ECONOMY HALL: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood - Fatima Shaik

Please join us for a virtual event with writer Fatima Shaik presenting her important new book, ECONOMY HALL: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood, just published by The Historic New Orleans Collection. She will be in conversation with bestselling author Wiley Cash. Shaik brings to light the free Black New Orleans brotherhood that supported its community through slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, white terrorism, and the birth of jazz.

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


Shaik’s rendition of her hometown is lyrical and mysterious and always captivating.” —Jane Dailey, The Short List - THE NEW YORK TIMES, February 9, 2021

Octavia Books is excited to offer this "Reader Meet Writer" program in partnership with the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. To participate:

  1. Purchase a copy of ECONOMY HALL from Octavia Books at The first 50 copies to be ordered will included special bookplates signed by the author.
  2. Then, register here.

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 multi-ethnic, 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.

Fatima Shaik,  was born in the historic Seventh Ward of New Orleans and bred on the oral histories of Black Creoles told by her family and neighbors. Only after she read the records of the Economie—3,000 pages of handwritten French stored in her family’s home—did she realize this community’s impact. She spent two decades reading the journals and documenting events with real estate records, legal cases, old monographs, and articles. A former Assistant Professor at Saint Peter’s University and daily journalist, Shaik is a trustee of PEN America and member of The Writers Room in NYC. Economy Hall is her first work of nonfiction and her seventh book.

Wiley Cash is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Last Ballad, A Land More Kind than Home, and This Dark Road to Mercy. He serves as the writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina-Asheville and lives in North Carolina with his wife, photographer Mallory Cash, and their two daughters. His new novel, When Ghosts Come Home, will be available September 21.

Reader-Meet-Writer code of conduct

Our event provides a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, age, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, ethnicity, religion (or lack thereof), or technology choices. We do not tolerate harassment in any form. Sexual language and imagery are not appropriate. Anyone violating these rules may be expelled from the event without a refund at the discretion of the organizers.


Event date: 

Thursday, February 25, 2021 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm

Event address: 

via Zoom
Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood Cover Image
ISBN: 9780917860805
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Historic New Orleans Collections - February 25th, 2021

One hundred years of elaborate handwritten journals recovered from the trash reveal early Black activism in a new book.

Rescued from the back of a pickup truck by Shaik’s father in the 1950s, the twenty-four detailed ledgers, languished in the closet of her family’s historic Seventh Ward home for fifty years.  Shaik, a journalist and now former Assistant Professor at St. Peter’s University, set out to find context for the ledgers dated 1836-1935. She scoured journal articles and books, real estate purchases, notarial acts, and census records at private and public archives.

The result is a history of Black men and their lives in the Société d’Economie et d’Assistance Mutuelle, a benevolent organization. They were the elite of a thriving free community in New Orleans prior to the Civil War.  Statistics show that for the first four decades of the nineteenth century, almost half of the city’s Black people were free. This compares to 14% nationwide prior to 1865.

The Economie’s mission was “to help one another and teach one another while holding out a protective hand to suffering humanity,” Shaik says.  “I came to realize that the Economie journals were among the few surviving primary sources written by the community activists themselves,” adds Shaik. 

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