Located in St. Martinville’s historic district, this museum tells the story of the arrival of Africans to Louisiana and the development of the area’s Free People of Color community. Exhibits interpret the struggles, adaptations, and contributions of African Americans with specific emphasis on the Attakapas District of Southwest Louisiana during the 18th and 19th centuries.
This museum is highly recommended and features artifacts, electronic exhibits, text panels, and a beautiful mural. Created by Dennis Paul Williams, the mural tells the story of the trades and accomplishments of St. Martinville’s Free People of Color. The museum also holds lectures and sponsors medical aid missions to Senegal’s Gorée Island, a sister city of St. Martinville.
The Attakapas District and Bayou Teche
Early St. Martinville was known as “The Attakapas District” after the nomadic Native American tribe that inhabited at the time of the first European contacts. The district’s earliest known European and African settlers began to establish farms and ranches along Bayou Teche in the 1750s. These early eighteenth-century immigrants were drawn primarily from West Africa’s Senegambian Basin.
Running through Louisiana’s Acadian heartland, Bayou Teche attracted not only the well-known French Canadian exiles, but also a wide array of other French-speaking immigrants, including creolized African Americans brought to the region to work vast sugar plantations. Many remained enslaved, but a number gained their freedom through various ways. As in New Orleans, these Free People of Color occupied a middle ground between free and slave, often dominating the building or service trades. After the Civil War, the communities were unified through strong social organizations and their Catholic faith. The museum traces the rich history of the area’s Free People of Color from the 1750s onward.