Out of colonial Natchitoches, in northwestern Louisiana, there emerged a colony founded by a family of freed slaves. Their plantations eventually encompassed 18,000 acres of fertile soil, tilled by hundreds of slaves. Their homes were graced with furnishings of quality and taste, and private tutors educated their youth.
Wealthy, cultured, deeply religious, and highly capable, Cane River’s Creoles of color enjoyed the friendship and respect of the dominant white Creole society in which they lived — and they nurtured many of the same sentiments and ideals. Like their white colleagues, they supported the Confederacy and suffered the same depredations of war and the financial ruin of Reconstruction. But unlike their white neighbors, their financial distress was final, since the reactionary political climate of the Redeemer period prohibited their economic regrowth.
The equality proclaimed by the Union robbed the colony of its special prestige. The liberation of all men submerged them into the new mass of black freedmen. Their white friends died and were replaced by a new generation that looked upon all men of color as a threat.
The Forgotten People is a socioeconomic history of this widely publicized but highly fantasized group of Louisiana Creoles — a minority group that fits no stereotypes, refused all labels, and still struggles to maintain its identity in a society that does not understand its heritage.
Gary B. Mills (1944–2002) grew up on a rice plantation in the Mississippi Delta but visited Cane River often in his youth and adopted it personally and professionally in adulthood. From 1976 until his death, he was a professor of history at the University of Alabama.
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