Louisiana celebrates African-American history with a heritage trail
Visit these sites along Louisiana's African American Heritage Trail.
Two places in downtown Shreveport pay tribute to the contributions of African-Americans. Here's a look at Southern University Museum of Art and the Multicultural Center of the South. To learn about many more sites dedicated to Louisiana's African American Heritage Trail, see A Story Like No Other, a website that offers many visitor resources, including an interactive map and itineraries available for free download.
Southern University Museum of Art at Shreveport
When you walk into the foyer of 610 Texas St., you have just entered the downtown campus of the Southern University-Shreveport, a branch of Southern University’s main campus in Baton Rouge. The lower level has original art and crafts by African-Americans. The upper level houses some 300 pieces of art and artifacts from Africa. Many of the pieces come from the personal collections of Dr. Leon R. Tarver II, Shreveport native and former president of the Southern University System, and Dr. William Bertrand, former vice president of research at Tulane University.
The nucleus of the museum comes from Tarver’s 17 years of travel to Africa. The collection includes ceremonial masks, statues, fabric, furniture and a variety of artifacts from Mali, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast of West African, Cameroon and the Congo. There is a pair of shackles worn by African slaves. The African-American art is from the permanent collection of the Southern University Museum of Art in Baton Rouge and features the works of such renowned artists as Howard Smith, Phoebe Beasley and John Biggers.
Multicultural Center of the South
When you think of Shreveport, you probably don’t think of cultural diversity beyond the English European and African presence. But at this museum, think also in terms of Asian, Cajun, Creole (which also include French, African and Spanish), East Indian, German, Greek, Hispanic, Irish, Jewish, Middle Eastern, Scottish and Slavic among others. This four-story structure houses over 2,000 artifacts displayed in 19 cultural exhibits.
African Americans in North Louisiana
Separated by the Red River, Shreveport and Bossier City trace their history back more than 170 years when “Shreve Town” was the stopping point for steamboats that would later transport cotton and timber up and down the Red River. This area was the hub of what was called the Red River cotton parishes. It is in this corner of northwest Louisiana where the rolling timber hills meet the Red River bottoms – 30 miles from Arkansas to the north and 10 miles from Texas to the west. In its 1830’s origins, Shreveport was also the westernmost U.S. outpost bordering what was then either Mexico or the Republic of Texas. (Texas won independence from Mexico in 1836 and became a state in 1845.)
In the formative years, either east or west, in these so-called river bottom areas that were fueled by slavery, cotton was the economic king. Later, it was oil. As was often the case in the early years of North Louisiana’s rural areas, African captives (and a few free blacks) outnumbered whites in this area. Their influence is still strong as evidenced by institutions and culture.
Other African-American cultural attractions in Shreveport:
Antioch Baptist Church
Founded in 1866, this is the oldest black Baptist church in Shreveport. This Romanesque Revival-style is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by noted African-American architect Nathaniel Skyes Allen. Open to public for group appointments only.
Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter statue
The work of Shreveport artist Jesse Pitts, this bronze life-size statue of the legendary blues singer stands pointing toward Ledbetter Heights, a neighborhood named after him.
Little Union Baptist Church
This church was the frequent meeting place for civil rights workers during the 1960. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke here several times. Open to public by appointment only.
Stage of Stars Museum and Municipal Auditorium
A venue for local and touring artists; this is where Elvis Presley got his start on the Louisiana Hayride. Noted African-American singers who have performed here include: James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Smokey Robinson, B.B. King and others. Open to the public Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4:30 P.M. Group rate $2.
Old Central Colored High School
This two-story structure was built in 1917. For blacks, it was Caddo Parish’s first high school and the first brick school for black students. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.