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Louisiana

Life in Old Louisiana (1830-1850)

This sort of documentary was made in 1941 (as stated in the opening titles). This short film depicts the culture of old Louisiana, including such aspects as slavery on cotton and cane plantations, the prevailing French language, Mississippi River trade, education, religion and music.  The film focuses on the elite and (wealthy) white families, such as plantation owners and business men. Sadly enough the delicate matters e.g. about how coloured people were treated in those days, are apparently insignificant. This documentary however (even when it’s not really an accurate survey of history) might still be an interesting image of the time., Life in Old Louisiana (1830-1850), An Instructional Sound Film, Produced by Erpe Classroom Films Inc., In collaboration with James J.A. Fortier, Historian of City Archives New Orleans, Louisiana.

Timeline of Louisiana: 1500’s – 1600’s 

  • (1519) Spanish explorer Alonso de Pineda reached the mouth of Mississippi River
  • (1541-42) Hernando de Soto explored region, discovered Mississippi River
  • (1682) Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, claimed Mississippi watershed for France; named area for King Louis XIV

1700’s 

  • (1714) Juchereau de St. Denis founded first permanent settlement in Louisiana
  • (1718) Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, founded New Orleans
  • (1719) Black slaves imported into Louisiana
  • (1722) Hurricane destroyed most of New Orleans

  • (1723) New Orleans became capital of Louisiana
  • (1729) Natchez Indians massacred 250 settlers at Fort Rosalie
  • (1762) King Louis XV gave Charles II of Spain all land west of Mississippi
  • (1768) Louisiana colonists of Louisiana rebelled against Spanish rule
  • (1769) Spain regained control of Louisiana
  • (1788) Most of New Orleans destroyed by fire

1800’s 

  • (1800) Spain ceded Louisiana back to France
  • (1803) U. S. purchased Louisiana Territory
  • (1812) Louisiana became 18th state

  • (1815) British defeated by Andrew Jackson in Battle of New Orleans
  • (1832) Yellow fever and choloera epidemic killed more than 5,000 in New Orleans
  • (1837) New Orleans held first Mardi Gras parade
  • (1849) Baton Rouge became capital of Louisiana
  • (1853) Yellow fever epidemic killed more than 11,000 in New Orleans
  • (1861) Louisiana seceded from Union; joined the Confederacy
  • (1862) New Orleans captured by Union troops; salt mine discovered at Avery Island
  • (1866) Race riot in New Orleans killed 38 people, wounded 146
  • (1868) Louisiana readmitted to Union; state lottery established
  • (1870) Robert E. Lee beat Natchez in steamboat race
  • (1873) Colfax riot occurred, more than 100 African American men killed
  • (1874) Severe flooding occurred throughout the state
  • (1879) New state constitution adopted; mouth of Mississippi River deepened to allow large ocean vessels to reach New Orleans
  • (1884) World’s Fair held in New Orleans
  • (1891) Mob in New Orleans lynched 11 Italians charged in murder of Police Chief Hennessy
  • (1892) Knights of Labor held general strike in New Orleans
  • (1893) Hurricane killed over 2,000 in Louisiana and Mississippi

The history of Louisiana is long and rich. From its earliest settlement by Native Americans to its status as linchpin of an empire to its incorporation as a U.S. state, it has been successively bathed in the cultural influences of Native Americans, French, Spanish, the Caribbean, Africans, and the English, and has subsequently developed a rich and unique creolization of cultures.

Prehistory

Louisiana was inhabited by Native Americans for many millennia before the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century.

Archaic Period

An aerial view reveals the circular pattern of ancient Native American earthworks at Poverty Point.

During the Archaic period Louisiana was home to the earliest mound complex in North America and one of the earliest dated, complex constructions in the Americas, the Watson Brake site near Monroe. It has been dated to about 3400 BCE. The site appears to have been abandoned about 2800.

By 2200, during the Late Archaic period the Poverty Point culture occupied much of Louisiana and was spread into several surrounding states. Evidence of this culture has been found at more than 100 sites, including the Jaketown Site near Belzoni, Mississippi. The largest and best-known site is near modern-day Epps, Louisiana at Poverty Point. The Poverty Point culture may have hit its peak around 1500, making it the first complex culture, and possibly the first tribal culture, not only in the Mississippi Delta but in the present-day United States. Its people were in villages that extended for nearly 100 miles across the Mississippi River.  It lasted until approximately 700 BCE.

Woodland period

Map of the Fourche Maline and Marksville cultures

The Poverty Point culture was followed by the Tchefuncte and Lake Cormorant cultures of the Tchula period, local manifestations of Early Woodland period. These descendant cultures differed from Poverty Point culture in trading over shorter distances, creating less massive public projects, completely adopting ceramics for storage and cooking. The Tchefuncte culture were the first people in Louisiana to make large amounts of pottery. Ceramics from the Tchefuncte culture have been found in sites from eastern Texas to eastern Florida, and from coastal Louisiana to southern Arkansas.  These cultures lasted until 200 CE.

Map showing the geographic extent of the Baytown, Coastal Troyville and Troyville cultures

The Middle Woodland period starts in Louisiana with the Marksville culture in the southern and eastern part of the state and the Fourche Maline culture in the northwestern part of the state. The Marksville culture takes its name from the Marksville Prehistoric Indian Site in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. These cultures were contemporaneous with the Hopewell cultures of Ohio and Illinois, and participated in the Hopewell Exchange Network. At this time populations became more sedentary and began to establish semi-permanent villages and to practice agriculture, planting various cultigens of the Eastern Agricultural Complex. The populations began to expand, and trade with various nonlocal peoples also began to increase. Trade with peoples to the southwest brought the bow and arrow An increase in the hierarchical structuring of their societies, whether indigenously developed or through borrowing from the Hopewell is not certain, also began during this time period. The dead were treated in increasingly elaborate ways, as the first burial mounds are built at this time.   Political power begins to be consolidated as the first platform mounds at ritual centers are constructed for the developing of hereditary political and religious leadership.

A map showing the extent of the Coles Creek cultural period and some important sites

By 400 CE in the eastern part of the state the Late Woodland period had begun with theBaytown and Troyville cultures and later the Coles Creek culture. Archeologists have traditionally viewed the Late Woodland as a time of cultural decline after the florescence of the Hopewell peoples. Late Woodland sites, with the exception of sites along the Florida Gulf Coast, tend to be small when compared with Middle Woodland sites. Although settlement size was small, there was an increase in Late Woodland sites over Middle Woodland sites, indicating a population increase. These factors tend to mark the Late Woodland period as an expansive period, not one of a cultural collapse.  Where the Baytown peoples began to build more dispersed settlements, the Troyville people instead continued building major earthwork centers.  The type site for the culture, the Troyville Earthworks, once had the second tallest precolumbian mound in North America and the tallest in Louisiana at 82 feet (25 m) in height.  The Coles Creek culture from 700 to 1200 CE marks a significant change in the cultural history of the area. Population increased dramatically and there is strong evidence of a growing cultural and political complexity, especially by the end of the Coles Creek sequence. Although many of the classic traits of chiefdom societies are not yet manifested, by 1000 CE the formation of simple elite polities had begun. Coles Creek sites are found in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Texas. Many Coles Creek sites were erected over earlier Woodland period mortuary mounds, leading researchers to speculate that emerging elites were symbolically and physically appropriating dead ancestors to emphasize and project their own authority.

Mississippian period

A map showing the geographical extent of the Plaquemine cultural period and some of its major sites.

Map of the Caddoan Mississippian culture and some important sites

The Mississippian period in Louisiana sees the emergence of the Plaquemine and the Caddoan Mississippian cultures. This period is when extensive maize agriculture is adopted. The Plaquemine culture in the lower Mississippi River Valley in western Mississippi and eastern Louisiana begins in 1200 CE and goes to about 1400 CE. Good examples of this culture are the Medora Site (the type site for the culture and period), Fitzhugh MoundsTransylvania Mounds, and Scott Place Mounds in Louisiana and the AnnaEmerald,Winterville and Holly Bluff sites located in Mississippi.  Plaquemine culture was contemporaneous with the Middle Mississippian culture at the Cahokia site near St. Louis, Missouri. By 1000 CE in the northwestern part of the state the Fourche Maline culture had evolved into the Caddoan Mississippian culture. By 1400 CE Plaquemine had started to hybridize through contact with Middle Mississippian cultures to the north and became what archaeologist term Plaquemine Mississippian. These peoples are considered ancestral to historic groups encountered by the first Europeans in the area, the Natchez and Taensa Peoples.  The Caddoan Mississippians covered a large territory, including what is now eastern Oklahoma, western Arkansas, northeast Texas, and northwest Louisiana. Archaeological evidence that the cultural continuity is unbroken from prehistory to the present, and that the direct ancestors of the Caddo and related Caddo language speakers in prehistoric times and at first European contact and the modern Caddo Nation of Oklahoma is unquestioned today.

Native groups at time of European settlement

Many native groups inhabited the state when the Europeans began colonization:

  • The Atakapa in southwestern Louisiana in Vermilion, Cameron, Lafayette, Acadia, Jefferson Davis, and Calcasieu parishes. They were allied with the Appalousa in St. Landry parish.
  • The Acolapissa in St. Tammany parish. They were allied with the Tangipahoa in Tangipahoa parish.
  • The Chitimacha in the southeastern parishes of Iberia, Assumption, St. Mary, lower St. Martin, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines. They were allied with the Washa in Assumption parish, the Chawasha in Terrebonne parish, and the Yagenechito to the east.
  • The Bayougoula, part of the Choctaw nation, in areas directly north of the Chitimachas in the parishes of St. Helena, Tangipahoa, Washington, East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Livingston, and St. Tammany. They were allied with theQuinipissaMougoulacha in St. Tammany parish.
  • The Houma, also part of the Choctaw nation, in East and West Feliciana, and Pointe Coupee parishes (about 100 miles (160 km) north of the town named for them).
  • The Okelousa in Pointe Coupee parish.
  • The Avoyel, part of the Natchez nation, in parts of Avoyelles and Concordia parishes along the Mississippi River.
  • The Taensa, also part of the Natchez nation, in northeastern Louisiana particularly Tensas parish.
  • The Tunica in northeastern parishes of Tensas, Madison, East Carroll and West Carroll.
  • The Koroa in East Carroll parish.
  • The remainder of central, west central, and northwest Louisiana was home to a substantial portion of the Caddo nation, the Adai in Natchitoches parish, and Natchitoches confederacy consisting of the Natchitoches in Natchitoches parish, Yatasi and Nakasain the Caddo and Bossier parishes, Doustioni in Natchitoches parish, and Ouachita in the Caldwell parish.

Many current place names in the state, including Atchafalaya, Natchitouches (now spelled Natchitoches), CaddoHouma,Tangipahoa, and Avoyel (as Avoyelles), are transliterations of those used in various Native American languages.

European contact

The first European explorers to visit Louisiana came in 1528 when a Spanish expedition led by Panfilo de Narváez located the mouth of the Mississippi River. In 1542, Hernando de Soto‘s expedition skirted to the north and west of the state (encountering Caddo and Tunica groups) and then followed the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico in 1543. The expedition encountered hostile tribes all along river. Natives followed the boats in large canoes, shooting arrows at the soldiers for days on end as they drifted through their territory. The Spanish, whose crossbows had long ceased working, had no effective offensive weapons on the water and were forced to rely on their remaining armor and sleeping mats to block the arrows. About 11 Spaniards were killed along this stretch and many more wounded.

French exploration and colonization (17th century to 1756) – Main articles: Louisiana (New France) and French colonization of the Americas

European interest in Louisiana then lay dormant until the late 17th century, when French expeditions, which included sovereign, religious and commercial aims, established a foothold on the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast. With its first settlements, France lay claim to a vast region of North America and set out to establish a commercial empire and French nation stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.

Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville

The French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle named the region Louisiana to honor France’s King Louis XIV in 1682. The first permanent settlement, Fort Maurepas (at what is now Ocean Springs, Mississippi, near Biloxi), was founded by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, a French military officer from Canada, in 1699.

The French colony of Louisiana originally claimed all the land on both sides of the Mississippi River and north to French territory in Canada. The following present day states were part of the then vast tract of Louisiana: Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

The settlement of Natchitoches (along the Red River in present-day northwest Louisiana) was established in 1714 by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, making it the oldest permanent settlement in the territory that then composed the Louisiana colony. The French settlement had two purposes: to establish trade with the Spanish in Texas, and to deter Spanish advances into Louisiana. Also, the northern terminus of the Old San Antonio Road (sometimes called El Camino Real, or Kings Highway) was at Nachitoches. The settlement soon became a flourishing river port and crossroads, giving rise to vast cotton kingdoms along the river. Over time, planters developed large plantations and built fine homes in a growing town, a pattern repeated in New Orleans and other places.

Louisiana’s French settlements contributed to further exploration and outposts. They were concentrated along the banks of the Mississippi and its major tributaries, from Louisiana to as far north as the region called the Illinois Country, near Peoria, Illinois and present-day St. Louis, Missouri.

Initially Mobile, Alabama and Biloxi, Mississippi functioned in succession as the capital of the colony. In 1722, recognizing the importance of the Mississippi River to trade and military interests, France made New Orleans the seat of civilian and military authority.

Settlement in the Louisiana colony was not exclusively French; in the 1720s, German immigrants settled along the Mississippi River in a region referred to as the German Coast.

Africans and early slavery

In 1719, two ships arrived in New Orleans, the Duc du Maine and the Aurore, carrying the first African slaves to Louisiana.   From 1718 to 1750, thousands of Africans were transported to Louisiana from the Senegambian coast, the west African region of the interior of modern Benin, and from the coast of modern Angola. According to French shipping records, approximately 2000 individuals originated from the upper West African slave ports from Saint-Louis, Senegal to Cap Appolonia (present-day Ébrié LagoonCôte d’Ivoire) several hundred kilometers to the south, a further 2000 were exported from the port of Whydah (modern OuidahBenin) and roughly 300 departed from Cabinda.  It has been argued, though it is by no means universally accepted, that due to historical and administrative ties between France and Senegal, “Two-thirds of the slaves brought to Louisiana by the French slave trade came from Senegambia.” This region between the Senegal and Gambia rivers had peoples who were closely related through history: three of the principal languages, SereerWolof and Pulaar were related, and Malinke, spoken by the Mande people to the east, was “mutually intelligible” with them. This concentration of peoples from one region of Africa strongly shaped Louisiana Creole culture.

The geographic and perhaps linguistic similarities of many African captives, can be easily exaggerated and did not necessarily imply a common heritage in Louisiana. Religion was one significant difference among many of the Africans who were sold to the Americas from Senegal. The creation of a common culture as some have argued, is an assertion still debated by historians. It is historically difficult to determine the religious beliefs of slaves, but it is likely that some, if not many, slaves from Senegal were Muslims. Many were certainly captives taken in the religious wars that engulfed the region from Futa Djallon to Futa Toro and Futa Bundu (modern Upper Niger River) in the early 18th century.  Indeed, the inland territories of the African continent from which slaves were captured, were enormous. Contemporary and modern observers may have attributed more similarities to slaves taken from among these areas than enslaved Africans recognized among themselves at the time of transportation and sale in Louisiana.

Spanish interregnum (1763–1800) – Main article: Louisiana (New Spain) –

“Beausoleil” Broussard. Artist Herb Roe

Most of the territory to the east of the Mississippi was lost to the Kingdom of Great Britain in the French and Indian War, except for the area around New Orleans and the parishes around Lake Pontchartrain. The rest of Louisiana became a possession of Spain after the Seven Years’ War by the Treaty of Paris of 1763.

Despite the fact that it was the Spanish government that now ruled Louisiana, the pace of francophone immigration to the territory increased swiftly, due to another significant aftereffect of the French and Indian War. Several thousand French-speaking refugees from the region of Acadia (now Nova Scotia, Canada) made their way to Louisiana after being expelled from their home territory by the newly ascendant British. The first group of around 200 arrived in 1765, led by Joseph Broussard dit “Beausoleil.”   They settled chiefly in the southwestern Louisiana region now called Acadiana. The Acadian refugees were welcomed by the Spanish, and their descendants came to be called Cajuns.

Some Spanish-speaking immigrants arrived also, Canary Islanders, called Isleños. They immigrated to Louisiana between 1778 and 1783. The southwestern area around Lake Charles was also settled in the late 1700’s.

Both free and enslaved populations increased rapidly during the years of Spanish rule, as new settlers and Creoles imported large numbers of slaves to work on plantations. Although some American settlers brought slaves with them who were native to Virginia or North Carolina, the Pointe Coupee inventories showed that most slaves brought by traders came directly from Africa. In 1763 settlements from New Orleans to Pointe Coupee (north of Baton Rouge) included 3,654 free persons and 4,598 slaves. By the 1800 census, which included West Florida, there were 19,852 free persons and 24,264 slaves in Lower Louisiana. Although the censuses do not always cover the same territory, they show a majority of slaves in the population throughout these years. Records during Spanish rule were not as well documented as with the French slave trade, so it is difficult to trace more specific origins of African slaves. The overall numbers, though, resulted in what historian Gwendolyn Midlo Hall called “the re-Africanization” of Lower Louisiana, which strongly influenced the culture.

In 1800, France’s Napoleon Bonaparte reacquired Louisiana from Spain in the Treaty of San Ildefonso, an arrangement kept secret for some two years. Documents have revealed that he harbored secret ambitions to reconstruct a large colonial empire in the Americas. This notion faltered, however, after the French attempt to reconquer Haiti after its revolution ended in failure.

Incorporation into the United States and antebellum years (1803–1860) – Main article: Louisiana Purchase

As a result of his setbacks in Haiti, Bonaparte gave up his dreams of American empire and sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States, which subsequently divided it into two territories: the Territory of Orleans, which became the state of Louisiana in 1812, and the District of Louisiana, which consisted of all the land not included in Orleans Territory. The Florida Parishes were annexed from the short-lived and strategically important West Florida Republic by proclamation of President James Madison in 1810.

Another result of the Haitian Revolution of 1804 was a major emigration of refugees to Louisiana, where they settled chiefly in New Orleans. The thousands of Haitian immigrants included many free people of color, whites and enslaved Africans. Some refugees had earlier gone to Cuba, and some Cuban immigrants also arrived in the major immigration of 1809. The free people of color added substantially to the Creoles of color community in New Orleans, and the immigrants enlarged the French-speaking community.

In 1811, the largest slave revolt in American history, the 1811 German Coast Uprising took place just outside of New Orleans. Between 64 and 500 slaves rose up on the German Coast forty miles outside of New Orleans, and marched to within 20 miles (32 km) of the city gates. The revolt took the entire military might of the Orleans Territory to suppress and was the greatest threat to American sovereignty in New Orleans.

State of Louisiana

Louisiana became a U.S. State on April 30, 1812. The western boundary of Louisiana with Spanish Texas remained in dispute until the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, that was formally ratified in 1821, with an area referred to as the Sabine Free State serving as a neutral buffer zone, as well as a haven for criminals. Also called “No Man’s Land,” this part of central and southwestern Louisiana was settled in part by a mixed-race people known as Redbones.

With the growth of settlement in the Midwest (formerly the Northwest Territory) and Deep South during the early decades of the 19th century, trade and shipping increased markedly in New Orleans. Produce and products moved out of the Midwest down the Mississippi for shipment overseas, and international ships docked at New Orleans with imports to send into the interior. The port was crowded with steamboats, flatboats and sailing ships, and workers speaking languages from many nations. The New Orleans was the major port for the export of cotton and sugar. The city’s population grew and the region became quite wealthy. More than the rest of the Deep South, it attracted immigrants for the many jobs in the city. The richest citizens imported fine goods of wine, furnishings and fabrics.

By 1840 New Orleans had the biggest slave market in the United States. It had become one of the wealthiest cities and the third largest city in the nation.  The ban on importation of slaves had increased demand for the internal market. During these decades after the American Revolutionary War, more than one million enslaved African Americans underwent forced migration from the Upper South to the Deep South, two thirds of them in the slave trade. Others were transported by their masters as slaveholders moved west for new lands.

With changing agriculture in the Upper South as planters shifted from tobacco to less labor-intensive mixed agriculture, planters had excess laborers. Many ended up selling slaves to traders to take to the new frontiers. Slaves were driven by traders overland from the Upper South or transported to New Orleans by ship. After sales in New Orleans, steamboats operating on the Mississippi transported slaves upstream to markets or plantation destinations at Natchez and Memphis.

Secession and the Civil War (1860–1865) – Main article: Louisiana in the American Civil War

Jemison, Edwin Francis, Pvt. 2nd Louisiana Regiment

With its plantation economy, Louisiana was a state that generated wealth from the labor of and trade in enslaved African Americans. It also had one of the largest free black populations in the United States, totaling 18,647 people in 1860. Most of the free blacks (or free people of color, as they were called in the French tradition) lived in the New Orleans region and southern part of the state. More than in other areas of the South, most of the free people of color were of mixed race. Many free blacks in New Orleans were middle class and well-educated; many were property owners. By contrast, according to the 1860 census, 331,726 people were enslaved, nearly 47% of the state’s total population of 708,002.

Construction and elaboration of the levee system was critical to the state’s ability to cultivate export crops, especially cotton and sugar cane. Enslaved Africans built the first levees under planter direction. Later levees were expanded, heightened and added to mostly by Irish immigrant laborers, whom contractors hired when doing work for the state. As the 19th century progressed, the state had an interest in ensuring levee construction. By 1860, Louisiana had built 740 miles (1,190 km) of levees on the Mississippi River and another 450 miles (720 km) of levees on its outlets. These immense earthworks were built mostly by hand. They averaged six feet in height, and up to twenty feet in some areas.

Enfranchised elite whites’ strong economic interest in maintaining the slave system contributed to Louisiana’s decision to secede from the union. It followed other Southern states in seceding after the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States. Louisiana’s secession was announced on January 26, 1861, and it became part of the Confederate States of America.

Altman, Sampson, Jr., Pvt. 29th Georgia volunteers, Co. C

The state was quickly defeated in the Civil War, a result of Union strategy to cut the Confederacy in two by seizing the Mississippi. Federal troops captured New Orleans on April 25, 1862. Because a large part of the population had Union sympathies (or compatible commercial interests), the Federal government took the unusual step of designating the areas of Louisiana under Federal control as a state within the Union, with its own elected representatives to the U.S. Congress.

Reconstruction, disenfranchisement and segregation (1865–1929) – Main article: Fifth Military District – Main article: Disfranchisement after Reconstruction era

Following the Civil War, much of the South, including Louisiana, was placed under the supervision of military governors under northern command. Louisiana was grouped with Texas in what was administered as the Fifth Military District. Under this period of Reconstruction, the slaves were freed and male former slaves were given suffrage. African-Americans began to live as citizens with some measure of equality before the law. Both freedmen and people of color who had been free before the war began to make more advances in education, family stability and jobs. At the same time there was tremendous social volatility in the aftermath of war, with many whites actively resisting defeat.

In the 1870s, whites who opposed the outcome of the war accelerated their insurgency to regain control of political power in the state. White paramilitary groups such as the White League, formed in 1874, used violence and outright assassination to turn Republicans out of office, and intimidate African-Americans, discourage them from voting, control their work, and limit movement. Among violent acts attributed to the White League in 1874 was the Coushatta Massacre, where they killed six Republican officeholders, including four family members of the local state senator, and twenty freedmen as witnesses.

Later, 5000 White Leaguers battled 3500 members of the Metropolitan Police and state militia in New Orleans after demanding the resignation of Governor William Pitt Kellogg. They hoped to replace him with the Democratic candidate of the disputed 1872 elections, McEnery. The White League briefly took over the statehouse and city hall before Federal troops arrived.  In 1876, the white Democrats regained control of Louisiana.

Through the 1880s, white Democrats began to reduce voter registration of blacks and poor whites by making registration and elections more complicated. They imposed institutionalized forms of racial discrimination.

In 1898, the white Democratic, elite-dominated legislature passed a new disenfranchising constitution, with provisions for voter registration, such as poll taxes, residency requirements and literacy tests, whose implementation was directed at reducing black voter registration. The impact was immediate and long lasting. In 1896, there were 130,334 black voters on the rolls and about the same number of white voters, in proportion to the state population, which was evenly divided.

The state population in 1900 was 47% African-American: 652,013 citizens, of whom many in New Orleans were descendants of Creoles of color, the sizeable population of blacks free before the Civil War.   By 1900, two years after the new constitution, there were only 5,320 black voters registered in the state. Because of disenfranchisement, by 1910 there were only 730 black voters (less than 0.5 percent of eligible African-American men), despite advances in education and literacy among blacks and people of color.   White Democrats had established one-party rule which they maintained in the state for decades deep into the 20th century.

The notable 19th-century Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which determined that segregation could be legal so long as it did not (purportedly) result in inequality, was the result of a lawsuit brought from Louisiana.

As a result of disenfranchisement, African-Americans in Louisiana essentially had no representation, and suffered inadequate funding for schools and services, lack of representation on juries; no representation in local, state or Federal government; lack of attention to their interests and worse in the segregated state. Nonetheless, they continued to build their own lives and institutions.

In 1915, the Supreme Court struck down the grandfather clause in its ruling in Guinn v. United States. Although the case originated in Oklahoma, Louisiana and other Southern states had used similar clauses to exempt white voters from literacy tests. State legislators then passed new requirements for potential voters to demonstrate “understanding” to official registrars. In practice, this device was effective in keeping most black voters off the rolls. By 1923, Louisiana established the all-white primary, which effectively shut out black voters from the only competitive part of elections in the one-party state.

In the early decades of the 20th century, thousands of African-Americans left Louisiana in the Great Migration north to industrial cities. The boll weevil infestation and agricultural problems had cost sharecroppers and farmers their jobs. The mechanization of agriculture had dropped the need for laborers. They sought skilled jobs in the defense industry in California, better education for their children, and living opportunities in communities where they could vote, as well as an escape from southern violence.

Opelousas, Louisiana was a stop for at least three of the Orphan Trains which were arranged by New York social services agencies to provide for resettlement of orphans out of the city from 1854–1929. It was the heart of a traditional Catholic region of FrenchSpanishAcadian, African and French West Indian heritage and traditions. Families in Louisiana took in more than 2,000 mostly Catholic orphans to live in rural farming communities. The city of Opelousas is constructing an Orphan Train Museum (second in the nation) in an old train depot located in Le Vieux Village in Opelousas. The first museum dedicated to the Orphan Train children is located in Kansas.

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