Looking for Clementine Hunter’s Louisiana – As Seen on NYTimes.com

July 3rd, 2013

Some three hours’ drive from Baton Rouge, in the northwest corner of Louisiana, lies the curving Cane River, and along it, fields planted with cotton, soy, corn and pecans, worked today by machinery. But when Clementine Hunter, arguably the state’s most beloved artist, was born on Hidden Hill Plantation in the 1880s, slavery was an institution of living memory, and most African-Americans, including Clementine and her family, worked as field hands. In the artist’s case, she picked cotton on Hidden Hill (which has been renamed Little Eva Plantation) and then, when her family moved, at Melrose Plantation. It was there that, in her 50s, Clementine Hunter picked up a paintbrush and embarked on what became a remarkable career.

I’d long been enthralled by Hunter’s work, with its exuberance, astonishing palette and immediacy. While her work now hangs coast-to-coast, including in museums, galleries and private collections in New York, Dallas and Chicago, a good bit of it landed in her home state. But despite having lived in Baton Rouge for 13 years, I’d never actually visited the landscape that inspired it. Earlier this year, after having seen “Zinnias: the Life of Clementine Hunter,” a new opera presented by Robert Wilson, at Montclair State University in New Jersey, where I live now, I decided the time had come.

Read the full story: Travel.NYTimes.com

Dog Tag Of African American WWII Vet Travels Home to Louisiana

April 2nd, 2013

A tiny piece of metal buried for almost 70 years near the beaches of Normandy found its way to New Orleans on Veterans Day as a series of coincidental, if not providential, events culminated at the National World War II Museum.

The story began in July 2012 as my office prepared for a ten day economic development and tourism mission to Belgium and France. Included in our plans was a visit to Caen, the site of the Memorial de Caen Museum, as well as a day at the American Cemetery where 9,386 American soldiers are buried.

Simultaneously, a young Frenchman named Laurent Meslier was searching for hidden treasures with his metal detector on a farm not far from Omaha Beach. He discovered a dog tag, beneath six inches or so of dirt, belonging to an American soldier named John Mack from Centreville, Louisiana. Instead of keeping it, discarding it or putting it up for sale on
E-Bay, Monsieur Meslier decided that it should be safeguarded for posterity. He went online and located a website for the Council for Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL). Representatives of CODOFIL were set to join our delegation in Belgium and France where a series of Accords were to be signed, renewing longstanding education and economic ties with Louisiana. Joseph Dunn, the organization’s executive director, immediately contacted Cathy Berry, my chief of staff, who embarked on an arduous search spanning two continents to delve into John Mack’s role in the war and to determine the whereabouts of John Mack or his family.

Drafted into the Army in 1942, John Mack was a native of St. Mary Parish who worked on Moriah Plantation for W. Prescott Foster, the uncle of former Louisiana Governor Mike Foster. Upon entering the service, he was trained as a truck driver and was part of the invasion force that descended upon France after the initial landing on D-Day. He was a member of the Army Motor Transport Service that was code-named the Red Ball Express. The service was established in August 1944 and consisted of trucks that carried supplies following the invasion as troops advanced into Europe. The Red Ball Express was so named because the trucks were marked with a red disk. It was predominantly (and almost exclusively) comprised of African American soldiers who endured hazardous driving conditions but managed to deliver more than 500,000 tons of ammunition, food, essentials and sometimes wounded or dead soldiers from St. Lo to Paris. This was the largest logistical operation ever attempted and, according to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, established the life line for American troops during this critical phase in the European Theater. Napoleon once observed that “an Army travels on its stomach” and a great American General noted that “good logistics alone can’t win a war but bad logistics alone can lose it.” John Mack and his colleagues from the Red Ball Express provided the good logistics that assisted in winning the war.

After being honorably discharged, John Mack returned to St. Mary Parish and worked for Governor Mike Foster, then a young sharecropping farmer. Governor Foster remembers John as a hard worker who seldom talked about his wartime experiences but often wore military fatigues to work. He died in 1975 but his surviving relatives eventually were located. The initial contact was John’s great nephew, Morris Mack, whose wife Janet still works for a member of the Foster family. Three of John’s daughters, Brenda Mack, Barbara Mack and Cathy Mack, as well as another daughter, Sandra Mack who lives out of state, soon were identified.

On October 20, 2012, Laurent Meslier presented the dog tag to me at a ceremony at Memorial de Caen. It was returned to America for enshrinement in the National World War II Museum.

Shortly after the story became public, we were contacted by Vanessa Pourciau, who wanted to introduce us to her father, Russell Sorapuru, one of the relatively few surviving members of the Red Ball Express. Adding an interesting twist to this story, Russell Sorapuru, prior to the war, worked for Andrew Jackson Higgins at Higgins Industries, which manufactured the landing crafts that enabled our soldiers to storm the beaches of Normandy. General Eisenhower called Higgins “the man who won the war for us.”

On Veterans Day, the Louisiana Bicentennial Commission sponsored perhaps the largest military parade in Louisiana’s 200-year history. Its chairman is Lt. General Russel L. Honoré (Ret.) who gained national fame after being designated commander of the Joint Task Force Katrina and who told a reporter not to get “stuck on stupid” when questioned about the federal government’s response to the storm. The parade featured the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, which has played at every presidential inauguration since 1961, as well as military bands from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. The parade was inspired by a similar parade held in New Orleans on the Centennial of Statehood in 1912. John Mack’s dog tag was carried from the reviewing stand at Jackson Square to the National World War II Museum by George Jones, the President of the Buffalo Soldier Association.

The story of the Buffalo Soldiers adds yet another interesting wrinkle to this saga. Shortly after the Civil War, legislation was adopted to create six African American Army units, whose members ultimately became known as the Buffalo Soldiers. One of these units was the 9th Regiment of the U.S. Calvary established in September 1866 in what was then a suburb of New Orleans known as Greenville, in the area now known as Audubon Park. The regiment served with distinction during the Indian and Spanish-American Wars and during the westward expansion of America. The Buffalo Soldiers were so named by the Plains Indians because of the color of their skin, the texture of their hair and their fierce fighting ability. They were led in the Spanish-American War by General John J. Pershing, resulting in the General being given his nickname, “Black Jack.” The Buffalo Soldiers are a proud, but little-known chapter in American military history. Mr. Jones symbolically represented all black soldiers in carrying John Mack’s dog tag for placement in the National World War II Museum. With tears in his eyes, he presented the dog tag to Dr. Nick Mueller, the President of the museum.

Adding still another ironic twist to this beautiful and patriotic New Orleans day was the presence of Helen Patton, the granddaughter of General George S. Patton, who spent time in Louisiana inspecting the wartime training of millions of American soldiers at Fort Polk near the Kisatchie Forest which provided a fitting landscape to prepare for the European Theater.

And so, in the presence of General Patton’s granddaughter; four generations of Mack family members; one of John Mack’s fellow soldiers in the Red Ball Express; the President of the Buffalo Soldiers Association and General Honoré, who never would have reached his rank during the periods of segregation that preceded his service, the dog tag of a heretofore unrecognized African-American soldier buried for decades near the bloody beaches of Normandy reached its final resting place at the National World War II Museum. That tiny piece of metal came home on a day when Louisiana commemorated its bicentennial and saluted its veterans, including some not always remembered as part of the greatest generation.

Jay Dardenne

State adds WBR Museum to African-American Heritage Trail – As seen on TheAdvocate.com

October 29th, 2012

The West Baton Rouge Museum is now part of the Louisiana Office of Tourism’s African-American Heritage Trail.

A regional history museum, West Baton Rouge Museum offers exhibits, tours and educational programs on a six-acre campus. The museum’s focus is on the African-American historical experience in South Louisiana. The campus includes six historical sugar plantation structures from West Baton Rouge Parish that interpret key periods in African-American history, and historic structures include a slave cabin dwelling, circa 1850, a Reconstruction Era freedman’s family cabin, circa 1870, and a field worker’s cabin furnished to the 1960s civil rights era from Allendale Plantation. The tour of the building exhibits engages visitors in learning about what plantation home life was like during the slavery era, Jim Crow era and during the rise of the civil rights movement in south Louisiana.

The exhibits in the main building at the museum provide visitors with opportunities to learn and commemorate 300 years of struggle, growth and achievement that unfolded in south Louisiana. The museum annually commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the museum is open on that holiday. The museum annually marks Black History month with a series of documentaries, films, and lectures in January and February.

Read the full story: on TheAdvocate.com

The Real City That Never Sleeps – As seen on TheRoot.com

September 9th, 2010

Like second lines, Mardi Gras Indians are a neighborhood tradition — put together by community members for the benefit of others in that community. People spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours, all to engage in a tradition with their neighbors and whoever else might come by. If you come to visit during Mardi Gras or the Catholic holiday St Joseph’s Day, you can find the Indians parading through their neighborhoods.

If you want to celebrate civil rights history, New Orleans offers a lot to choose from. The largest uprising of enslaved people in the U.S. happened in 1811 just outside the city limits. After the Civil War, Louisiana had the first African-American governor in U.S. history, P.B.S. Pinchback, who served for a mere four weeks in office. In 1892 a black New Orleanian named Homer Plessy participated in a direct action that brought the first (unsuccessful) legal challenge to the doctrine of “separate but equal” — the challenge that became the Supreme Court case ofPlessy v. Ferguson.

In 1970 the local chapter of the Black Panther Party had a standoff with the police in the Desire housing development, and hundreds of residents came out and forced the police to retreat. You can connect with some aspects of this history through Louisiana’s African American Heritage Trail, which even has its own iPhone app.

In short, New Orleans is a city to visit whether you want to celebrate a history of civil rights struggles or dance all night to live music. A city of stunning architecture, music and food unlike anywhere else in the world. A place you may never want to leave.

And when you do leave, note that our airport is named Louis Armstrong International Airport.
Who is your city’s airport named after? 

Read the full story: TheRoot.com

There’s an app for that

July 22nd, 2010

Louisiana iPhone app

July 22, 2010

BATON ROUGEThe Louisiana Office of Tourism recently launched a new iPhone app for Louisiana’s African American Heritage Trail at the ESSENCE Music Festival in New Orleans. This is the first app of its kind for tourism in Louisiana, and visitors attending the festival were the first to experience its features.

“The festival was a perfect backdrop to launch the app, and the feedback from visitors was very positive,” said Pam Breaux, secretary of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. “We developed this app to help guide visitors to trail sites as they travel throughout the state.”

The app, titled LikeNoOther, has a number of features that visitors can enjoy, including directions to trail sites, GPS, maps, photos, and more. It also includes an original song and video from Grammy Award-winning musician Chris Thomas King and audio vignettes narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr.

“It is great that we are able to utilize new technology to bring Louisiana history to life,” said Jim Hutchinson, assistant secretary of the Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Visitors can download the app for free to their iPhone, iPad or iPod a number of ways, including from the App Store, iTunes or at the trail’s website, AStoryLikeNoOther.com/iphone.

African American Heritage Trail
A project of the Louisiana Office of Tourism, the African American Heritage Trail takes visitors to museums, heritage sites, institutions and cultural attractions in all corners of Louisiana. The trail was launched in February 2008 with 26 member sites and expanded to 33 sites in 2010.

Images for media

Tourism HOT SPOT – As seen on TheNewsStar.com

May 20th, 2010

MONROE, Louisiana — The Northeast Louisiana Delta African-American Heritage Museum is the only stop in Ouachita Parish on Louisiana’s African-American Heritage Trail.

The trail carves out a path from northern to southern Louisiana, highlighting sites of cultural and historical importance to the experience of African-Americans in the state.

Monroe’s museum is housed in a former women’s hat store on Plum Street and is a small, six-room attraction. But director Lorraine Slacks is hopeful that construction will get under way in July on a new $3 million facility within Chennault Park.

“We’ve had some challenges, but we’ve been able to meet them and we’re ready to go out for bid again,” Slacks said.

The museum’s new building will hold an expanded collection, including interactive exhibits, art shows, space for traveling displays, a classroom and a cafe serving authentic American and African-American cuisine.

“The museum will be much improved so we can serve the community and the tri-state area,” Slacks said. “People come from across the United States to do research here, and we will have an expanded research facility.”

Current exhibits that impress museum visitors are those that feature the African-American pioneers who helped to settle Monroe and the displays that show the affect African-Americans had on the community at large, she said.

“We try to dispel myths about African-American heritage and African-American customs,” Slacks said. “We do as much as we can to have people go away with better understanding of the importance of assimilation, brotherhood and community.

“The museum is not just for African-Americans. It’s of economic importance to the community, and we invite everybody to come be part of the northeastern Louisiana African-American experience.”

CREDIT: TheNewsStar.com

TRAIL SITE: Northeast Louisiana Delta African American Heritage Museum

Trail Stories – Lovejones

April 5th, 2010

The lovejones began moments after I left historic Melrose Plantation in the Cane River District in northwest Louisiana. It took root as I made my way along the various sites,  from Port Hudson Battlefield in Jackson and St. Augustine’s Church in Natchez through to the French Market in New Orleans,  all part of the seminal Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.

My enchantment had begun years earlier in New Orleans. With its unique mosaic of culture, cuisine and history, New Orleans has long been a beacon for artists and curious travellers. But the Trail is so much more. Encompassing south and central Louisiana and ending in the north, the trail consists of 33 sites.

It includes the Museum of Southern University in Baton Rouge; Evergreen Plantation in Wallace parish; St. Augustine’s Church in Natchez, the first Catholic Church financed and built by blacks for blacks and Mahalia Jackson’s Grave Site in Metarie and a host of other historic locations.

The trail delineates the profound influence African Americans have had on the history and heritage of Louisiana and our country.

Contributed by Denise Campbell, Black Enterprise and TheRoot.com

Louisiana’s African-American Heritage Trail adds seven sites, two in N.O. area – As seen on NOLA.com

February 2nd, 2010

The state office of tourism has added seven sites to Louisiana’s African-American Heritage Trail and launched an interactive Web site to help visitors learn more about places of historical significance to the state’s African American community.

The addition expands on a 2008 effort linking 26 sites across Louisiana through promotional material from the Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism, under the umbrella of the Heritage Trail. The new sites include two in the metro area: Fort Pike State Historic Site in New Orleans and Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville.

Fort Pike served as a training ground for the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. Fontainbleau State Park is the original location of the Fontainebleau plantation and sugar mill. Exhibits focus on African Americans who worked at the mill.

Read the full story: NOLA.com

Welcome to the next chapter.

February 2nd, 2010

Louisiana is marking the second anniversary of our African American Heritage Trail with its first expansion plus this new website, AStoryLikeNoOther.com. The news was announced today at St. Augustine Church in New Orleans, one of the original 26 trail sites and the spiritual anchor of the Tremé neighborhood.

If you’re not familiar with it, Tremé is America’s oldest African American neighborhood. It is the place where jazz was born. And it is home to four sites along the trail. Today’s announcement coincides not only with the start of Black History Month but with the beginning of the neighborhood’s bicentennial commemoration. Happy birthday, Tremé!

The new trail sites are. . .

The addition of seven new trail sites will take you to even more parts of our state, enriching the story of Louisiana’s black heritage along the way. They also add to the mix some of the incredible cultural assets of Louisiana’s State Parks.

And there’s one more site. This one.

Today, we also launched the site you’re on right now: AStoryLikeNoOther.com. Think of it as your first stop on the journey. Before you set out, there are few things you won’t want to miss:

  • Watch the opening video featuring Grammy Award winner Chris Thomas King (guitar and vocals) with music arranged by New Orleans composer Jay Weigel.
  • Explore all the trail sites using the interactive map and image gallery.
  • Hear some surprising stories, narrated by Academy Award winner Louis Gossett, Jr. These can be found on many of the site pages linked from the Explore map.
  • Download free itineraries to follow the trail one region at a time.
  • Sign up to get the iPhone app that’s in development. We will let you know when it’s ready.
  • Keep up with what’s happening by subscribing to the blog, fanning the trail on Facebook, or following it on Twitter.

So welcome to the next chapter. I’m glad you’re here. It’s going to be a great journey!

On The Trail

January 13th, 2010

Welcome to our blog about what’s happening on (and off) Louisiana’s African American Heritage Trail. Visit often or subscribe now for the latest news, photos, writings, and guest posts.