Negroland – life in the black upper class

Colin Grant in The Guardian:

MargoHave you been to or, for that matter, even heard of “Negroland”? Here’s a clue. It’s not Harlem or Chicago’s South Side or any conurbation of black Americans. As Margo Jefferson illuminates in her captivating memoir, Negroland is not so much a geographic location as a state of mind; an exclusive club without discernible borders, to which few have ever belonged. Over the years, its members have been characterised by descriptions ranging from “the coloured 400” (families) to “the blue vein society”.

If you have to ask how you gain entry to Negroland, you’ve already betrayed your lack of credentials. It’s a society composed of a “better class” of Negro, though such people’s judgment is not always sound. In one of Jefferson’s many startling passages she reveals that, at the height of the Atlantic slave trade, the nation’s slave owners included free black members of the elite, such as Nicolas Augustin Metoyer of Louisiana and his family, who collectively owned 215 slaves. Back then, polished and fragrant members of Negroland breathed in the rarefied air of privilege and held their noses at the passing by of any johnny-come-lately, just as Britain’s “old money” class did at the advent of the codfish aristocracy.

More here.