Economy Hall

The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood

Fatima Shaik

The Historic New Orleans Collection 2021 • paperback 
6.5" x 9.5" • 528 pp.
64 images
ISBN 978-0-917860-89-8

The Historic New Orleans Collection 2021 • hardcover 
6.5" x 9.5" • 528 pp.
64 images
ISBN 978-0-917860-80-5

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Featured in Symposium 2021

Awards and honors

2022 American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation

2022 Humanities Book of the Year, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

Best American History list of 2021, Kirkus Reviews 

51 Favorite Books of 2021, Washington Independent Review of Books

2021 Louisiana Writer Award to Fatima Shaik, Louisiana Center for the Book and Louisiana State Library


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 his friends through landmark events— from the Haitian Revolution to the birth of jazz—that shaped New Orleans and the United States.

The story begins when the author’s father rescues a century’s worth of journals, handwritten in French, from a trash hauler’s pickup truck. From the journals’ pages emerges one of the most important multi-ethnic, intellectual communities in the US South: educators, world-traveling merchants, soldiers, tradesmen, and poets. Though 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 spent decades reading and translating the journals, which begin with the society’s founding in 1836.

She combed through 19th-century newspapers, legal cases, congressional testimony, real estate records, and Creole family histories. In Economy Hall, she 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 told by her Creole family and neighbors. A former assistant professor at Saint Peter’s University (NJ), she worked for more than a decade as a reporter and editor for daily news outlets. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, The Root, and In These Times. Shaik is a trustee of PEN America and former board member of The Writers Room in New York City. She is the author of six books of fiction. Economy Hall is her first nonfiction work. 


“Shaik’s rendition of her hometown is lyrical and mysterious and always captivating.”
New York Times Read the full review.

“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 Reviews (starred review) Read the full review.

“By presenting a thriving community of free Black Americans in a major Southern city pre–Civil War and the actions of society members through 1935, Shaik aims to deepen our sense of Black American history.”
—Library Journal Read the full review.

“Indeed, one of the pleasures here is seeing how many intriguing topics are relevant to this story, from the African Colonization Society and Mexican independence to Louisiana’s post-war descent into terror and, finally, the emergence of jazz.”
—Washington Independent Review of Books Read the full review.