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.
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.
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.
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.
Warren’s involvement with the Reverse Freedom Rides began on May 8, 1962, when a meeting was called at the Unitarian Church in Barnstable to advocate and plan for the anticipated arrival of the Reverse Freedom Riders. An informal committee was formed on that day, and formalized on May 29 with Reverend Warren as its chairman. The Cape Cod Refugee Relief Committee assisted the arrivals and coordinated with several local government welfare agencies to address housing, transportation and employment for the riders. During the summer of 1962, at least 96 African Americans arrived in Cape Cod as part of the Reverse Freedom Rides; of those, nine returned to the South, six left New England, and 81 stayed in Massachusetts, finding work and lodging in various cities in town.
The Kenneth Warren papers document his work with the Cape Cod Refugee Relief Committee. The collection includes committee correspondence, minutes and reporting about the arrivals, as well as the arrivals’ final placements in Massachusetts. Additionally, committee minutes and reports detail work placement, struggles and impressions of individual arrivals, and coordination of relief efforts with other organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Hyannis and Boston, and the Massachusetts Council of Churches. There was also cooperation with the local Kiwanis Club, and Cape Cod B’Nai B’rith and other agencies.
Of note is correspondence expressing both favorable and negative reaction to Warren and the committee’s efforts and the publicity the Reverse Freedom Rides were generating in the press. Much of the negative correspondence comes from individuals in the South protesting Warren’s work. There is a significant amount of collected news clippings documenting the publicity the rides received and the activities of Warren and the committee, as well as George Singelmann, a member of the Greater New Orleans Citizens’ Council who organized the Reverse Freedom Rides.
Ms. Brague’s donation of her father’s papers came through an introduction provided by Gabrielle Emanuel, the NPR reporter in Boston who wrote the radio story linked above, which was based in part on sources already preserved at Amistad.
The Amistad Research Center would like to thank Ms. Gutierrez, Ms. Brague and Ms. Emanuel for their generosity and assistance in helping us to preserve these important collections. Both collections are now available for research and are slated for full organization in the future. Inquiries about the collections can be sent to our Research Services staff at email@example.com or by calling 504-862-3222.
Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.