Antebellum Segregation Laws in Bars and Taverns

image description
Liquor License granted in 1850, issued by the Town of Carrolton, Louisiana to F. Brunk, a coffeeshop owner.

Photo Credit: License For Retailing Spirituous Liquors. Jan. 16, 1850. John Minor Wisdom Collection, Box 11, Folder 20 #480. Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans

Contributors

After years of free social mingling and interracial relationships between whites and blacks, the upper – class white population of New Orleans in the 1850s exercised its racial domination by tightening segregation laws in bars, taverns, cabarets, and locations of public accommodations. By limiting the freedoms of blacks in these public spaces, they restricted blacks’ relationships, both with each other and white citizens. As these laws were protested and debated for the years to come, the black population of New Orleans demonstrated its power, drive, and ultimate success.

History and Background.

As New Orleans grew as a port city in the antebellum period, it experienced rapid growth and quickly became a location of critical importance in the United States economy. As many traders, businessmen, sailors, and workers traveled through New Orleans, it was forced to develop many public accommodations, including restaurants, hotels, theaters, bars, and cabarets, in its borders. [1] Also present in these public spaces were the urban slaves and free black citizens of New Orleans. These bars and taverns fostered interactions between blacks, both slave and free, the lower and middle class white inhabitants, and visitors to the city nightly, breaking down color lines and racial barriers. [2] As these public spaces of racial mingling and interaction became more widespread and apparent throughout the city, upper class whites and slave masters began to fear these “transgressions of the color line.” With the history of New Orleans’ social standards deeply grounded in slavery, and thus in the total subordination of blacks, their lenient treatment in public accommodations threatened the city’s future, and white domination in it. [3]

Segregation Laws

The first segregation law of the city was included in the 1806 legislature of New Orleans, and stated that free blacks and slaves were forbidden to presume that they were “equal to whites” in any manner. Although segregation laws, such as this, did exist in the antebellum period, they were “virtually powerless to prevent whites who so desired from mixing freely with Negroes […] in these clandestine pursuits, the color line broke down completely.” [4] In July 1856, the Common Council of New Orleans made a resolution to edit and “publish all general ordinances” of the city that had been passed between 1805 to 1865, and placed the revised versions into sections. The sections that contained revised laws regarding segregation in bars and taverns were “Coffee Houses, Cabarets, Bar Rooms, etc.,” “ Negro Traders,” and “Slaves and Free Persons of Color.” Generally, the penalties for violating the laws in these sections are directed at the keeper of the bar or tavern; the black, free or slave; the master and slave; the free white, or all parties involved. [5]

Examples of Segregation Laws

Ordinance number 168, found in the “Coffee Houses, Cabarets, Bar Rooms, etc.” section, is directed specifically at “ any keeper of a coffee house, or place where spirituous liquor is retailed, who shall sell or give away any such liquor. […]” [6] It states that liquor cannot be sold, or given in exchange for good, to slaves, without a written permission from their master, or keepers will be charged with a fine of “not less than twenty, nor more than one hundred dollars.” [7] Ordinance number 173 is the only law that refers solely to the punishments of slaves for obtaining liquor, and states that, “it shall be the duty of the police to arrest all slaves caught drinking spirituous or malt liquors, or playing cards in grog- shops, or coffee houses, or in the streets of the city. [8] Ordinance number 753 pertains to both masters and slaves. It refers to the fact that slaves cannot assemble in taverns, coffee houses, or groceries, and any slaves found convening will receive up to 25 lashes. It further notes if the slaves have permission to assemble from the master, the master will then receive the penalty. He will be fined 25 to 100 dollars, unless the master has acquired a special permission from the mayor for the slaves to convene. [9] Ordinance number 765, passed in December 1856, states that, “all keepers of cabarets, grog-shops, groceries, or coffee-houses…are hereby forbidden to permit or allow white persons, free persons of color, and slaves, to play together, cards, dominoes, or any games whatsoever in their premises….” [10] If these activities were witnessed by authorities, keeper will receive a fine of 50 dollars for his first offense, 100 dollars for his second offense, and 100 dollars as well as the forfeiture of his license for the third offense.each white participant and free person of color will pay a fine between 25 and 100 dollars, and each slave involved will receive 15 lashes, “unless his master prefer paying a fine of not less than five nor more than fifty dollars.“ref> Henry Leovy. “The Laws and General Ordinances of The City of New Orleans,” (New Orleans, Warton, 1857), v.

Licenses

Many of the liquor and tavern licenses were issued by the Mayoralty Office of New Orleans. The licenses given to the bar keeper contained a few of these “segregation ordinances,” along with other general rules and guidelines for the keeping of a tavern. As seen on a liquor license granted in 1850, issued by the Town of Carrolton, Louisiana to F. Brunk, a coffeeshop owner, the first law printed on the license states that the owner of a tavern or coffee house must place a sign over his door. The next states that he is responsible for the noises and disturbances that arise from inside his tavern, another notes that the keeper cannot sell or transfer his license, and one law states that he must close his tavern by 10 o’ clock. [11] Number 3, however, is Ordinance 168, which noted that keepers could not sell or give liquor to slaves. [12]

Aftermath

In the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision of 1857, the Supreme Court ruled that, “neither free nor enslaved blacks had constitutional rights,” eliminating the freedoms of free blacks, and essentially equating them with slaves. [13] With the fall of New Orleans to federalists in 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the Constitutional Convention of 1864, the blacks of New Orleans began protesting for increased rights and freedoms in public spaces. Between 1871 and 1877, New Orleans experienced a time of brief desegregation and equality in public spaces such as bars and taverns, once again making them locations for social interaction and leisure for all races. However, this period of equality soon came to a close in 1877, as the Democratic government came to power within New Orleans. Segregation laws were quickly reasserted, and ultimately the Jim Crow Laws introduced in the 1890s would once again bring the black population under complete white control and domination. In 1954, the “Brown v. Board of Education” decision overturned Jim Crow Laws and segregation laws in public schools, which paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement, and racial integration in the United States. [14]

Works Cited

  • James E Winston, “Notes on the Economic History of New Orleans, 1803-1836,” The Mississippi Historical Valley Review 11, no. 2 (1924): 203.
  • Daphne Spain, “Race Relations and Residential Segregation in New Orleans: Two Centuries of Paradox,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 441 (1979): 86.
  • Roger A Fischer. “Racial Segregation in Ante Bellum New Orleans,” The American Historical Review 74, no.3 (1969): 928.
  • Roger A Fischer. “Racial Segregation in Ante Bellum New Orleans,” The American Historical Review 74, no.3 (1969): 928.
  • Henry Leovy. “The Laws and General Ordinances of The City of New Orleans,” (New Orleans, Warton, 1857), v.
  • Henry Leovy. “The Laws and General Ordinances of The City of New Orleans,” (New Orleans, Warton, 1857), v.
  • Henry Leovy. “The Laws and General Ordinances of The City of New Orleans,” (New Orleans, Warton, 1857), v.
  • Henry Leovy. “The Laws and General Ordinances of The City of New Orleans,” (New Orleans, Warton, 1857), v.
  • Henry Leovy. “The Laws and General Ordinances of The City of New Orleans,” (New Orleans, Warton, 1857), v.
  • Henry Leovy. “The Laws and General Ordinances of The City of New Orleans,” (New Orleans, Warton, 1857), v.
  • License For Retailing Spirituous Liquors. Jan. 16, 1850. John Minor Wisdom Collection, Box 11, Folder 20 #480. Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library ,Tulane University, New Orleans.
  • License For Retailing Spirituous Liquors. Jan. 16, 1850. John Minor Wisdom Collection, Box 11, Folder 20 #480. Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans.
  • Kevin Fox Gotham, Authentic New Orleans: Tourism, Culture, and Race in the Big Easy (New York, New York University Press, 2007), 37.
  • Roger A Fischer. “Racial Segregation in Ante Bellum New Orleans,” The American Historical Review 74, no.3 (1969): 928.

This page was last modified on 04 November 2013, at 04:19

VIEW PLACE PROFILE

Mayoral Office of New Orleans

701 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70116