Louisiana — History and Culture
Louisiana has one of the most colorful histories and cultures in the United States. The region was colonized by France and settled by Africans, Spanish and Caribbean folks until eventually being sold to America in 1803 under the Louisiana Purchase. As such its population has large Cajun and Creole communities that greatly influence the food, language and music. The state is laid back and unpretentious, with deep cultural roots that are protected and maintained with incredible fervor, especially on display in New Orleans. Prepare to throw caution to the wind and be transported into what feels like another country as you travel through Louisiana.
The first Europeans to explore Louisiana were the Spanish who followed the Mississippi River inland in 1528. They were unimpressed and the territory remained unsettled until the 17th century when the French arrived and claimed the region as part of New France in 1682. They named it Louisiana in honor of the French king.
The first African slaves were brought to New Orleans in 1719, beginning the cultural heritage that led to a rich tradition of music. The slaves worked the French plantations along the Mississippi River, who controlled the entire region until it was eventually sold to the US in 1803. The largest slave revolt in American history happened in New Orleans in 1811 in the German Coast Uprising.
By 1840 New Orleans was home to America’s biggest slave population. It was the third-largest city in the nation, and extremely prosperous. Its plantation production and transport economy brought immigrants from all over the globe to New Orleans, helping shape the rich diversity seen today. Although the state’s fortunes were built on the backs of slavery, New Orleans was also home to one of the largest populations of free blacks in America by 1860.
By the 1900's, Louisiana’s population was 47 percent African-American, many with Creole heritage, but in the first 30 years, the Great Migration saw many move north to industrial states for better work prospects. The 1940's through 1960's saw the Second Great Migration when even more left the state in search of a better life.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's brought a welcome semblance of equality to Louisiana, though racial tensions remained in many parishes. The terrible 2005 Hurricane Katrina brought out the best and worst of New Orleans’ residents as nearly 80 percent of the city was destroyed by the flood. In the aftermath, much of its historic downtown and government were rebuilt. Though repair efforts continue on to this day, New Orleans, and Louisiana, is nearly back to its best form.
Louisiana is home to some of America’s most colorful culture, including a huge Creole and Cajun population. The Spanish, French, African, and Native American influences are visible in every conceivable way. They speak their own language, have their own style of music and a uniquely delectable cuisine. While Cajun country only covers around 30 percent of the state, it's traditions have a hand just about everywhere.
In many parts of Louisiana, French and Creole are just as common as English. The farther off the beaten path you venture, the more the state starts to look and feel like a whole other country. In general, the residents take pride in their relaxed lifestyle and rich traditions. Festivals like Mardi Gras are taken as seriously as religion, and music never seems far removed from any household. New Orleans is the epicenter of almost all activity and a trip here is a memorable must.