Louisiana’s African-American Heritage Trail is our newest offering for both travelers and Louisiana citizens.
It is a collection of sites around our state that showcase the contributions of African Americans to history and culture, to food and music, to the arts and literature – significant contributions to the stories of both Louisiana and America. There are 26 sites on the trail, located in big cities such as New Orleans and Shreveport and smaller towns such as St. Martinville, Tallulah and Donaldsonville. Museums and galleries, cultural and folk-life centers, plantations and historic structures, churches and cemeteries, public facilities, educational institutions, and an American Civil War battlefield join to tell compelling and enlightening accounts of this aspect of our history.
Our African-American Heritage Trail is brand-new, only the second of its type in America, and it is getting great reviews and generating excitement in Louisiana’s tourism industry. I encourage you to be among the first to experience this great Louisiana and national treasure.
lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu State of Louisiana
African Americans have played a significant role in the history of Louisiana. To bring this history to life, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism have crafted an African-American Heritage Trail to help visitors plan trips that include the fascinating museums, homes, historical sites and churches crucial to the rich history of the state’s people of color. The trail should be especially inspiring to parents and grandparents who want the next generation to learn about both the struggles and the achievements of African Americans in Louisiana.
To make it easier to take in all of the historic sites, the trail has been divided into several regional itineraries covering the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas, Southwest Louisiana, the Red River Valley and the northeast part of the state. In addition to the sites associated with the trail, each region offers its own unique restaurants, recreational spots and shopping opportunities so you can take a break from history and just relax.
Here are some highlights of each itinerary. You can find details of all the sites along each trail, along with lots of other information, at www.louisianatravel.com/africanamericanheritagetrail.
The Web site has sample itineraries that make it easy to plan your trip, whether you have one day or four. The Web site will be updated frequently as more sites join the trail.
New Orleans area
A good way to begin your exploration of New Orleans’ African-American heritage is to visit the Louisiana State Museum in the Cabildo and the Presbytere in the French Quarter. The museum gives a good overview of the state’s history. The Jazz National Historical Park, near the Mississippi River, is a fun way to learn about the origins of jazz through exhibits, walking tours and performances.
The historic neighborhood of Tremé, north of the Quarter, was home to a large population of free people of color. Learn about their lives as you visit Congo Square (now part of Armstrong Park); St. Augustine Catholic Church; and the New Orleans African American Museum of Art, Culture and History.
A short distance upriver from New Orleans lies River Road, home to many restored plantations. Evergreen Plantation features an intact set of slave cabins, and Laura Plantation offers a unique interpretation of French Creole culture along the river. If your visit to Plantation Country includes a stop in the town of Donaldsonville, take in The River Road African American Museum.
Back in New Orleans, other sites beckon, including the famed Amistad Research Center at Tulane University. The center is one of the country’s finest institutions on African-American history. Across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum is known for its dramatic murals that demonstrate the history of African Americans from their homelands in Africa through slavery, segregation and civil rights.
Baton Rouge area
Begin your visit to the state’s capital with a trip to the Baton Rouge branch of the Louisiana State Museum, which offers powerful displays on slavery and the struggle for civil rights. The Louisiana State Capitol, built in the early 1930s, has several ties to black history; in 1967, the building’s steps were the ending place of the Bogalusa to Baton Rouge March. Also, a bust of Governor P.B.S. Pinchback, our nation’s first African-American governor, can be found in the Grand Hall of the Capitol building. Be sure to visit Southern University, one of the state’s many historically black colleges and universities, and check out the impressive collections at the university’s Museum of Art.
If you have several more days for your trip, include a trip to the LSU Rural Life Museum, off Interstate 10/12, which gives a great view of Louisiana’s vanishing rural culture. Young people brought up with microwave ovens, DVD players and central air conditioning will learn a lot about how their ancestors lived and worked.
Southwest Louisiana Known for its Cajun culture, this region of Louisiana is rich in African- American history, as well. In the small town of Opelousas, visit the Venus House, an old-style Creole home attributed to a free woman of color. If you follow Bayou Teche from Opelousas to St. Martinville, be sure to tour the St. Martinville African American Museum, recommended for its exhibits on the Afro-Creole community in the region. In the town of Crowley, don’t miss the Jay Miller Studio on the top floor of City Hall. This music studio produced Cajun, country, zydeco and blues albums by black and white musicians working together at a time when much of Southern life was segregated. Further along Interstate 10 in Lake Charles, the Black Heritage Art Gallery features work by local and national artists. Red River Valley area
The Red River Valley stretches from Alexandria to Shreveport and holds many sites important to African- American history, including Kent House Plantation in Alexandria.
A short drive up Interstate 49 brings you to the Cane River area. There you will find Melrose Plantation, the ancestral home of the Creole Metoyer family. The plantation, later home to famed folk artist Clementine Hunter, includes the “African House,” a rare example of African architecture in Louisiana. Don’t miss the brick slave cabins at Magnolia Plantation, part of the Cane River Creole National Historical Park.
A day trip to Grambling State University in the Ruston area brings you to the Charles Adams House, home of Grambling’s founder and first president, as well as a museum dedicated to Coach Eddie Robinson, revered for his mentorship of generations of young African-American men. The Grambling community, founded in the 1870s by independent African-American property owners, became the first all-black municipality in Louisiana.
If you begin your tour in Shreveport, important sites to visit include the Multi-Cultural Center of the South, which has on display paintings by Clementine Hunter, and Antioch Baptist Church, a cathedral built in 1903 for the oldest and most established black congregation in Shreveport.
Northeast Louisiana A good place to start this itinerary is in Monroe, home of the Northeast Delta African American Museum. Here are exhibits on slavery, segregation and the civil rights movement.
From Monroe, you can plan a variety of day trips, including visits to: Tallulah, with an exhibit on Madame C.J. Walker, the nation’s first black millionaire Ferriday, home to Frogmore Plantation, a still-functioning plantation that includes slave cabins and a cotton gin.
Lake Providence, where the Louisiana State Cotton museum includes scale models and audiovisual productions about the lives of black farmers between Reconstruction and mid-20th century. Exhibits include rare, original plantation tenant houses.
If you enjoy getting outdoors, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism has put together a diverse selection of golfing and birding trails in all parts of the state. So grab your clubs, or pack the binoculars, and experience Louisiana while having some fun.
For the Birds Bird-watching has become a favorite pastime for people of all ages. The America’s Wetland Birding Trail is subdivided into four main regional trails, each with its own topography, wildlife and culture. The Coastal Birding Trail, which encompasses 115 sites in 22 southern parishes along the Gulf Coast, winds through saltwater marshes, piney woods, cypress swamps and hardwood forests. The Mississippi River Birding Trail takes in 30 sites in 13 parishes along the river and gives birders a view of the state’s northeast delta region. The Red River Birding Trail begins in Shreveport and follows the Red River through Central Louisiana, covering 82 sites in 18 parishes (including the 600,000-acre Kisatchie National Forest). Finally, the Zachary Taylor Parkway Birding Trail follows Highway 10 in Avoyelles Parish 150 miles eastward through Southeast Louisiana; its 27 sites in 10 parishes include almost every major habitat native to Louisiana.
You can find detailed maps of each trail, along with information on the birds and wildlife, parking, hiking, canoeing and camping at www.louisianatravel.com/play/louisiana_birding.cfm. The Web site also describes each area’s cultural, historical and recreational activities so you can take a break from the birds and enjoy a good meal or a swim.
Swinging the clubs Among the abundant outdoor activities that make Louisiana the “sportsman’s paradise,” golfing can be enjoyed at the courses found along the Audubon Golf Trail, named after the great naturalist John James Audubon. The 13 world-class courses, designed by such greats as Hal Sutton, David Toms and Pete Dye, give golfers a chance to play their favorite game while enjoying Louisiana’s beautiful topography. The courses are members of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for Golf Courses, and every effort was made during their construction to preserve the natural beauty of the area. At www.audubongolf.com, you can find details on all 13 of the member courses.
Each region of the Bayou State also has inviting private and public courses; learn more about those at www.louisianatravel.com/play. A bonus: the state’s mild climate means you can hit the links just about every month of the year.
This article appears in the Spring 2008 issue of Louisiana Life