Looking for Black history at former plantation homes and plantations is ironic, especially for some African Americans. This has been a subject of debate ever since the first Southern plantation homes tours started in the 1930s, glorifying the Ante Bellum Southern culture built on slave labor. These tours too often ignored the African captives’ presence, contributions and treatment. Now, in many plantation venues, Black stories are told side-by-side with white stories, and these places warrant a visit, because as Americans, we need to understand our history in the real context of its making.
As I travel toward Mississippi, I view the terrain and recall the history of the area from the lens of an African American who grew up nearby. I was born in Monroe, lived in Arcadia and call Grambling my hometown.
Looking outside my window, I compare the rhythms of the music on the radio with the rhythms of the machine-made rows of newly planted crops of soybean and cotton – miles and acres of cotton along this I-20 stretch. I can’t help but think that these fields, first tended by the hands of African captives, helped create the culture that I explore on this leg of the heritage trail.
As you get closer to the Mississippi River, you can tell you are entering the delta area. The music and the terrain change, and I always surf the local radio stations on both sides of the Mississippi River – the rhythm and blues, the gospel music, religious talk and church news will tell you that you’re in the Deep South.
U.S. Interstate 20 is the main drag on this North Louisiana African American Heritage Trail between the Texas and Mississippi borders. Culturally, this North Louisiana trail is bounded east and west by cotton-rich river bottom plantation cultures – the origins of a lot of good music. The Red River borders on the west and the Mississippi River on the east. In between the two are piney rolling hills, small farms and plenty of timber.
When I grew up on this stretch in the 1950s and 1960s, the towns and cities in this area were bastions of racial segregation where Blacks were denied the right to vote. There were separate water fountains and waiting rooms in public places. Because of lawsuits and protests, things are different now. The official color line is gone. African Americans are the majority in the larger municipalities. Even in the parishes where blacks are not in the majority, through the concept of single-member district representation, they now wield considerable political influence.
I could have started this trip in Grambling where I live, the middle stop on this heritage tour, but our journey as a people in the United States did not start in places like this. It started in places like Tallulah in the Mississippi Delta where agriculture shaped the lives of generations.
Please follow me on the trail by clicking these links:
Northeast Louisiana Delta African-American Museum
Grambling State University/The Eddie G. Robinson Museum