Texas Treasure

African-American Heritage Trail traces the
triumphs and travails of blacks in Louisiana.
By Diana West

Travelers are eager to experience authentic history, and those on Louisiana’s African-American Heritage Trail will experience cultural and historical contributions blacks have made to the state. And while the state has plans to expand the trail later this year, exploring some of the existing 26 sites in February can be a meaningful Black History Month getaway.

Cabins

Above: There are 22 slave cabins remarkably intact at Evergreen plantation in Wallace.

Below: The River Road African-American Museum in Donaldsonville preserves many relics. Marchand Williams, Louisiana Office of Tourism photos

Museum
Here is a sample of what to find on the African-American Heritage Trail.

Northern Louisiana

Shreveport’s Multicultural Center of the South, located at 401 Texas St., has two floors of exhibits that include paintings and sculptures by local artists. Another room displays African clothing and routine objects, such as a large wooden dish used by Kenyan families to serve and share food. A Haitian open market and native dolls in Haitian clothing characterize customs that they brought to this country. The center is open Tuesday–Saturday.

Central Louisiana

Those who settled the area during Spanish and French rule, 1699-1803, were called Creoles. Near Natchitoches, Oakland Plantation, part of the Cane River Creole National Historical Park, is an example of a Creole plantation.

Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’homme began farming the land in 1785 and eight generations of the Prud’homme family lived there and worked the land for more than 200 years.

There are 18 structures that are on the self-guided tour. Many of the walls were built of bousillage, which was a mixture of mud, animal fur and Spanish moss. The Big House, built in 1821, has raised cottage architecture and six double fireplaces. Portraits, photos and furnishings passed down through the Prud’homme family fill the home. Large live oaks planted in 1825 shade the front.

Each year a fall pilgrimage takes place on the second weekend in October. Descendents of Oakland’s owners and workers dress in period clothing and talk to visitors about their ancestors’ lives on the plantation.

Melrose Plantation, 3524 state Highway 119, was given to Marie Therese Coin-Coin, a former slave who became a slave owner, in the late 18th century. She, her sons and slaves worked to make Melrose a success.

Clementine Hunter, born in 1887, worked at Melrose in the fields and later as a cook. In the 1930s, Hunter painted primitive art depicting life in the rural South. These are on view in the African House. Melrose is open daily for tours.

While in the area spend some time in Natchitoches, the oldest permanent settlement in Louisiana dating back to 1714. The city’s Historic Landmark District encompasses a 33-block area. Kaffie-Frederick Mercantile at 758 Front St. was established in 1863 and is the oldest continuously operating business in town. Shoppers find everything from hardware to fine china, and purchases are rung up on an antique cash register.

Close to the historical district is the 1840 Taylor-Cook home, 320 Jefferson St. Fans of the movie “Steel Magnolias” may recognize the home, now a bed-and-breakfast inn called The Steel Magnolia House. Guests can view the movie about strong Southern women and enjoy breakfast that includes Creole French Toast and Tasso Quiche made with Creole meat that’s similar to ham.

Louisiana’s first African-American museum opened in 1992 in Alexandria as the Arna Bontemps African-American Museum, 1327 Third St. A noted black author, Bontemps was a leader in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Located in his birth home, the center is open Tuesday–Saturday.

Southern Louisiana

While in Lake Charles, visit the Black Heritage Gallery, 809 Kirby St., where rotating art and exhibits expound on achievements of local and national black artists. Located in the Central School Arts and Humanities Center, the gallery is open Monday–Friday.

Also stop by Pryce’s Pharmacy, 331 Enterprise. Frank Pryce is the third generation owner of the 100-year-old drug store. It’s the town’s oldest black-owned business.

Six miles of walking trails trace a Civil War battle at Port Hudson State Historic Site in Jackson where a 48-day siege in 1863 occurred. Among those who died in the battle were members of two Union Army black regiments, the First and Third Louisiana Native Guard. Black soldiers who died during the event are buried in Port Hudson National Cemetery.

The River Road African-American Museum, 406 Charles St., in Donaldsonville, highlights the struggles and achievements of enslaved and free people of color from the area who became inventors, craftsmen, physicians, artists, politicians and educators. In the agriculture room, a nine-foot cloth sack on display held 100 pounds of cotton, and could be filled in a day’s work.

Part of the museum is the Freedom Garden, which has edible and medicinal plants that runaway slaves would have found in southern Louisiana.

For real Cajun-Creole cooking, stop in nearby Burnside at The Cabin, which was formed from slave dwellings. Menu items include gumbo, fried alligator and crawfish topped off with buttermilk pie. Located at 5405 state Highway 44, the restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner.

Tours of Evergreen, a privately owned 2,200-acre working sugar cane plantation in Wallace, highlight 250 years of ownership, architectural significance, reliance on slave and later freed black labor. The 22 slave cabins are original, virtually intact, which is a rarity in the state.

The Big House was built Creole-style in 1790 as three large rooms on the second floor. In 1832, it was converted to Greek Revival architecture with the completion of three rooms downstairs, double curving stairways in front, a cook’s building and other structures. Tours, offered daily by reservation, can include lunch or dinner.

In New Orleans, Joseph Abeilard, a free man of color, designed the French Market at 1008 N. Peters St. in the late 1700s. Still operating, it’s the country’s oldest open-air trading center. Take a break at Café du Monde, the original French Market coffee stand, with café au lait and beignets (French donuts). It’s at 1039 Decatur St.

Day and evening tours are available through St. Louis Cemeteries 1 and 2 where above-ground burials and huge mausoleums mark generations of families. Important members of the local black community buried there are Ernest “Dutch” Morial, first African-American mayor of New Orleans; famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau; and Homer Plessy, who was arrested for refusing to move from a “whites only” section of a Louisiana rail car. His arrest led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1896 that supported states’ rights to segregate people of different races.

Start with these sites to discover part of Louisiana’s rich heritage.

Diana West is a contributor from Joplin, Mo.

Jan/Feb 2009 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO
An interactive map with more details on these and other African-American Heritage Trail sites can be found at www.louisianatravel.com. For information about the trail or Louisiana, call (800) 33-GUMBO (800-334-8626).

First stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks®, CampBook® or TourBook® guides. Click here for a list of offices.

Order free information via the Reader Service Card online at
http://southern.ai-dsg.com.

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