‘Economy Hall’ author Fatima Shaik highlights Words & Music festival | Events

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New Orleans’ Societe d’Economie et d’Assistance Mutuelle, or Economy and Mutual Aid Association, was not a secret group. An organization founded by free people of color in the 1830s and which existed for more than a century, it long maintained its headquarters, Economy Hall, near St. Augustine Church in Treme. It was a welcoming place, open to free people of color, formerly enslaved people and whites, and it had German-Jewish and Italian members. The Louisiana Republican Party held its first convention there in 1865.

Fatima Shaik’s history of the group, “Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood,” includes the word “hidden,” but for her, that has a personal meaning as well. Her book is primarily based on nearly a century’s worth of journals and records maintained by the society —…

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