American architectural history often ignores or glosses over Black architects and their contributions. Yet, prior to the advent of formal architectural education, which in its infancy offered little opportunity for Blacks to participate, large numbers of Black men prospered in the building trades. Louisiana’s gens de couleur libres or free people of color offer a previously unexplored but essential case study. These men and women contributed to the built world of Louisiana from its beginnings under the French, through its occupation by the Spanish, and beyond its annexation by the United States. The need for architecture in the Louisiana colony to support the building boom in the growing trade port provided a canvas for free Black artisans, developers, and patrons who were born in the territory as well as those seeking refuge in Louisiana in the wake of political turmoil and revolution. This lecture reviews the gens de couleur libres’ transmission of Creole forms into New Orleans’ urban environment. It explores how they shaped the city’s built environment, as well as on social meaning within the context of antebellum architectural history.
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