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, Emily Epstein Landau examines the social history of this famed district within the cultural context of developing racial, sexual, and gender ideologies and practices. In 1890, the Louisiana legislature passed the Separate Car Act, which, when challenged by New Orleans' Creoles of color, led to the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896, constitutionally sanctioning the enactment of separate but equal laws. Landau reveals how Storyville's salacious and eccentric subculture played a significant role in the way New Orleans constructed itself during the New South era.
"Historians of race, gender, and sexuality will learn much from Landau's explanation of how vice precincts such as Storyville reinforced the patriarchal and racial logic of segregation, and challenged it in the most subversive (and intimate) of ways." (Journal of American History)
"Well-researched and informative, Spectacular Wickedness is a welcome addition to the ever-growing canon of New Orleans cultural history books." (New Orleans Advocate)
"Landau's scrupulously researched profile of Lulu White, in particular, is a model for historians interested in giving voice to women of color so often absent from the archival record." (Journal of Southern Religion)
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A fascinating [academic] read
- A. C. Skinner
Good history of New Orleans 1800-1920