Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

"Goodbye God, I'm Going to Texas": The Migration of Louisiana Creoles of Colour and the Preservation of Black Catholic and Creole Traditions in Southeast Texas

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

"Goodbye God, I'm Going to Texas": The Migration of Louisiana Creoles of Colour and the Preservation of Black Catholic and Creole Traditions in Southeast Texas

Article excerpt

The migration of Creoles of Colour (1) from southwestern Louisiana to Houston and the "Golden Triangle" area (Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange, Texas) epitomizes the complexities of race, ethnicity, and culture within the broader African Diaspora. Creoles cultivated a cohesive racial and cultural identity in Texas during the first half of the twentieth century and left an indelible imprint on the larger African American community. This article focuses on the migration of French-speaking blacks and mixed-race Creoles of Colour from Louisiana to Texas during the first half of the twentieth century and the cultural institutions they created in southeast Texas through the auspices of the Catholic Church. Unlike most Catholic populations in the United States during the period, which were largely of recent European immigrant backgrounds, the Creoles of Colour represented a distinct dilemma for the Catholic Church. Creoles were not immigrants, but native-born Americans whose roots in Louisiana often predated the acquisition of Louisiana by the United States. In addition, the fact that the community was of partial African descent and designated as black both legally and by tradition in the United States made them minorities within a larger African American population that was overwhelmingly English-speaking and Protestant. Being francophone and black placed Creoles on the periphery of a Catholic Church with no organized strategy for addressing the needs of black congregants. Most Catholic relief associations and assimilationist strategies were geared toward preserving the faith of European immigrants and their descendants while at the same time Americanizing them and bringing them into the mainstream of the larger white society. As a result, parish priests who encountered Creoles of Colour in Texas were left to their own devices to develop methods of ministering to the Creole population that preserved their Catholic faith, while addressing the impediments of Southern racism and the limitations it placed on African Americans.

Although racial segregation was deeply entrenched in Texas and hindered the economic, political, and social aspirations of many African Americans during this period, many Creoles who came from a similar situation in Louisiana viewed Houston and the "Golden Triangle" as refuges from rural southwestern Louisiana. They saw Texas as a promised land in which economic opportunities were limitless and racism was less inhibiting. Much of this optimism centred on the fact that Creoles were able to escape the worst instances of Jim Crow segregation and discrimination in Texas due to their distinct culture and identity that most Texans were unfamiliar with. While initially the Creole enclaves that existed in African American neighbourhoods developed spontaneously, the growth of economic opportunities and the eventual establishment of black Catholic parishes throughout the region provided spiritual and cultural anchors within Creole communities. The cultural preservation that existed in black Catholic Churches, culminating in the rise of the musical genre known as Zydeco in southeast Texas during the second half of the twentieth century, was the result of the Catholic Church's desire to preserve the faith of these mostly French-speaking, black migrants.

Catholic religious orders such as the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart (Josephites) insulated its congregants from many aspects of Jim Crow society in its religious environment. While religious customs and traditions flourished in black Catholic parishes throughout the period, and served as a clear cultural marker of Louisiana identity in the African American community, the rise of Zydeco music as the most popular and identifiable expression of Creole culture and the role of these churches in providing the venues for performances of the music represents the culmination of many decades of Church efforts, particularly among the Josephites, to end the cycle that linked the migration of Louisiana black Catholics with abandoning the faith. …

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