kids encyclopedia robot

History of Louisiana facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
History of Louisiana
  • By year
  • Pre-statehood
  • U.S. Civil War
  • Post-Civil War
  • Topics: Cities - Politics
Flag of Louisiana.svg Louisiana portal

The territory of Louisiana roughly 10,000 years ago; first traces of permanent settlement, ushering in the Archaic period, appear at about 5,500 years ago (Mound Builders).

The area formed part of the Eastern Agricultural Complex. The Marksville culture emerges about 2,000 years ago out of the earlier Tchefuncte culture. It is considered ancestral to the Natchez and Taensa peoples. About 1,000 years ago, the Mississippian culture emerged from the Woodland period. The emergence of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex coincides with the adoption of maize agriculture and chiefdom-level complex social organization beginning in c. 1200 CE. The Mississippian culture mostly disappeared before the 16th century, with the exception of some Natchez communities that maintained Mississippian cultural practices into the 18th century.

European influence begins in the 16th century, and La Louisiane (named for Louis XIV of France) became a colony of the Kingdom of France in 1682 and passed to Spain in 1763. It became part of the United States following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Antebellum Louisiana was a leading slave state; in 1860, 47% of the population was enslaved. Louisiana seceded from the Union (American Civil War) on 26 January 1861. New Orleans, the largest city in the entire South and strategically important as a port city, was taken by Federal troops on 25 April 1862. During the Reconstruction Era, Louisiana was part of the Fifth Military District. In 1898, the white Democratic, planter-dominated legislature passed a new disfranchising constitution, whose effect was immediate and long lasting. The disfranchisement of African Americans did not end until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.


Lithic stage

The Dalton Tradition is a Late Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic projectile point tradition, appearing in much of Southeast North America around 8500–7900 BC.

Archaic period

Watson Brake Aerial Illustration HRoe 2014
Watson Brake, the oldest mound complex in North America

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 is an arrangement of human-made mounds located in the floodplain of the Ouachita River near Monroe in northern Louisiana. 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

Fourche Maline and Mill Creek cultures map HRoe 2010
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.

Troyville and Baytown cultures map HRoe 2011
Map showing the geographic extent of the Baytown, Coastal Troyville and Troyville cultures

The Middle Woodland period started 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 non-local 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 began during this period, although it is not clear whether it was internally developed or borrowed from the Hopewell. The dead were treated in increasingly elaborate ways, as the first burial mounds are built at this time. Political power begins to be consolidated; the first platform mounds and ritual centers were constructed as part of the development of a hereditary political and religious leadership.

Coles Creek culture map HRoe 2010
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 the Baytown 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 the number of 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 present-day 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

Plaquemine culture map HRoe 2010
A map showing the geographical extent of the Plaquemine cultural period and some of its major sites.
Caddoan Mississippian culture map HRoe 2010
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 Mounds, Transylvania Mounds, and Scott Place Mounds in Louisiana and the Anna, Emerald, 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

The following groups are known to have inhabited the state's territory when the Europeans began colonization:

  • The Choctaw nation (Muskogean):
    • The Bayougoula, 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 the Quinipissa-Mougoulacha in St. Tammany parish.
    • The Houma in the 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 Acolapissa in St. Tammany parish. They were allied with the Tangipahoa in Tangipahoa parish.
  • The Natchez nation:
      • The Avoyel, in parts of Avoyelles and Concordia parishes along the Mississippi River.
      • The Taensa, in northeastern Louisiana particularly Tensas parish.
  • The Caddo Confederacy:
    • The Adai in Natchitoches parish
    • The Natchitoches confederacy consisting of the Natchitoches in Natchitoches parish
    • The Yatasi and Nakasa in the Caddo and Bossier parishes,
    • The Doustioni in Natchitoches parish, and Ouachita in the Caldwell parish.
  • 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 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 Tunica in northeastern parishes of Tensas, Madison, East Carroll and West Carroll, and the related Koroa in East Carroll parish.

Many current place names in the state, including Atchafalaya, Natchitouches (now spelled Natchitoches), Caddo, Houma, 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. Neither of the explorations made any claims to the territory for Spain.

French exploration and colonization (1682–1763)

European interest in Louisiana was dormant until the late 17th century, when French expeditions, which had imperial, 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 through Canada. It was also establishing settlements in Canada, from the Maritimes westward along the St. Lawrence River and into the region surrounding the Great Lakes.

Pierre Le Moyne Iberville
Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville

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

The French colony of Louisiana originally claimed all the land on both sides of the Mississippi River and north to French territory in Canada around the Great Lakes. A royal ordinance of 1722—following the transfer of the Illinois Country's governance from Canada to Louisiana—may have featured the broadest definition of the region: all land claimed by France south of the Great Lakes between the Rocky Mountains and the Alleghenies

A generation later, trade conflicts between Canada and Louisiana led to a more defined boundary between the French colonies; in 1745, Louisiana governor general Vaudreuil set the northern and eastern bounds of his domain as the Wabash valley up to the mouth of the Vermilion River (near present-day Danville, Illinois); from there, northwest to le Rocher on the Illinois River, and from there west to the mouth of the Rock River (at present day Rock Island, Illinois). Thus, Vincennes and Peoria were the limit of Louisiana'a reach; the outposts at Ouiatenon (on the upper Wabash near present-day Lafayette, Indiana), Chicago, Fort Miamis (near present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana) and Prairie du Chien operated as dependencies of Canada.

This boundary between Canada and Louisiana remained in effect until the Treaty of Paris in 1763, after which France surrendered its remaining territory east of the Mississippi—except for New Orleans—to Great Britain. (Although British forces had occupied the "Canadian" posts in the Illinois and Wabash countries in 1761, they did not occupy Vincennes or the Mississippi River settlements at Cahokia and Kaskaskia until 1764, after the ratification of the peace treaty.) As part of a general report on conditions in the newly conquered lands, Gen. Thomas Gage, then commandant at Montreal, explained in 1762 that, although the boundary between Louisiana and Canada wasn't exact, it was understood the upper Mississippi above the mouth of the Illinois was in Canadian trading territory. The French established an important and lucrative fur trade in the northern areas, which became increasingly important. It competed with the Dutch, and later English, across the northern tier for fur trade with the Native Americans. The fur trade also helped cement alliances between Europeans and Native American tribes.

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 via the Old San Antonio Road (sometimes called El Camino Real, or Kings Highway)—which ended at Nachitoches—and to deter Spanish advances into Louisiana. The settlement soon became a flourishing river port and crossroads. Sugar cane plantations were developed first. In the nineteenth century, cotton plantations were developed along the river. Over time, planters developed large plantations but also lived in 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, in modern-day Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.

Initially Mobile, and (briefly) Biloxi served 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. The Illinois Country exported its grain surpluses down the Mississippi to New Orleans, which climate could not support their cultivation. The lower country of Louisiana (modern-day Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana) depended on the Illinois French for survival through much of the eighteenth century.

European 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 French ships arrived in New Orleans, the Duc du Maine and the Aurore, carrying the first African slaves to Louisiana for labor. From 1718 to 1750, traders transported thousands of captive Africans to Louisiana from the Senegambian coast, the west African region of the interior of modern Benin, and from the coast of modern Democratic Republic of the Congo-Angola border. French shipping records contained much more details about slaves' origins than did those in the English colonies. Researchers have found that approximately 2000 persons originated from the upper West African slave ports from Saint-Louis, Senegal to Cap Appolonia (present-day Ébrié Lagoon, Côte d'Ivoire) several hundred kilometers to the south; an additional 2000 were exported from the port of Whydah (modern Ouidah, Benin); and roughly 300 departed from Cabinda.

Gwendolyn Midlo-Hall has argued 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 assertion is not universally accepted. This region between the Senegal and Gambia rivers had peoples who were closely related through history: three of the principal languages, Sereer, Wolof and Pulaar were related, and Malinke, spoken by the Mande people to the east, was "mutually intelligible" with them. Midlo-Hall says that this concentration of peoples from one region of Africa strongly shaped Louisiana Creole culture.

Peter Caron says that the geographic and perhaps linguistic connection among many African captives did not necessarily imply developing a common culture in Louisiana. They likely differed in religions. Some slaves from Senegambia were Muslims while most followed their traditional spiritual practices. Many were likely captives taken in the Islamic jihads that engulfed the region from Futa Djallon to Futa Toro and Futa Bundu (modern Upper Niger River) in the early 18th century. The inland territories of the African continent from which slaves were captured, were enormous. Commentators may have attributed more similarities to slaves taken from among these areas than the Africans recognized among themselves at the time.

Spanish interregnum (1763–1803)

See also: History of New Orleans#Retrocession to France and Louisiana Purchase

France was forced to cede most of its territory east of the Mississippi to the Kingdom of Great Britain after its defeat in the Seven Years' War. The area around New Orleans and the parishes around Lake Pontchartrain, along with the rest of Louisiana, became a possession of Spain after the Seven Years' War by the Treaty of Paris of 1763.

Spanish rule did not affect the pace of francophone immigration to the territory, which increased due to the English expulsion of the Acadians from Canada. Several thousand French-speaking refugees from Acadia (now Nova Scotia, Canada) migrated to Louisiana after expulsion by the newly ascendant British, after conflicts in Canada. The first group of around 200 arrived in 1765, led by Joseph Broussard (called "Beausoleil"). They settled chiefly in the southwestern Louisiana region now called Acadiana. The Acadian refugees were welcomed by the Spanish as additions of Catholic population. Their descendants came to be called Cajuns.

Many Spanish-speaking immigrants arrived such as the Canary Islanders of Spain, which are known as the Isleños and Andalusians from the south of Spain called Malagueños. The Isleños and Malagueños immigrated to Louisiana between 1778 and 1783. The Isleños settled in southeast Louisiana mainly in St. Bernard Parish, just outside of New Orleans, as well as near the area just below Baton Rouge. The Malagueños settled mainly around New Iberia, but some spread to other parts of southern Louisiana.

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 of the late eighteenth century 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, the slaves became the majority of the population during these years. Records during Spanish rule were not as well documented as with the French slave trade, making it difficult to trace African origins. The volume of slaves imported from Africa 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 Saint-Domingue after its revolution ended in failure, with the loss of two-thirds of the more than 20,000 troops sent to the island to suppress the revolution. After French withdrawal in 1803, Haiti declared its independence in 1804 as the second republic in the Western Hemisphere.

Incorporation into the United States and antebellum years (1803–1860)

As a result of his setbacks, Napoleon gave up his dreams of American empire and sold Louisiana (New France) to the United States. The U.S. divided the land into two territories: the Territory of Orleans, which became the state of Louisiana in 1812, and the District of Louisiana, which consisted of the vast lands not included in the Orleans Territory, extending west of the Mississippi River north to Canada. The Florida Parishes were annexed from the short-lived and strategically important Republic of West Florida, by proclamation of President James Madison in 1810.

The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) resulted in 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 came from Cuba in another wave of immigration in 1809. The free people of color added substantially to the Creoles of color community in New Orleans and white Haitian immigrants added substantially to the French Creole community of New Orleans. These immigrants enlarged the French-speaking community.

In 1811, the largest slave revolt in American history, the German Coast Uprising, took place in the Orleans Territory. Between 64 and 500 slaves rose up on the "German Coast," forty miles upriver of New Orleans, and marched to within 20 miles (32 km) of the city gates. All of the limited number of U.S. troops were gathered to suppress the revolt, as well as citizen militias.

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, which was formally ratified in 1821, The 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 River 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. 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, which contributed greatly to the economy. 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 in the domestic 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 slaveholders as they 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 sold slaves to traders to take to the Deep South. Slaves were driven by traders overland from the Upper South or transported to New Orleans and other coastal markets by ship in the coastwise slave trade. 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)

With its plantation economy, Louisiana was a state that generated wealth from the labor of and trade in enslaved Africans. 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 gens du couleur libre in New Orleans were middle class and 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 its commodity crops of 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 in 1861. 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.

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)

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 Era, the slaves were freed and males 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. White insurgents mobilized to enforce white supremacy, first in Ku Klux Klan chapters.

In the 1870s, whites accelerated their insurgency to regain control of political power in the state. The Red River area, where new parishes had been created by the Reconstruction legislature, was an area of conflict. On Easter Sunday 1873, an estimated 85 to more than 100 blacks were killed in the Colfax massacre, as white militias had gathered to challenge Republican officeholders after the disputed gubernatorial election of 1872.

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 and suppress black voting, control their work, and limit geographic movement in an effort to control labor. 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, 5,000 White Leaguers battled 3,500 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, John 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, planter-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 effect 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 sizable population of blacks free before the Civil War. By 1900, two years after the new constitution, only 5,320 black voters were 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 until the 1965 Voting Rights Act provided federal enforcement of the constitutional right to vote.

In the notable 19th-century U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Court ruled that "separate but equal" facilities were constitutional. The lawsuit, based on restricted seating in interstate passenger trains, was brought from Louisiana. Separation through segregation, however, resulted everywhere in lesser services for blacks.

As a result of disfranchisement, African Americans in Louisiana essentially had no representation; as they could not vote, they could not participate in juries or in local, state or federal offices. As a result, they suffered inadequate funding for schools and services, and lack of attention to their interests and worse in the segregated state. 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 quickly passed new requirements for potential voters to demonstrate "understanding," or reading comprehension, to official registrars. Administered by whites, this practice also was used to keep 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.

Orphan trains

During some of this period, Louisiana accepted Catholic orphans in an urban resettlement program organized in New York City. Opelousas was a destination for at least three of the Orphan Trains which carried orphan children out of New York from 1854–1929. It was the heart of a traditional Catholic region of French, Spanish, Acadian, 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.

The Great Depression and World War II (1929–1940s)

During some of the Great Depression, Louisiana was led by Governor Huey Long. He was elected to office on populist appeal. Though popular for his public works projects, which provided thousands of jobs to people in need, and for his programs in education and increased suffrage for poor whites, Long was criticized for his allegedly demogogic and autocratic style. He extended patronage control through every branch of Louisiana's state government. Especially controversial were his plans for wealth redistribution in the state. Long's rule ended abruptly with his assassination in the state capitol in 1935.

Mobilization for World War II created jobs in the state. Thousands of other workers, black and white alike, migrated to California for better jobs in its burgeoning defense industry. most African Americans left the state in the Second Great Migration, from the 1940s through the 1960s. The mechanization of agriculture in the 1930s had sharply cut 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.

Although Long removed the poll tax associated with voting, the all-white primaries were maintained through 1944, until the Supreme Court struck them down in Smith v. Allwright. Through 1948 black people in Louisiana continued to be essentially disfranchised, with only 1% of those eligible managing to vote. Schools and public facilities continued to be segregated.

The battle for civil rights (1950–1970)

State legislators created other ways to suppress black voting, but from 1948 to 1952, it crept up to 5% of those eligible. Civil rights organizations in New Orleans and southern parishes, where there had been a long tradition of free people of color before the Civil War, worked hard to register black voters.

In the 1950s the state created new requirements for a citizenship test for voter registration. Despite opposition by the States' Rights Party, downstate black voters began to increase their rate of registration, which also reflected the growth of their middle classes. Gradually black voter registration and turnout increased to 20% and more, but it was still only 32% by 1964, when the first civil rights legislation of the era was passed. The percentage of black voters ranged widely in the state during these years, from 93.8% in Evangeline Parish to only 1.7% in Tensas Parish, for instance.

Patterns of Jim Crow segregation against African Americans still ruled in Louisiana in the 1960s. Because of the Great Migration of blacks to the north and west, and growth of other groups in the state, by 1960 the proportion of African Americans in Louisiana had dropped to 32%. The 1,039,207 black citizens were adversely affected by segregation and efforts at disfranchisement. African Americans continued to suffer disproportionate discriminatory application of the state's voter registration rules. Because of better opportunities elsewhere, from 1965 to 1970, blacks continued to migrate from Louisiana, for a net loss of more than 37,000 people. During the latter period, some people began to migrate to cities of the New South for opportunities.

The disfranchisement of African Americans did not end until their leadership and activism throughout the South during the Civil Rights Movement gained national attention and Congressional action. This led to securing passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, with President Lyndon Johnson's leadership as well. By 1968 almost 59% of eligible-age African Americans had registered to vote in Louisiana. Contemporary rates for African-American voter registration and turnout in the state are above 70%, demonstrating the value they give it, a higher rate of participation than for African-American voters outside the South.

Katrina and its aftermath (2005–present)

See also: Reconstruction of New Orleans

In August 2005, New Orleans and many other low-lying parts of the state along the Gulf of Mexico were hit by the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina. It caused widespread damage due to breaching of levees and large-scale flooding of more than 80% of the city. Officials issued warnings to evacuate the city and nearby areas, but tens of thousands of people, mostly African Americans, had stayed behind, some stranded, and suffered through the damage of the widespread flood waters.

Cut off in many cases from healthy food, medicine or water, or assembled in public spaces without functioning emergency services, more than 1500 people in New Orleans died in the aftermath. Government at all levels had failed to prepare adequately despite severe hurricane warnings, and emergency responses were slow. The state faced a humanitarian crisis stemming from conditions in many locations and the large tide of evacuating citizens, especially the city of New Orleans. Today, Louisiana is developing in several new industries including film and technology. New Orleans has recently gained the title of the fastest growing city in the United States and the Hollywood of the South. Louisiana has also been declared one of the happiest state's due to the many festivals and customs of her citizens.

kids search engine
History of Louisiana Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.