, which denoted a slave born in the New World (as opposed to one born in Africa). By the 1600s, crioulo came to denote a native New World colonist, regardless of racial or ethnic heritage—black, white, or mixed race. In Louisiana, the term—which evolved into criollo in Spanish and créole in French—adhered to this convention, even though it most commonly referred to persons born into slavery in the New World.Eighteenth-Century Creoles By the 1720s, free mixed-race Louisianans made up such a substantial part of the population that the Code Noir (laws governing race relations in Louisiana) spelled out the group’s special place in colonial society. These Creoles of color, as they were known (gens de couleur libres in French, “free persons of color”), occupied a middle ground between whites and enslaved blacks. They commonly owned property, including slaves, and received formal educations, often in Europe.Nineteenth-Century Creoles In the antebellum nineteenth century, black, white, and mixed-race Louisiana natives continued to use Creole in reference to themselves. The term distinguished native-born persons from increasing numbers of immigrants from overseas and, after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Anglo-American newcomers. But with the coming of the Civil War, the end of slavery, and the subsequent collapse of the South’s economy, white Louisianans gradually took away the privileged status that set Creoles of color ⬇⬇⬇