February 21, 2012


Today is Shrove Tuesday, which is the day preceding Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It is also known by both the sacred and secular as: Pancake Day. The tradition of eating pancakes the day before Lent began as a way to use up the ‘richer’ foods – such as eggs, milk, flour and sugar – before ‘refraining’ during Lent.

In historically-French cultures, today is also Mardi Gras, which means Fat Tuesday. To celebrate Fat Tuesday, popular practices include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc.  In the United States, the three largest, Mardi Gras celebrations take place in Mobile, Alabama, Biloxi, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Mardis Gras in New Orleans
Mardi Gras arrived in North America as a French Catholic tradition with the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, in the late 17th century, when King Louis XIV sent the pair to defend France's claim on the territory of 'Louisiane', which included what are now the U.S. States of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. What is now Mobile, Alabama, was the first capital of ‘French Louisiana’, in 1702; By 1720, what is now Biloxi, Mississippi was the capital of Louisiana; and then in 1723, the capital was moved to New Orleans, which is still the capital today.

There is a definitive, Creole population in New Orleans, which dates back to its birth in 1718.  Creole usually refers to people, who are of French or Spanish descent, mixed with African or Haitian ancestry – dating back to the Colonial Settlers and the free people of color in the area.

Louis Charles Roudanez was a French Creole, who was born in Louisiana in June 1823. He was the son of a White French merchant, who had migrated to Louisiana, from a Haitian coffee plantation, and a free woman of color, who was a midwife and nurse in New Orleans.  Although his baptismal record registers him as White, Louis identified as a Black person throughout his life. Louis’ early education took place in New Orleans, where he also worked in a shop and invested his money in municipal bonds.  Like many “gens de coleur libre” (free people of color) in New Orleans, Louis went to France for higher education. Through his bond investments, he had acquired the money to move to Paris to study Medicine at the French Medical Academy, where he graduated with honors, in 1853. He then returned to the U.S. and enrolled in Dartmouth Medical School, where he earned a second medical degree in 1857.

Armed with two medical degrees and a radical, racial and political philosophy, Dr. Roudanez returned to a segregated and racially-restricted New Orleans of the 1850s. He developed a lucrative medical practice serving Black and White patients, and married Celie Saulay, a free woman of color, in the St. Louis Cathedral, in 1858. The couple had 9 children which included two sons, who became doctors, while a third son became a dentist.

St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans

Louis and Celie were active in the Black Creole community in New Orleans. They contributed both time and money to provide shelter, clothing and schooling for the newly freed slaves, and the indigent free orphans of color. The couple worked closely with the Sisters of the Holy Family (a Black Catholic order of nuns) providing financial support for their school and family projects. Louis was also an officer of the Freedmen’s Aid Society, an organization that attempted to establish producer and consumer cooperatives managed by former slaves. 

When the Union Army took New Orleans in 1862, during the Civil War, Dr. Roudanez saw that the time was right to demand equality for free men of color. Along with his brother and a small group of Creole men, he started the militant Republican journal, L’Union, published in French and edited by Paul Trevigne. It was the first Black-owned newspaper in the South and was dedicated to ending slavery and the oppression of Black people.

The White citizens of New Orleans were not pleased about the paper’s existence, nor its ‘militant’ tone. When harassment against L’Union intensified with threats to burn the building and kill its editor, Paul Trevigne, it stopped publication on July 19, 1864. However, not to be daunted and recognizing the need to continue the struggle for civil rights, Dr. Roudanez bought out the other investors in L’Union; and two days later, started La Tribune de la Nouvelle Orleans (The New Orleans Tribune) a bilingual newspaper, which became the first Black-owned daily in the United States.

The newspaper was the product of a collective editorship and staff, which was open and accessible to the urban Black community of New Orleans. Among the most notable of its staff were Paul Trevigne, who had been editor of L’Union, Jean Baptiste Roudanez, Louis’ older brother, Joannie Questy, a world-renowned poet and Jean Charles Houzeau, a Belgian political activist and journalist.
Jean Charles Houzeau

La Tribune and its editors asserted their right to citizenship. The newspaper’s motto was “Political, Progressive and Commercial.” Its editorials called for the right to vote for Black people, civil rights for all citizens, and free, public education for all citizens. It attacked the serfdom labor policy of General Nathanial Banks, the federal officer in charge of the city’s occupation – demanding weekly wages for recently emancipated slaves – planned for economic development within the Black community, sought unity between the freed (meaning they were emancipated slaves) and free (meaning they were never slaves) in the Black community, and carried on a war against President Andrew Johnson’s policies (who had vetoed several bills which promoted civil rights for Black people) by sending copies of La Tribune to every member of Congress, on a regular basis.

Major General Nathanial Banks

President Andrew Johnson

The New Orleans Tribune was, for several years, one of the most impressive of newspapers in the city. Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, and Garibaldi sent letters from Europe to the paper. In addition, in April, 1867, the paper was designated an official publication of the United States Government and received a regular subsidy. It had regular correspondents in Mexico, Paris and Boston, devoting much space to foreign news. The paper also serialized French novels, published the poems of several local black poets, and reported on the social and literary activities in the black community.

Unfortunately, this success was short-lived, as differences between Charles Houzeau and Dr. Roudanez mounted.

During the Gubernatorial Election of 1868, Roudanez urged his readers to vote against the Republican Party because he felt its candidate, Henry Warmoth, was corrupt. After the election, the government pulled its financial support from the paper; and Dr. Roudanez spent approximately $35,000 from his personal savings to keep the paper going. Dr. Roudanez suspended publication in 1868, following Mr. Houzeau’s resignation. By March,1869, the paper had become a weekly, and continued to appear until sometime early in 1870. Ironically, history proved Dr. Roudanez to be correct about the Henry Warmoth, who was later impeached, for corruption.
Henry Warmoth
After the New Orleans Tribune closed its doors for good, Dr. Roudanez retreated from politics, except for a final involvement in the Louisiana Unification Movement of 1873. The Unification Movement was composed of men of both races and members of the Republican and Democratic Parties, who wanted to replace what they perceived to be a corrupt, incompetent government with honest, competent one from both races and parties. The Unification Movement failed and Dr. Roudanez turned his time and effort to his medical practice.

He lived and worked at his home at 197 Customhouse (now Iberville) Street the remainder of his life. Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez died at his residence on March 11, 1890, leaving behind a legacy of accomplishments for human-rights of African-Americans and the oppressed.

One of the Civil Rights Movement's most famous ‘daughters’ was Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a White man on a bus, and was subsequently arrested and jailed. The Montgomery, Alabama native’s action was the catalyst for the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ultimately resulted in the desegregation of the public transit system, in 1956. 

Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King, 1955
After her death, found amongst her belongings was a suitcase containing personal papers. In that suitcase, was a handwritten recipe for ‘Featherlite Pancakes’. So in honor of Pancake Day, please try this delicious recipe. Enjoy!
Recipe as it Appears on the Envelope
Featherlite Pancakes
By Rosa Parks, as printed by Shiksa in the Kitchen
Serves 2-3 people

1 cup flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1 ¼ cup milk
⅓ cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon melted shortening (British friends, use Trex), or peanut or vegetable oil (more, as needed)

Sift together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
Mix together wet ingredients (minus the oil) with a fork till smooth: egg, milk, peanut butter.
Add dry ingredients to wet, mixing lightly – do not overmix, or pancakes will turn out heavy and dense. A few lumps are okay.
Grease your skillet or griddle with oil or shortening. Heat skillet over medium (or heat electric griddle to 275 degrees F). Test heat by flinging a droplet of water onto the surface of the skillet-- it should sizzle and evaporate, but not pop or crackle.
Pour the batter by scant ¼ cupfuls to form pancakes on the hot skillet.
Let the pancakes cook for 1-2 minutes until bubbles rise to the surface of the batter and burst.
When the pancakes turn golden brown on the bottom, flip them. Let the pancakes continue to cook for 1-2 minutes longer till golden brown on both sides and cooked all the way through. Re-grease the skillet periodically between batches, if needed.
Serve pancakes immediately. To keep the pancakes warm while you're cooking, place them on a plate covered by a towel in a 175 degrees F oven. Serve warm with butter and maple syrup.

Sources: Wikipedia, New Orleans Tribune, Dr. Laura Rouzan, BlackPast.org , Google, Bing, Shiksa in the Kitchen

His obituary, that was written in the (then) most conservative White-owned newspaper in New Orleans, The Daily Picayune, stated, “…death carried off Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez, a worthy and intelligent representative of the Colored element that was from before the war. A man of undoubted skill in his profession and great popularity in this city…He was an able writer, and his articles in his journal reflected a man of genius and cultivation.”

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