78 pages 2 hours read

Richard Peck

The River Between Us

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2003

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Symbols & Motifs

The Tignon

In history, the tignon is a symbol of free women of color in New Orleans. The status of free women of color existed in New Orleans before Louisiana was purchased by the US. Regardless of whether the city was controlled by the French, the Spanish, or the Americans, the government attempted to control and moderate the population of free Black women. In 1786, Governor Don Esteban Miró issued a law stating that free women of color were not allowed to wear hats. Custom demanded that women cover their heads, so free women of color adapted the handkerchiefs that were originally worn by enslaved women. The women learned to arrange the handkerchiefs artfully, and they were often embroidered with precious gems and flaunted feathers. They became known as tignons and became a symbol of racial pride and a reminder of prejudice against Black women.

In The River Between Us, the tignon symbolizes Delphine and Calinda’s pride in their heritage as free women of color. Tilly first sees a tignon on Calinda’s head when she and Delphine first step off the steamboat. If anyone in Grand Tower understood the significance of Calinda’s head covering, she and Delphine would have been recognized immediately.