"Race, Space, and Violence in Jim Crow New Orleans"

Authors: Andrew Baker*,
Topics: Historical Geography
Keywords: New Orleans; history; Jim Crow; racial geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon D2, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper examines the contingency of racialized space in the urban Jim Crow South. Although Jim Crow is often understood as a regime circumscribing access to designated public spaces, I argue that contingent spaces, accessible to both races under constantly evolving conditions, were particularly dangerous. As concerned white residents sought to shape the production of racialized space by applying pressure on municipal authorities in response to perceived threats in specific locations, they transformed urban geographies in unpredictable ways.

I analyze this process by focusing on a particular event in the mid-summer of 1900 in New Orleans, where a black laborer named Robert Charles moved into a working-class neighborhood that had become a source of controversy. White residents and editors had been complaining about disrespectful teenagers in a local park, pinpointing the area as a staging ground for burglaries, and pressuring municipal authorities to preserve racial boundaries through a localized pattern of arrests. When officers spotted Charles sitting on the steps outside a white family’s home one evening, his unfamiliarity in the neighborhood and the heightened police activity combined with deadly results, giving rise to the last significant race riot in the city’s troubled history.

By tracing the experience of black residents from a ground-level perspective of constantly shifting and sometimes illegible spaces, my paper argues that mapping contingent geographies is critical to understanding the policing regimes that evolved to enforce racialized spaces in the urban Jim Crow South.

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