Pianist, actor, composer, civil rights activist
Victor-Eugene Macarty was talented and ambitious. He was born into a society that afforded him privileges that were usually not accessible for men of color. Macarty used these opportunities to develop his musical talent. He was subjected to many injustices but sought ways to fight inequality and racism.
Victor-Eugene Macarty was born in 1821 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His mother was a free woman of color named Eulalie de Mandeville. He never knew his father, but he was a relative of a family of free African Americans named Macarty. The descendants of this Macarty family were wealthy, educated, and refined. The history of this family could be traced to a Scottish family named McCarthy who later changed the spelling of this name to Macarty.
Many of the white males in this family had liaisons with free women of color. The liaisons between these white males and free women of color became known as "placage", a derivative of the French word "placer", which means "to place". Populations of these free people of color were quite numerous from the 1760s through the 1790s. Generations of free girls of color were reared with the expectation of finding white men who could support and protect them, although these unions were not recognized as legal. These women were expected to be faithful to these white men until the men entered legitimate marriages to white women or the men died. This placage system was unique to Louisiana; it provided some independence and power in which free women of color could provide opportunities to their children that were unavailable before. It is unknown how many women of color were involved in these liaisons, but records from the late 1760s through 1800 reveal dozens of them as holding prime real estate in their own names. These women often were awarded property and money after the death of their wealthy white lovers. They were able to educate their children and pass on estates to them. Some court records from the 1800s show white men leaving inheritances for their illegitimate children of color.
Free people of color were increasingly wealthy as they began to establish businesses and acquire property. Eulalie de Mandeville was a descendent of one of the most prominent white Creole families in New Orleans. Mandeville was the daughter of a wealthy woman of color named Marigny de Mandeville who worked a union between the young Eulalie and Eugene Macarty, a white man of wealth and privilege. After Eugene Macarty's death in 1845, Eulalie received property from his estate valued at $12,000. Eulalie was an intelligent and enterprising woman who eventually increased her fortune to about $155,000. She used her wealth to ensure that her children were well educated.
During his youth, Macarty took piano lessons from a person named J. Norres. He demonstrated musical talent early on and had numerous abilities. He had a wonderful singing voice in addition to his skills at the piano. Macarty was also a talented thespian and orator. In 1840, he was sent to Paris, and with the aid of Pierre Soule, a prominent member of the New Orleans elite class, and the French ambassador to the United States, Macarty studied at the Imperial Conservatoire. He studied vocal music, harmony, and composition.
Wins Fame and Praise
When Macarty returned to New Orleans, he garnered fame and praise as a pianist and amateur thespian. In time, he became known as a composer and also a civil rights leader. He was frequently the lead actor in theatrical productions presented by free colored people.
In 1869, Macarty took a seat in the white section of the St. Charles Theater. A light-skinned person, Macarty was not immediately recognized as being colored. When he was discovered, he was ordered to vacate the theater. He brought a suit against the theater because of their discriminatory seating policies, but the suit was dismissed and the manager resumed his practice of segregating blacks and whites. In protest, Macarty and others boycotted the theater. Their boycott ended in 1875 after the national civil rights act was passed.
Later that year, he was appointed city administrator of assessments by Governor Henry Clay Warmoth. Macarty also distinguished himself as a wealthy businessman. He held several important positions in the Republican administrations in the late 1800s. His alignment with this party helped him to promote the cause of civil rights. The militant La Tribune de la Nouvelle-Orleans characterized him as a talented man who brought much pride to the community. Not much is known about the last days of Macarty's life, beyond the fact that he died in 1890.
Christian, Marcus B. "Victor E. Macarty." In Dictionary of American Negro Biography. Eds. Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston. New York: Norton, 1982.
Gehman, Mary. The Free People of Color of New Orleans: An Introduction. New Orleans: Margaret Media, 1994.
Trotter, James M. Music and Some Highly Musical People. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1968.
- Born in New Orleans
- Gains admittance to the Imperial Conservatoire in Paris
- Composes "Fleur de Salon"
- La Tribune de la Nouvelle-Orleans praises Macarty
- Publishes "La Fleur Indiscrete" on July 22
- Macarty challenges discriminatory seating at the St. Charles Theater
- Accepts appointment as a city administrator of assessments