Aimée Potens was the mother of Louis Charles and Jean Baptiste Roudanez, the founder and publisher of L’Union, the South’s first black newspaper, and the New Orleans Tribune, America’s first black daily newspaper. She was born to an enslaved woman in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) in the late eighteenth century.  Aimée eye-witnessed the long arc of Atlantic and Carribean world history: slavery; the Haitian revolution; exodus to colonial Louisiana; the Louisiana Purchase; territorial plantation life; all things de couleur libre in antebellum New Orleans; the Civil War; emancipation; the birth of the South’s first Civil Rights movement via her sons’ activism; and in her final years the triumph and failure of Reconstruction.
Potens escaped the ferocity of the Haitian revolution as an infant in arms, eventually finding a home on the sugar plantations of St. James Parish Louisiana. There she had children with another Saint-Domingue refugee, Jean Louis Roudanez. There she honed her skills as a healer. And there, those long, strong hands delivered babies, enslaved and free.
Aimée later lived as a femme de couleur libre or free woman of color in antebellum New Orleans. By then a single mother, she raised her children in one of the largest and most prosperous free black communities in the United States. Madame Potens proudly wore a tignon, the headscarf required in colonial times as a reminder of “inferior” status. In the nineteenth century, Marie Laveau and other New Orleans women of African descent defiantly sported the tignon as a symbol of beauty. And like the voodoo priestess, family lore reveals Aimée as a powerful and proud healer—“a tall mulatress of stately mein”—who walked the streets liked she owned the city.  Potens, her surname, suggests potent heritage. Indeed, in her day, free women of color were powerful in many ways, often owning property and managing businesses in the French Quarter and the Faubourgs Tremé and Marigny.