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Economy Hall

The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood
Fatima Shaik

BUY Cloth · 544 pp. · 6.5 × 9.5 · ISBN 9780917860805 · $34.95 · Feb 2021

It is impossible to imagine New Orleans, and by extension American history, without the vibrant and singular Creole culture. In the face of an oppressive white society, members of the Société d’Economie et d’Assistance Mutuelle built a community and held it together through the era of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow terrorism. Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood follows Ludger Boguille, his family, and friends through landmark events—from the Haitian Revolution to the birth of jazz—that shaped New Orleans and the United States.

The story begins with the author’s father rescuing a century’s worth of handwritten journals, in French, from a trash hauler’s pickup truck. From the journals’ pages emerged one of the most important multiethnic, intellectual communities in the US South: educators, world-traveling merchants, soldiers, tradesmen, and poets. Although Louisiana law classified them as men of color, Negroes, and Blacks, the Economie brothers rejected racism and colorism to fight for suffrage and education rights for all.

A descendant of the Economie’s community, author Fatima Shaik has constructed a meticulously detailed nonfiction narrative that reads like an epic novel.


In Economy Hall, Fatima Shaik has taken mere stick figures of American history and brought them to life as wise, vulnerable, determined men. This is a much-needed and long-awaited work.

Lolis Eric Elie, writer for the HBO series Treme

Journalist and novelist Shaik blows the dust off the ancient records of an African American society, revealing a forgotten past.... A lively, readable story that nicely complicates the view of racial and ethnic relations in the South of old.

Kirkus, starred review

Shaik’s rendition of her hometown is lyrical and mysterious and always captivating.

New York Times Book Review

About the Author(s): 

Fatima Shaik, a former professor and journalist, is a trustee of PEN America and author of six previous short story collections and young adult novels. Economy Hall is her first nonfiction work.

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