Two Collections, Two Very Different Insights into African American History

by Christopher Harter, Deputy Director

Recent donations of archival materials reflect two very different stories of Louisiana migration. One is the story of shared heritage; the other is a story of cruelty and segregationist hatred. Both donations complement Amistad’s rich resources while expanding on these important histories.

A coloring book given out to children during the 1996 Creole Festival.
A coloring book given out to children during the 1996 Creole Festival.

When many people hear the term “Great Migration” it often brings to mind the exodus of African Americans from the rural South to northern cities in the Midwest, such as Detroit and Chicago, as well as New York, Boston and other cities in the Northeast. Less known is the western migration to cities such as Phoenix, Arizona; Los Angeles and San Francisco in California; as well as Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington. The legacy of the Louisiana Creole community in Los Angeles is seen in the records of the Socialites Social and Charity Club, which have been donated by club co-founder Elaine Gutierrez.

Founded in 1965 by Elaine Reimonenq Gutierrez, the Socialites Club was formed to preserve the cultural heritage of individuals living in California who trace their family lineage to Louisiana Creole communities, and to support higher education, high school scholarships and charity activities. Other Socialites Club members included Esma Clausen Duplantier, Betty Ripoll Brown, Gayle Lange Del’Homme, Joetta Stevens Darensbourg, Joan Del’Homme Dasté and Elaine Lavizzo Castille.

Issues of Bayou Talk newspaper.
Issues of Bayou Talk newspaper.

The records of the Socialites Club date from the early 1970s to 2005 with the bulk of the records documenting the Club’s work to coordinate the Los Angeles Creole Festival from 1987 to 1999. The collection includes correspondence and planning files, meeting agendas and minutes, promotional materials, and photographs of club members and the Creole Festival. A small number of VHS recordings also document the Club’s activities. Other organizations documented in the collection include the Caramel Ladies Social and Charity Club, Laissez Le Bon Temps Social Club, and the Le Bon-Vi-Vant Social and Pleasure Club. Accompanying the collection is a long run of the Bayou Talk newspaper (1987-1999, 2005), a “Creole and Cajun Community Newspaper” published in various places around the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Early correspondence of the Cape Code Refugee Relief Committee.
Early correspondence of the Cape Cod Refugee Relief Committee.

While the records of the Socialites Club celebrate the joy of shared heritage, the newly acquired Kenneth R. Warren papers document a less positive aspect of African American movement and relocation, the Reverse Freedom Rides. As a recent National Public Radio story points out, the Reverse Freedom Rides are a little known aspect of the hideous nature of white supremacy and its efforts to thwart African American struggles for equality. Wishing to embarrass northern liberals and expose what was seen as their hypocrisy toward civil rights struggles, southern segregationists, many of them associated with local segregationist Citizens’ Councils, offered to pay transportation costs for African Americans to relocate to northern cities. The segregationists also promised jobs and housing to anyone volunteering to leave the South. Those promises were, of course, unmet but only discovered once families and individuals arrived in the North. The name of the plan was a pointed reference to the earlier Freedom Rides that sought to test the integration of public transportation through the U.S South.

Mary-Elizabeth Brague’s father, Kenneth Warren, was a Unitarian minister in Barnstable, Massachusetts, which included Hyannis Port and the home of the Kennedy family. Hyannis Port and its association with the Kennedys made it a target of segregationist leaders and a stop on Reverse Freedom Ride routes. Warren was active in the church, and was also committed to civil rights and community activism through his work with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Barnstable Housing Authority, the Cape Cod Mental Health Association and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Reports and minutes from the Cape Code Refugee Relief Committee.