The Mysterious Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveaux : A Study of Powerful Female Leadership in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans

The Mysterious Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveaux : A Study of Powerful Female Leadership in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans

English | 2016 by Routledge | ISBN: 0415762766 | 344 Pages | PDF | 20 MB

According to the tales about her Marie Laveaux (1801-1881), New Orleans' famous Voodoo queen, must have been extremely powerful. For instance, an eyewitness who was interviewed at advanced age in the 1940s recollected the following childhood memory of Laveaux: "She come walkin' into Congo Square wit' her head up in the air like a queen. Her skirts swished when she walked and everybody step back to let her pass. All the people-white and colored-start sayin' that's the most powerful woman there is. They say, 'There goes Marie Laveau!' ..."

Although stigmatized as a woman and a person of color and thus excluded from holding public office, narratives and eyewitness accounts seem to indicate that it was she who reigned over the city, not the municipal authorities. An obituary in the New York Times from 1881 remarks that "lawyers, legislators, planters, merchants, all came to pay respect to her and seek her offices ... "

This book then is not a biography of New Orleans' Voodoo icon per se, although it contains a wealth of carefully collected data about her. Rather, it explores Laveaux's significance as the quintessential figure within a larger movement: the emergence of influential free women of color, women conjurers of African or racially mixed origin with strong ties to the Roman Catholic Church and a deep commitment to the spirits of their ancestors, who had considerable influence over the city despite their marginalized social and religious status. The heyday of this movement coincided with Laveaux's lifetime. But, its origins go back to the colonial years. It challenged the rigid social hierarchies throughout the antebellum period, and slowly disappeared after the end of Reconstruction, under the pressure and merciless vilification and persecution during the Jim Crow years.

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