Crescent City Girls

Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans

LaKisha Michelle Simmons
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 282
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  • Book Info
    Crescent City Girls
    Book Description:

    What was it like to grow up black and female in the segregated South? To answer this question, LaKisha Simmons blends social history and cultural studies, recreating children's streets and neighborhoods within Jim Crow New Orleans and offering a rare look into black girls' personal lives. Simmons argues that these children faced the difficult task of adhering to middle-class expectations of purity and respectability even as they encountered the daily realities of Jim Crow violence, which included interracial sexual aggression, street harassment, and presumptions of black girls' impurity.Simmons makes use of oral histories, the black and white press, social workers' reports, police reports, girls' fiction writing, and photography to tell the stories of individual girls: some from poor, working-class families; some from middle-class, "respectable" families; and some caught in the Jim Crow judicial system. These voices come together to create a group biography of ordinary girls living in an extraordinary time, girls who did not intend to make history but whose stories transform our understanding of both segregation and childhood.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-2282-8
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction Growing Up within the Double Bind, 1930–1954
    (pp. 1-24)

    After a long fight to save his life, African American Willie McGee died in the electric chair in Mississippi in 1951, six years after he allegedly raped a white woman in Laurel. In this case, the justice system worked only as a lynch mob. On the occasion of McGee’s death, the black newspaper in New Orleans, theLouisiana Weekly, opined, “There have been many ‘Willie McGees’ who have paid the supreme price, and whom the world has never heard about. Sometimes they get a trial and sometimes they don’t. The dual system of justice only demands the life of a...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Suppose They Donʹt Want Us Here? Mental Mapping of Jim Crow New Orleans
    (pp. 25-55)

    Growing up during segregation, Florence Borders discovered that she was “colored” in the space of urban New Orleans.¹ As she traveled across the city and practiced her reading skills, she came to understand the meaning of race. The letters in the word “colored,” the sounds they made when strung together, and the quality of the things those letters marked taught her complex lessons about her place in Jim Crow society.² Borders’s father simultaneously helped give meaning to the word “colored” as he attempted to teach his daughter to see herself as more than the narrow definition that hung from the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO A Street Where Girls Were Meddled: Insults and Street Harassment
    (pp. 56-81)

    Born in 1922, Clarita Reed grew up in segregated New Orleans. In a 1994 interview, she struggled to narrate her coming-of-age during Jim Crow. To describe the psychological trauma of segregation, Reed first turned to her brother’s experience—a more familiar story. She explained, “The black male wasn’t safe.” Reed lived in “mortal fear” that one day whites might accuse her brother of raping a white woman or that police officers might brutally beat him. In contrast to Reed’s thick description of the dangers associated with boys’ coming-of-age, Reed offered only a vague sketch of black girls’ traumatic experiences with...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Defending Her Honor: Interracial Sexual Violence, Silences, and Respectability
    (pp. 82-107)

    On Monday, February 10, 1930, Matt Piacum, a white restaurateur, called the police because his black teenage dishwasher, Hattie McCray, had been shot by Charles Guerand, a white patrolman. The police report recorded the facts of the crime: “Matt A. Piacum … notified the police, returning to the kitchen, Piacum asked Guerand why he shot Hattie McCray, Guerand stated that he was trying to have sexual intercourse with her and that she ran at him with a knife, and he in turn shot her.”¹ Charles Guerand’s actions were so scandalous and the newspaper stories following the crime so melodramatic that...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Geography of Niceness: Morality, Anxiety, and Black Girlhood
    (pp. 108-140)

    People living in the Seventh Ward and the Treme (bounded by Esplanade to St. Louis Streets and Rampart to Broad Streets), two overlapping neighborhoods in downtown New Orleans, encountered a world of excitement. Residents frequented black-owned businesses such as the Pecan Grove Dairy and Peete’s Pharmacy, social clubs such as the Autocrat Social and Pleasure Club, and sandwich stands and restaurants such as Dooky Chase. Black children growing up in downtown New Orleans came of age in an area of the city that lived up to its reputation for interracial fraternizing. As two of the most diverse neighborhoods in the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Relationships Unbecoming of a Girl Her Age: Sexual Delinquency and the House of the Good Shepherd
    (pp. 141-173)

    The bulky brick building of the House of the Good Shepherd sat in downtown New Orleans on the corner of Bienville and North Broad. A concrete wall, cracked from age and adorned with ironwork, separated the convent from its neighbors. At the entrance the name “Good Shepherd” announced the building to the surrounding community, visitors, and passersby. At the heart of the convent stood the chapel; all guests were funneled through its doors. Inside, white nuns worked to rehabilitate the “world worn girls” of New Orleans—both black and white.¹ The building was an imposing site of church, municipal, and...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Make-Believe Land: Pleasure in Black Girlsʹ Lives
    (pp. 174-205)

    Figure 6.1 is a photograph taken at Claiborne Avenue branch of the New Orleans Young Women’s Christian Association on Canal Street sometime in the 1950s. If we can assign emotions to the bodily characteristics of the girls in the photo, we might say that they look not only happy but also excited and proud. As discussed in chapter 1, the YWCA’s location on Claiborne and Canal Street was controversial. As young women and girls walked to the facility in an area surrounded by white homes, they faced possible physical violence or insults from local whites. The Louisiana Weekly recorded the...

  11. Epilogue Jim Crow Girls, Hurricane Katrina Women
    (pp. 206-216)

    Nina Simone, who came of age in Jim Crow North Carolina, sang of segregation in “Old Jim Crow,” a protest song from 1964. The song referenced the weariness felt by so many African Americans frustrated with the pace of change in the fight for racial justice. Simone lamented, “Old Jim Crow / I thought I had you beat / Now I see you walkin’ up and down the street.” In the song, Jim Crow haunts the geography of the American South. She asks, “Don’t you know? It’s all over now.”¹ The reinscribing and returns of racial injustice on the city...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 217-244)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-260)
  14. Index
    (pp. 261-266)