Clementine Hunter mural at the Melrose Plantation

African American Heritage Trail

Our nation, and arguably the world, wouldn’t be what it is today without the fascinating and impactful African American roots right here in Louisiana. The African American Heritage Trail includes many locations across the state that educate each and every visitor and show appreciation for those who played a role in our history and culture.

Speaking of culture… what would Louisiana’s culture be without Jazz music? Make a trip to Congo Square, an open-air market in colonial times known as “the birthplace of Jazz” where blacks—both enslaved and free—met on “free Sundays” to talk, trade, take part in sacred African rituals, and enjoy traditional songs and dance. Congo Square was the only place in America where Africans were allowed to play drums, which helped lay the foundation for the Jazz music we still know and love today.

If you’re looking to peruse in some of Louisiana’s history-packed museums, check out the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum. The inventor’s area features rare information, artifacts, patents, and biographies of the African American inventors whose ideas have changed everyday lives across the world. Learn about people like Garrett Morgan, who created the modern traffic light; Fredrick Jones, who patented the air conditioner; or Alexander Miles, who holds the patent on the elevator. Or, stop by Louisiana’s first all-black municipality – Grambling State University – and its Eddie Robinson Museum, which recognizes his career and accolades for his record-breaking number of wins in NCAA Division I football. In Robinson’s 56-year career at Grambling, he achieved 408 wins, 45 winning seasons, 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference Championships, and nine black college football national championship victories. Over 200 of his players went on to play professional football, with four of his players inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, and alumnus Doug Williams earning Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXII. 

Eddie G Robinson Museum Wall of Greats

The Eddie G. Robinson Museum in Grambling, Louisiana.

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Congo Square is known as "the birthplace of jazz."

Clementine Hunter mural in African House Melrose Plantation

A mural by Clementine Hunter at Melrose Plantation.

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Visit the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum.

In Natchitoches, plan a visit to Melrose Plantation. In 1742, Marie Thérèse Coincoin was born a slave into the household of Natchitoches’ founder Louis Juchereau de St. Denis. St. Denis later leased Marie as a housekeeper to a young French merchant named Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer. Eventually, Metoyer purchased Marie and several of their children, and gave them their freedom. In the coming years, they became the founding family of a community called Isle Brevelle, populated by “gens de couleur libre," free people of color who thrived as business people and plantation owners. In 1796, one of Marie’s sons, Louis Metoyer, built Melrose. Here, you can see the “African House,” an extremely rare example of African-influenced architecture in the United States. Melrose was later home to the famed African American folk artist Clementine Hunter, whose work is prominently featured in murals inside the African House. 

Celebrate the legacies of Louisiana legends by paying a visit the resting places of famed Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson at Providence Park Cemetery; or Ernest “Dutch” Morial, the first African American mayor of New Orleans; or the famous “Voodoo Queen” Marie Laveau at St. Louis Cemeteries No. 1 & 2.

Go back in time and soak up the history at The African American Heritage Trail’s museums, plantations, research centers, battlefields, and other historic sites. There’s no better way to pay respect to the African-American background that shaped Louisiana’s culture.