History of Louisiana
Louisiana was, of course, part of the Louisiana Purchase, named after King Louis XIV of France, in whose name the territory had been claimed. Because of its unique position at the outlet of the Mississippi River, Louisiana attracted a more diverse population than just about anywhere else in the United States early in its history. Louisiana has a mixed culture of Spanish, French, Arcadian French, West African, Native, and English people which has come together in a mix unlike any other place on Earth.
There are the native peoples – Caddo, Tunica, Nactchez, Houma, Choctaw, Atakapa, and Chitimacha, descended from the mound-building Mississippian and earlier cultures; the Cajuns, descended from displaced Canadian French; Americans of British descent; Spanish settlers; Caribbean blacks; and blacks descended from slaves all coming together to form the Creole culture.
Louisiana depended early on for it’s prosperity on slave labor and many slaves were imported into the state both directly from Africa and from Caribbean islands and other states in the United States. Conditions on Louisiana plantations were particularly brutal, in large part because of the hot, humid climate. After the Civil War, the slaves were freed in name only. Most blacks (and poor white farmers) stayed on the plantations as share croppers, earning barely enough to keep body and soul together. They were kept from education and business by the wealthy white Democrats and plantation owners who ran the state. Laws were made to restrict the vote to those who could read.
Between 1910 and 1970 huge numbers of blacks left the state and moved to the north in search of better opportunities. The civil rights movement had a huge effect on Louisiana and the condition of the black people, poor whites, and minorities in the state.
- Louisiana has parishes rather than counties as sub-divisions of state government.
- Isleños are descendants of Spanish people who migrated from the Canary Islands when Louisiana was a Spanish territory. The people in the St. Bernard parish still celebrate and remember their heritage.
- Though Louisiana is overwhelmingly English speaking, there is a large population of French speakers (some of whom know little English) and much state business is done in French. Besides these main languages many people speak unique dialects of English and French, which are found only in Louisiana.
- About 60% of the state’s people are Protestant Christian and another 28% are Roman Catholic.
- Louisiana has huge deposits of natural gas and oil both on shore and off.
- Louisiana has five major regions: North Louisiana, Central Louisiana, Acadiana, Florida Parishes, and Greater New Orleans.
- Mardi Gras, celebrated in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, is a celebration and indulgent party running up to the Catholic lent, a time of fasting and self denial.
- Bayou is the French word for slow-moving river.
- Fred’s Lounge, a little hole-in-the-wall joint in Mamou, LA, is the hub of the Cajun music scene and has been instrumental in bringing this music to a larger audience.
- Cook some Cajun style gumbo.
- Listen to Cajun Style music. (The famous Dewey Balfa singing in a French dialect)
- Learn about bayous and the marshland of Louisiana. Learn about estuaries and river mouths and deltas.
Map of Louisiana Exploration
Print and color this Louisiana Map. Label the major cities, rivers, the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi Delta, and other interesting things you find in your student atlas.
- Learn about the earliest Louisiana inhabitants (that we know of), the mound builders, who traded with the Hopewell people to the north and the southern tribes as far south as Mexico.
- Learn about one of the recent tragedies, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. What effect have these had on the state in terms of population and economy?
- Learn more about why the French people known as Acadians migrated to Louisiana.
- Learn about the life of Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, or Mahalia Jackson, all musicians from Louisiana.