Fatima Shaik’s Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood: History Previews, Feb. 2020, Pt. 5 | Prepub Alert

Handwritten ledgers from the Société d’Economie et d’Assistance Mutuelle in New Orleans serve as the basis of an intriguing new history embracing Black America.

Fatima Shaik coverShaik, Fatima. Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood. Historic New Orleans Collection, dist. by Univ. of Virginia. Feb. 2021. 544p. ISBN 9780917860805. $34.95. HISTORY

It’s not every day that something truly valuable is found in the trash, but author Shaik’s father did history a favor back in the Fifties when he pulled 24 handwritten ledgers belonging to the Société d’Economie et d’Assistance Mutuelle from a cluttered bin. Shaik, a novelist, PEN board member, expert in New Orleans Afro-Creole culture, and retired St. Peter’s University professor of communications, later discovered the ledgers in her father’s closet and used them as a jumping-off point for an extensively researched study to be published by the Historic New Orleans Collection in February 2021.

Founded in 1836 by 15 elite free men of color, the Société d’Economie et d’Assistance Mutuelle (the Economy Society of New Orleans) was a mutual aid society based in the Tremé neighborhood, and its elegantly presented ledgers—often two inches thick and boasting marbleized paper covers—were written in French. Over its century-long existence, the society expanded to include English-speaking men of African descent from other neighborhoods. Its members, who strove “to be real brothers,” were veterans of the Battle of New Orleans and the Civil War, but in the postwar years they took on another significant fight: the effort to attain equal rights and the vote.

Shaik unfolds her story by following the family of one of the society’s secretaries, who spoke at Louisiana’s first equal rights convention and narrowly avoided death at another convention meant to secure the vote, thus bearing witness to early Black American activism. Even as Shaik offers an inside look at the society itself—and its major meeting place, the iconic Economy Hall, reverberant with political debate and jazz—her new work does something more. By presenting a thriving community of free Black Americans in a major Southern city pre–Civil War and the actions of society members through 1935, Shaik aims to deepen our sense of Black American history.

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Hollis Wilkins

What a find of historical relevance for Blacks and People of color in Louisiana and particularly New Orleans. What proud and valiant people our people were. The Economy Hall was historical then and will forever be a staple in our history. I look forward to reading the book and learning about my creole heritage and its courageos people

Posted : Oct 14, 2020 09:33

Joe Williams

My family and I lived in New Orleans for over ten years so we’re fascinated with its culture and history. I’m looking forward to reading Economy Hall. Fatima, thanks for this labor of love.

Posted : Sep 26, 2020 12:53

Pamela Tabb

This book sounds like the kind of historical non fiction I can get into. I’ve always been fascinated about freed Blacks in pre civil war America. I wonder what they must have done just to survive. Comparing their journey to the current Black lives matter movement might support those who insinuate very little has changed. Can’t wait for the release

Posted : Aug 28, 2020 10:29



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