Cultivating Politics: The Formation of a Black Body Politic in the Postemancipation Louisiana Sugar Parishes
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The capture of New Orleans by Union forces in 1862 led to the emancipation of thousands of slaves across Louisiana’s sugar parishes. This early emancipation preceded the abolition of slavery elsewhere in the South, and it held far-reaching implications for the freedpeople of the sugar parishes. In this thesis, I argue that early emancipation fostered the rise of a powerful black body politic in the sugar parishes that would endure throughout Reconstruction and beyond. This body politic aimed to protect black people’s unique conception of freedom as both white Southerners and white Northerners endeavored to circumscribe that freedom for their own purposes. In pursuit of this goal, the mobilized sugar workers employed a broad range of political tools, ranging from extralegal violence to labor organization. These methods proved effective and safeguarded the freedom of black sugar workers for decades after the Civil War despite attempts by both Democrats and Radical Republicans to dissolve and demarcate that freedom respectively.