African American Trail in Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS - Louisiana tourism officials have unveiled the first 26 sites on an African American Heritage Trail running from New Orleans to northern Louisiana.

"It will tell the stories of African Americans who have made contributions to Louisiana, to America and to the world," said Chuck Morse, assistant secretary of the Louisiana Office of Tourism. "It makes us proud, but it's not about pride totally. It's also about the economy."

There are 26 stops on the trail to begin with, although that will be expanded. Included are the expected — plantations with details about slaves' lives, and the early roots of jazz — and the unexpected — such as Melrose Plantation, built and owned and operated by a former slave, who in turn became a slave owner.

Heritage tourism trails are routes that lead visitors to specialty points of interest. They constitute a fast-growing type of tourism, Morse said. Louisiana is in the process of developing a series of such trails, ranging from a Culinary Trail to a Civil War Trail.

According to the Travel Industry Associations of America, more and more travelers are seeking the authentic American experience offered through cultural and heritage tourism. The organization said 81 percent of the 146.4 million U.S. adults who took a trip of 50 miles or more away from home in the past year included historical or cultural activities on at least one of their trips.

"People are looking for authentic places and the stories that go with them," Morse said. "Trails help them find them easily.'"

An old-time black-and-white photograph of two young black men, one holding an accordian, serves as the "face" of the trail.

Places on the trail include the Hermione Museum in Tallulah, which is currently hosting an exhibit on the famously successful hair-care entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, who was born in Delta, La., in 1867, shortly after slavery ended; the state capitol in Baton Rouge, where, in the 1870s, P.B.S. Pinchback briefly served as the first black governor in U.S. history; and Congo Square, in New Orleans, where slaves were permitted to assemble on Sundays. The St. Augustine Catholic Church in Natchez, La., and the St. Augustine Church in New Orleans' Treme neighborhood have both been spiritual centers for the black community for generations. Grambling State University in Grambling, and Southern University in Baton Rouge, both traditionally black colleges, are also on the list. The schools celebrate their rivalry at an annual football game called the Bayou Classic.

Some of the sites on the trail are associated with prominent individuals, such as the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson's grave in Providence Park Cemetery in Metairie; and the Arna Bontemps African American Heritage Museum in Alexandria, the family home for a writer who went on to become important in the Harlem Renaissance.

Other places on the trail in New Orleans are the New Orleans African American Museum, St. Louis Cemeteries No. 1 and No. 2, the French Market and the Amistad Research Center. Elsewhere in the state, the list also includes Laura Plantation, Vacherie; Evergreen Plantation, Wallace; River Road African American Museum, Donaldsonville; Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum, Hammond; Port Hudson Battlefield, Jackson; the African American Museum, St. Martinville; the Black Heritage Art Gallery, Central School Arts and Humanities Center, Lake Charles; the Creole Heritage Folk Life Center, Opelousas; the Cane River Creole National Historic Park-Creole Center, Natchitoches; the Multicultural Center of the South, Shreveport; Southern University Museum of Art, Shreveport; and the Northeast Louisiana Delta African American Heritage Museum, Monroe.

For more information, visit www.louisianatravel.com/africanamericanheritagetrail or 800-474-8626.