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Segregation law in New Orleans at center of Loyola professor's discussion at the SFA 2015 Summer Symposium

Loyola press release - June 30, 2015

Loyola University New Orleans history professor Justin Nystrom, Ph.D., has used the department’s Documentary and Oral History Studio as a vehicle to help share and acknowledge lesser-known moments in Gulf Coast history, from a documentary on the original Deutsches Haus, to the vanishing history of longshoremen. Last weekend, Nystrom continued his efforts as a guest speaker at the Southern Food Alliance's 2015 Summer Symposium: New Orleans Past, Prospect and Pop, a sold-out event featuring oral historians and filmmakers sharing culinary stories, as well as meals, with audiences.

In a talk titled “Booze, Railroads, and Race in Back-of-Town New Orleans,” Nystrom discussed corner grocery store culture, specifically the Gay-Shattuck law of 1908 and attempts to segregate New Orleans barrooms. According to Nystrom, corner groceries and stores were often also used as bars.

“We tend to think of the 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson as broadly establishing segregation, but the reality is that many businesses and social institutions continued to serve interracial groups into the 20th century,” said Nystrom, who also serves as Loyola’s co-director Center for the Study of New Orleans.

In 1908, the Louisiana legislature passed the Gay-Shattuck liquor licensing law, which required that bar owners serve either blacks or whites exclusively. At about the same time, New Orleans saw a massive influx of Sicilian immigrants, many of whom were in the bar and grocery business and also lived in the same neighborhoods as African-Americans. Nystrom used data culled from the city criminal court records to explore how Sicilian store owners were arrested with great frequency for violating segregation laws, demonstrating how much segregation had to be imposed from the outside.

In New Orleans, the law targeted Sicilians in particular because they violated the segregationist statute with regularity. The data on arrests shows the degree to which Sicilians resisted the law and, conversely, the persistence with which the State of Louisiana sought to have the law imposed.

“It was a very early example of states using local ordinances and permitting codes to deepen the grip of segregation on the region, and this technique was copied all over the South, and in some instances, in the North as well,” Nystrom said.

The 2015 Summer Symposium: New Orleans Past, Prospect and Pop is the first summer symposium that Southern Foodways Alliance has hosted in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. This year’s event brings leading experts – and leading eateries − to the forefront.

“Ten years have passed since the SFA staged its last summer symposium in New Orleans. In the interim, Hurricane Katrina surged, the levees failed, and SFA-led volunteers rebuilt a Treme fried chicken restaurant. As the city rebounded, the SFA invested deeply in the peoples and places of New Orleans. And as America awakened to the import of the city, New Orleans doubled down on its culinary culture,” conference organizers said in a statement.

“To document that renaissance, SFA oral historians and filmmakers have collected stories from banh mi stackers, po-boy dressers, ya-ka-mein peddlers, muffuletta makers, oyster shuckers, catfish fryers, cocktail mixers, and sno-ball scoopers. Over this weekend, we will share their stories and savor those treats.”

Visit here to learn more about the 2015 Summer Symposium.

Visit here for more information on Nystrom’s lecture.

Loyola University New Orleans is a Catholic, Jesuit university, located in the heart of the picturesque Uptown neighborhood in New Orleans. For more than 100 years, Loyola has helped shape the lives of our students, as well as the history of our city and the world, through educating men and women in the Jesuit traditions of academic excellence and service to others. Our more than 40,000 graduates serve as catalysts for change in their communities around the world as they exemplify the comprehensive, values-laden education they received at Loyola.