01/07/2013 04:21 PM
BATON ROUGE – From 1897 to 1917 the red-light district of Storyville commercialized
and even thrived on New Orleans’ longstanding reputation for sin and sexual excess.
This notorious neighborhood, located just outside of the French Quarter, hosted a
diverse cast of characters who reflected the cultural milieu and complex social structure
of turn-of-the-century New Orleans, a city infamous for both prostitution and interracial
intimacy. In particular, Lulu White, a mixed-race prostitute and madam, created an
image of herself and marketed it profitably to sell sex with light-skinned women to
white men of means.
In “Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans,” available
this month from LSU Press, Emily Epstein Landau examines the social history of this
famed district within the cultural context of developing racial, sexual and gender
ideologies and practices.
Storyville’s founding was envisioned as a reform measure, an effort by the city’s
business elite to curb and contain prostitution – namely, to segregate it. In 1890,
the Louisiana Legislature passed the Separate Car Act, which, when challenged by New
Orleans’s Creoles of color, led to the landmark “Plessy v. Ferguson” decision in 1896,
constitutionally sanctioning the enactment of “separate but equal” laws. The concurrent
partitioning of both prostitutes and blacks worked only to reinforce Storyville’s
libidinous license and turned sex across the color line into a more lucrative commodity.
By looking at prostitution through the lens of patriarchy and demonstrating how gendered
racial ideologies proved crucial to the remaking of southern society in the aftermath
of the Civil War, Landau reveals how Storyville’s salacious and eccentric subculture
played a significant role in the way New Orleans constructed itself during the New
Landau earned her Ph.D. in history at Yale University and teaches in the Department
of History at the University of Maryland at College Park. She lives in Washington,
D.C., with her husband and two daughters.
Posted on Monday, January 7, 2013