Economy Hall

Soon after Union forces seized New Orleans from the Confederacy in 1862, calls for equality reverberated among free people of color. Hundreds assembled at frequent mass meetings and rallies at Economy Hall in the heart of Faubourg Tremé. There, boisterous crowds listened to speakers advocate for racial democracy and the enfranchisement of all men of African descent. The newspapers L’Union, and later the New Orleans Tribune, frequently promoted and reported on these dramatic gatherings. Grande Assemblée à L’Économie, Immense Enthousiasme,” recounted L’Union in 1863. [1] “A vast and enthusiastic assemblage met last evening at Economy Hall,” reported the Tribune in 1864. [2] “One of the most largely attended assemblies ever held in this city met last night at Economy Hall,” declared the Tribune in 1865.

In December 1863, Economy Hall played host to over 1,000 free men of color as they signed a petition demanding the right to vote. The document boldly proclaimed, “We are men, treat us as such.” Attached to it was an addendum that included “those born slaves” in the demand. [3] New Orleans Tribune publisher Jean Baptiste Roudanez and Arnold Bertonneau, veteran of the First Louisiana Native Guard, delivered the aforementioned petition to President Abraham Lincoln in the White House. The petition influenced the President, who likely saw political advantage in restricting the vote to free blacks only. Lincoln quickly asked Louisiana’s governor to consider limited black enfranchisement, and the President addressed the issue in his last public address. Lincoln's suggestion was ignored by the governor and state legislature. [4]

Economy Hall held benefit programs, sponsored by the New Orleans Tribune, featuring classical composers of color. Victor-Eugène Macarty, Basile Barés, Edmond Dédé, and others performed to help fund the Tribune’s Freedmen’s Aid Association. [5] “The cause of universal suffrage is every day becoming more popular with the young people of our city. Two balls will be given today at Economy Hall in behalf of the favorite cause,” reported the Tribune. “One will be a children’s ball, which will be given at 4 o’clock and last til 8. Then young men and young ladies will come out in their best attires, in their gay and glittering dresses, and their quadrilles and waltzes will last til morning.” [6]

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1422 Ursulines Street, New Orleans, LA ~ Building no longer extant.