THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF A FREE BLACK BROTHERHOOD
In the face of an oppressive white society, members of the Société d’Economie et d’Assistance Mutuelle built a community and held it together through the era of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow terrorism. Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood follows Ludger Boguille, his family, and his friends through landmark events— from the Haitian Revolution to the birth of jazz—that shaped New Orleans and the United States.
The story begins when the author’s father rescues a century’s worth of journals, handwritten in French, from a trash hauler’s pickup truck. From the journals’ pages emerges one of the most important multi-ethnic, intellectual communities in the US South: educators, world-traveling merchants, soldiers, tradesmen, and poets. Though Louisiana law classified them as men of color, Negroes, and Blacks, the Economie brothers rejected racism and colorism to fight for suffrage and education rights for all. A descendant of the Economie’s community, author Fatima Shaik has spent decades reading and translating the journals, which begin with the society’s founding in 1836.
She combed through 19th-century newspapers, legal cases, congressional testimony, real estate records, and Creole family histories. In Economy Hall, she has constructed a meticulously detailed nonfiction narrative that reads like an epic novel.