Dr. Justin Nystrom, the director of the Documentary and Oral History Studio, will be a featured speaker at the Southern Foodways Alliance‘s Summer Symposium, held in New Orleans from June 25-28, 2015 at the historic Joy Theater on Canal Street.
His presentation, titled “Sicilian Corner Markets: Booze, Railroads, and Race in Back-of-Town New Orleans,” explores the Crescent City at the turn of the twentieth century, a time of significant social and economic change. Central to Nystrom’s talk is a close examination of Louisiana Act 176 of 1908, known popularly as the “Gay-Shattuck Law” for the state legislators who shepherded the bill through the Louisiana legislature.
On the surface the Gay-Shattuck law was a state liquor licensing mechanism, but its many provisions spoke to its other significant goals, particularly the desire for racial segregation. In addition to tripling the amount paid for a liquor license, the law made a series of actions illegal. A bar owner had to declare whether they were to serve “white” or “colored” clientele, as the license was good for only one of the other. To serve whites on a colored license or vice versa courted a sentence of a $50 dollar fine or 30 days in jail. Other actions made illegal by Gay-Shattuck? They included serving women or having women work in a bar, A drinking age of 21 (unusual at the time), having musical instruments in a bar, gambling or gambling devices in a bar, serving liquor on a Sunday (there was already a Sunday Law in effect since 1886), and a host of regulations requiring a partition and double-acting door between the grocery and alcohol sides of a corner store.
To better understand the impact upon Sicilian bar owners and grocers, Nystrom combed through the Criminal District Court records available at the Louisiana Division of the New Orleans Public Library and engaged in a systematic analysis of those arrested for the segregationist sections of the law as well as all those of Italian descent who were charged with violating any provision of the Gay-Shattuck Law. This data has been geocoded on the embedded map linked here using the experimental app Google Fusion Tables.
- Yellow dot = Sicilian charged with segregation violation
- Grey dot = Non-Sicilian charged with segregation violation
- “Woman” icon = Sicilian charged with woman in bar
- “$” Icon = Sicilian charged with gambling in a bar
- Blue dot = Sicilians charged with licensing violation of some kind
- Pink dot = Bar owners charged with storing musical instruments in a bar (few)
- Red Star = Landmark referenced in Nystrom’s presentation
- Green shaded area = Boundaries of Central City
- Yellow shaded area = Boundaries of “Storyville”
- Red shaded areas = Rail yards or major railroad depots
The data is presented here in relatively raw form, but access to this map will allow those attending Nystrom’s talk to better follow along and further explore the conclusions he presents. This research is part of work in his forthcoming book on Sicilian New Orleans titled Creole Italian: How Sicilian Immigrants Shaped the Culture of America’s Most Interesting Food Town. Research for this project has also included numerous oral histories, which will be shared on the Studio’s site upon the publication of the book.