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Louisiana (French: Louisiane ; Spanish: Luisiana) is a state in the Deep South and South Central regions of the United States. It is bordered by the state of Texas to the west, Arkansas to the north, Mississippi to the east, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south; a large part of its eastern boundary is demarcated by the Mississippi River. Of the 50 U.S. states, it ranks 20th in land area and the 25th in population, with roughly 4.6 million residents. Reflecting its French heritage, Louisiana is the only U.S. state with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are equivalent to counties, making it one of only two U.S. states not subdivided into counties (the other being Alaska and its boroughs). The state's capital is Baton Rouge, and its largest city is New Orleans, with a population of roughly 383,000 people. ⓘ
Much of Louisiana's lands were formed from sediment washed down the Mississippi River, leaving enormous deltas and vast areas of coastal marsh and swamp. These contain a rich southern biota, including birds such as ibises and egrets, many species of tree frogs—such as the state recognized American green tree frog—and fish such as sturgeon and paddlefish. More elevated areas, particularly in the north, contain a wide variety of ecosystems such as tallgrass prairie, longleaf pine forest and wet savannas; these support an exceptionally large number of plant species, including many species of terrestrial orchids and carnivorous plants. Over half the state is forested.
Louisiana is strategically situated at the confluence of the Mississippi river system and the Gulf of Mexico. Its location and biodiversity attracted various indigenous groups thousands of years before Europeans arrived in the 17th century. Louisiana has eighteen Native American tribes—the most of any southern state—of which four are federally recognized and ten that are state recognized. The French claimed the territory in 1682, and it became the political, commercial, and population center of the larger colony of New France. After a brief period of Spanish rule, Louisiana was returned to France in 1801 before being purchased by the U.S. in 1803; it was admitted to the Union in 1812 as the 18th state.
Following statehood, Louisiana saw an influx of settlers from the eastern U.S. as well as immigrants from the West Indies, Germany, and Ireland. It experienced an agricultural boom, particularly in cotton and sugarcane, which were cultivated primarily by slaves imported from Africa. As a slave state, Louisiana was one of the original seven members of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War.
Louisiana's unique French heritage is reflected in its toponyms, dialects, customs, demographics, and legal system. Relative to the rest of the southern U.S., Louisiana is multilingual and multicultural, reflecting an admixture of Louisiana French (Cajun, Creole), Spanish, French Canadian, Acadian, Dominican Creole, Native American, and West African cultures (generally the descendants of slaves imported in the 18th century); more recent migrants include Filipinos and Vietnamese. In the post–Civil War environment, Anglo-Americans increased the pressure for Anglicization, and in 1921, English was for a time made the sole language of instruction in Louisiana schools before a policy of multilingualism was revived in 1974. There has never been an official language in Louisiana, and the state constitution enumerates "the right of the people to preserve, foster, and promote their respective historic, linguistic, and cultural origins."
Based on national averages, Louisiana frequently ranks low among U.S. states in terms of health, education, and development, with high rates of poverty. and homicide. In 2018, Louisiana was ranked as the least healthy state in the country, with high levels of drug-related deaths. It also has had the highest homicide rate in the United States since at least the 1990s.
Louisiana was named after Louis XIV, King of France from 1643 to 1715. When René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle claimed the territory drained by the Mississippi River for France, he named it La Louisiane. The suffix –ana (or –ane) is a Latin suffix that can refer to "information relating to a particular individual, subject, or place." Thus, roughly, Louis + ana carries the idea of "related to Louis." Once part of the French colonial empire, the Louisiana Territory stretched from present-day Mobile Bay to just north of the present-day Canada–United States border, including a small part of what are now the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The area of Louisiana is the place of origin of the Mound Builders culture during the Middle Archaic period, in the 4th millennium BC. The sites of Caney and Frenchman's Bend have been securely dated to 5600–5000 BP (about 3700–3100 BC), demonstrating that seasonal hunter-gatherers from around this time organized to build complex earthwork constructions in what is now northern Louisiana. The Watson Brake site near present-day Monroe has an eleven-mound complex; it was built about 5400 BP (3500 BC). These discoveries overturned previous assumptions in archaeology that such complex mounds were built only by cultures of more settled peoples who were dependent on maize cultivation. The Hedgepeth Site in Lincoln Parish is more recent, dated to 5200–4500 BP (3300–2600 BC).
Nearly 2,000 years later, Poverty Point was built; it is the largest and best-known Late Archaic site in the state. The city of modern–day Epps developed near it. The Poverty Point culture may have reached its peak around 1500 BC, making it the first complex culture, and possibly the first tribal culture in North America. It lasted until approximately 700 BC.
The Poverty Point culture was followed by the Tchefuncte and Lake Cormorant cultures of the Tchula period, local manifestations of Early Woodland period. The Tchefuncte culture were the first people in the area of Louisiana to make large amounts of pottery. These cultures lasted until AD 200. The Middle Woodland period started in Louisiana with the Marksville culture in the southern and eastern part of the state, reaching across the Mississippi River to the east around Natchez, and the Fourche Maline culture in the northwestern part of the state. The Marksville culture was named after the Marksville Prehistoric Indian Site in Avoyelles Parish.
These cultures were contemporaneous with the Hopewell cultures of present-day Ohio and Illinois, and participated in the Hopewell Exchange Network. Trade with peoples to the southwest brought the bow and arrow. The first burial mounds were built at this time. Political power began to be consolidated, as the first platform mounds at ritual centers were constructed for the developing hereditary political and religious leadership.
By 400 the Late Woodland period had begun with the Baytown culture, Troyville culture, and Coastal Troyville during the Baytown period and were succeeded by the Coles Creek cultures. Where the Baytown peoples built dispersed settlements, the Troyville people instead continued building major earthwork centers. Population increased dramatically and there is strong evidence of a growing cultural and political complexity. Many Coles Creek sites were erected over earlier Woodland period mortuary mounds. Scholars have speculated that emerging elites were symbolically and physically appropriating dead ancestors to emphasize and project their own authority.
The Mississippian period in Louisiana was when the Plaquemine and the Caddoan Mississippian cultures developed, and the peoples adopted extensive maize agriculture, cultivating different strains of the plant by saving seeds, selecting for certain characteristics, etc. The Plaquemine culture in the lower Mississippi River Valley in western Mississippi and eastern Louisiana began in 1200 and continued to about 1600. Examples in Louisiana include the Medora site, the archaeological type site for the culture in West Baton Rouge Parish whose characteristics helped define the culture, the Atchafalaya Basin Mounds in St. Mary Parish, the Fitzhugh Mounds in Madison Parish, the Scott Place Mounds in Union Parish, and the Sims site in St. Charles Parish.
Plaquemine culture was contemporaneous with the Middle Mississippian culture that is represented by its largest settlement, the Cahokia site in Illinois east of St. Louis, Missouri. At its peak Cahokia is estimated to have had a population of more than 20,000. The Plaquemine culture is considered ancestral to the historic Natchez and Taensa peoples, whose descendants encountered Europeans in the colonial era.
By 1000 in the northwestern part of the state, the Fourche Maline culture had evolved into the Caddoan Mississippian culture. The Caddoan Mississippians occupied a large territory, including what is now eastern Oklahoma, western Arkansas, northeast Texas, and northwest Louisiana. Archaeological evidence has demonstrated that the cultural continuity is unbroken from prehistory to the present. The Caddo and related Caddo-language speakers in prehistoric times and at first European contact were the direct ancestors of the modern Caddo Nation of Oklahoma of today. Significant Caddoan Mississippian archaeological sites in Louisiana include Belcher Mound Site in Caddo Parish and Gahagan Mounds Site in Red River Parish.
Many current place names in Louisiana, including Atchafalaya, Natchitouches (now spelled Natchitoches), Caddo, Houma, Tangipahoa, and Avoyel (as Avoyelles), are transliterations of those used in various Native American languages.
The first European explorers to visit Louisiana came in 1528 when a Spanish expedition led by Pánfilo de Narváez located the mouth of the Mississippi River. In 1542, Hernando de Soto's expedition skirted to the north and west of the state (encountering Caddo and Tunica groups) and then followed the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico in 1543. Spanish interest in Louisiana faded away for a century and a half.
In the late 17th century, French and French Canadian expeditions, which included sovereign, religious and commercial aims, established a foothold on the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast. With its first settlements, France laid claim to a vast region of North America and set out to establish a commercial empire and French nation stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.
In 1682, the French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle named the region Louisiana to honor King Louis XIV of France. The first permanent settlement, Fort Maurepas (now Ocean Springs, Mississippi), was founded in 1699 by Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, a French military officer from New France. By then the French had also built a small fort at the mouth of the Mississippi at a settlement they named La Balise (or La Balize), "seamark" in French. By 1721, they built a 62-foot (19 m) wooden lighthouse-type structure here to guide ships on the river.
A royal ordinance of 1722—following the Crown's transfer of the Illinois Country's governance from Canada to Louisiana—may have featured the broadest definition of Louisiana: all land claimed by France south of the Great Lakes between the Rocky Mountains and the Alleghenies. A generation later, trade conflicts between Canada and Louisiana led to a more defined boundary between the French colonies; in 1745, Louisiana governor general Vaudreuil set the northern and eastern bounds of his domain as the Wabash valley up to the mouth of the Vermilion River (near present-day Danville, Illinois); from there, northwest to le Rocher on the Illinois River, and from there west to the mouth of the Rock River (at present day Rock Island, Illinois). Thus, Vincennes and Peoria were the limit of Louisiana's reach; the outposts at Ouiatenon (on the upper Wabash near present-day Lafayette, Indiana), Chicago, Fort Miamis (near present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana), and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, operated as dependencies of Canada.
The settlement of Natchitoches (along the Red River in present-day northwest Louisiana) was established in 1714 by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, making it the oldest permanent European settlement in the modern state of Louisiana. The French settlement had two purposes: to establish trade with the Spanish in Texas via the Old San Antonio Road, and to deter Spanish advances into Louisiana. The settlement soon became a flourishing river port and crossroads, giving rise to vast cotton kingdoms along the river that were worked by imported African slaves. Over time, planters developed large plantations and built fine homes in a growing town. This became a pattern repeated in New Orleans and other places, although the commodity crop in the south was primarily sugar cane.
Louisiana's French settlements contributed to further exploration and outposts, concentrated along the banks of the Mississippi and its major tributaries, from Louisiana to as far north as the region called the Illinois Country, around present-day St. Louis, Missouri. The latter was settled by French colonists from Illinois.
Initially, Mobile and then Biloxi served as the capital of La Louisiane. Recognizing the importance of the Mississippi River to trade and military interests, and wanting to protect the capital from severe coastal storms, France developed New Orleans from 1722 as the seat of civilian and military authority south of the Great Lakes. From then until the United States acquired the territory in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, France and Spain jockeyed for control of New Orleans and the lands west of the Mississippi.
In the 1720s, German immigrants settled along the Mississippi River, in a region referred to as the German Coast.
France ceded most of its territory east of the Mississippi to Great Britain in 1763, in the aftermath of Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War (generally referred to in North America as the French and Indian War). This included the lands along the Gulf Coast and north of Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River, which became known as British West Florida. The rest of Louisiana west of the Mississippi, as well as the "isle of New Orleans," had become a colony of Spain by the Treaty of Fontainebleau (1762). The transfer of power on either side of the river would be delayed until later in the decade.
In 1765, during Spanish rule, several thousand Acadians from the French colony of Acadia (now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) made their way to Louisiana after having been expelled from Acadia by the British government after the French and Indian War. They settled chiefly in the southwestern Louisiana region now called Acadiana. The governor Luis de Unzaga y Amézaga, eager to gain more settlers, welcomed the Acadians, who became the ancestors of Louisiana's Cajuns.
Spanish Canary Islanders, called Isleños, emigrated from the Canary Islands of Spain to Louisiana under the Spanish crown between 1778 and 1783. In 1800, France's Napoleon Bonaparte reacquired Louisiana from Spain in the Treaty of San Ildefonso, an arrangement kept secret for two years.
Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville brought the first two African slaves to Louisiana in 1708, transporting them from a French colony in the West Indies. In 1709, French financier Antoine Crozat obtained a monopoly of commerce in La Louisiane, which extended from the Gulf of Mexico to what is now Illinois. According to historian Hugh Thomas, "that concession allowed him to bring in a cargo of blacks from Africa every year". Physical conditions, including disease, were so harsh there was high mortality among both the colonists and the slaves, resulting in continuing demand and importation of slaves.
Starting in 1719, traders began to import slaves in higher numbers; two French ships, the Du Maine and the Aurore, arrived in New Orleans carrying more than 500 black slaves coming from Africa. Previous slaves in Louisiana had been transported from French colonies in the West Indies. By the end of 1721, New Orleans counted 1,256 inhabitants, of whom about half were slaves.
In 1724, the French government issued a law called the Code Noir ("Black Code" in English) which regulated the interaction of whites (blancs) and blacks (noirs) in its colony of Louisiana (which was much larger than the current state of Louisiana). The law consisted of 57 articles, which regulated religion in the colony, outlawed "interracial" marriages (those between people of different skin color, the varying shades of which were also defined by law), restricted manumission, outlined legal punishment of slaves for various offenses, and defined some obligations of owners to their slaves. The main intent of the French government was to assert control over the slave system of agriculture in Louisiana and to impose restrictions on slaveowners there. In practice, the Code Noir was exceedingly difficult to enforce from afar. Some priests continued to perform interracial marriage ceremonies, for example, and some slaveholders continued to manumit slaves without permission while others punished slaves brutally.
Article II of the Code Noir of 1724 required owners to provide their slaves with religious education in the state religion, Roman Catholicism. Sunday was to be a day of rest for slaves. On days off, slaves were expected to feed and take care of themselves. During the 1740s economic crisis in the colony, owners had trouble feeding their slaves and themselves. Giving them time off also effectively gave more power to slaves, who started cultivating their own gardens and crafting items for sale as their own property. They began to participate in the economic development of the colony while at the same time increasing independence and self-subsistence.
Article VI of the Code Noir forbade mixed marriages, forbade but did little to protect slave women from rape by their owners, overseers or other slaves. On balance, the code benefitted the owners but had more protections and flexibility than did the institution of slavery in the southern Thirteen Colonies.
The Louisiana Black Code of 1806 made the cruel punishment of slaves a crime, but owners and overseers were seldom prosecuted for such acts.
Fugitive slaves, called maroons, could easily hide in the backcountry of the bayous and survive in small settlements. The word "maroon" comes from the Spanish "cimarron", meaning "fugitive cattle."
In the late 18th century, the last Spanish governor of the Louisiana territory wrote:
When the United States purchased Louisiana in 1803, it was soon accepted that enslaved Africans could be brought to Louisiana as easily as they were brought to neighboring Mississippi, though it violated U.S. law to do so. Despite demands by United States Rep. James Hillhouse and by the pamphleteer Thomas Paine to enforce existing federal law against slavery in the newly acquired territory, slavery prevailed because it was the source of great profits and the lowest-cost labor.
At the start of the 19th century, Louisiana was a small producer of sugar with a relatively small number of slaves, compared to Saint-Domingue and the West Indies. It soon thereafter became a major sugar producer as new settlers arrived to develop plantations. William C. C. Claiborne, Louisiana's first United States governor, said African slave labor was needed because white laborers "cannot be had in this unhealthy climate." Hugh Thomas wrote that Claiborne was unable to enforce the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, which the U.S. and Great Britain enacted in 1807. The United States continued to protect the domestic slave trade, including the coastwise trade—the transport of slaves by ship along the Atlantic Coast and to New Orleans and other Gulf ports.
By 1840, New Orleans had the biggest slave market in the United States, which contributed greatly to the economy of the city and of the state. New Orleans had become one of the wealthiest cities, and the third largest city, in the nation. The ban on the African slave trade and importation of slaves had increased demand in the domestic market. During the decades after the American Revolutionary War, more than one million enslaved African Americans underwent forced migration from the Upper South to the Deep South, two thirds of them in the slave trade. Others were transported by their owners as slaveholders moved west for new lands.
With changing agriculture in the Upper South as planters shifted from tobacco to less labor-intensive mixed agriculture, planters had excess laborers. Many sold slaves to traders to take to the Deep South. Slaves were driven by traders overland from the Upper South or transported to New Orleans and other coastal markets by ship in the coastwise slave trade. After sales in New Orleans, steamboats operating on the Mississippi transported slaves upstream to markets or plantation destinations at Natchez and Memphis.
Interestingly, for a slave-state, Louisiana harbored escaped Filipino slaves from the Manila Galleons. The members of the Filipino community were then commonly referred to as Manila men, or Manilamen, and later Tagalas, as they were free when they created the oldest settlement of Asians in the United States in the village of Saint Malo, Louisiana, the inhabitants of which, even joined the United States in the War of 1812 against the British Empire while they were being led by the French-American Jean Lafitte.
Spanish occupation of Louisiana lasted from 1769 to 1800. Beginning in the 1790s, waves of immigration took place from St. Dominican refugees, following a slave rebellion that started during the French Revolution of Saint-Domingue in 1791. Over the next decade, thousands of refugees landed in Louisiana from the island, including Europeans, Dominican Creoles, and Africans, some of the latter brought in by each free group. They greatly increased the French-speaking population in New Orleans and Louisiana, as well as the number of Africans, and the slaves reinforced African culture in the city.
Anglo-American officials initially made attempts to keep out the additional Creoles of color, but the Louisiana Creoles wanted to increase the Creole population: more than half of the St. Dominican refugees eventually settled in Louisiana, and the majority remained in New Orleans.
Pierre Clément de Laussat (Governor, 1803) said: "Saint-Domingue was, of all our colonies in the Antilles, the one whose mentality and customs influenced Louisiana the most."
When the United States won its independence from Great Britain in 1783, one of its major concerns was having a European power on its western boundary, and the need for unrestricted access to the Mississippi River. As American settlers pushed west, they found that the Appalachian Mountains provided a barrier to shipping goods eastward. The easiest way to ship produce was to use a flatboat to float it down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the port of New Orleans, where goods could be put on ocean-going vessels. The problem with this route was that the Spanish owned both sides of the Mississippi below Natchez.
Napoleon's ambitions in Louisiana involved the creation of a new empire centered on the Caribbean sugar trade. By the terms of the Treaty of Amiens of 1802, Great Britain returned control of the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe to the French. Napoleon looked upon Louisiana as a depot for these sugar islands, and as a buffer to U.S. settlement. In October 1801 he sent a large military force to take back Saint-Domingue, then under control of Toussaint Louverture after the Haitian Revolution. When the army led by Napoleon's brother-in-law Leclerc was defeated, Napoleon decided to sell Louisiana.
Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, was disturbed by Napoleon's plans to re-establish French colonies in North America. With the possession of New Orleans, Napoleon could close the Mississippi to U.S. commerce at any time. Jefferson authorized Robert R. Livingston, U.S. minister to France, to negotiate for the purchase of the city of New Orleans, portions of the east bank of the Mississippi, and free navigation of the river for U.S. commerce. Livingston was authorized to pay up to $2 million.
An official transfer of Louisiana to French ownership had not yet taken place, and Napoleon's deal with the Spanish was a poorly kept secret on the frontier. On October 18, 1802, however, Juan Ventura Morales, acting intendant of Louisiana, made public the intention of Spain to revoke the right of deposit at New Orleans for all cargo from the United States. The closure of this vital port to the United States caused anger and consternation. Commerce in the west was virtually blockaded. Historians believe the revocation of the right of deposit was prompted by abuses by the Americans, particularly smuggling, and not by French intrigues as was believed at the time. President Jefferson ignored public pressure for war with France, and appointed James Monroe a special envoy to Napoleon, to assist in obtaining New Orleans for the United States. Jefferson also raised the authorized expenditure to $10 million.
However, on April 11, 1803, French foreign minister Talleyrand surprised Livingston by asking how much the United States was prepared to pay for the entirety of Louisiana, not just New Orleans and the surrounding area (as Livingston's instructions covered). Monroe agreed with Livingston that Napoleon might withdraw this offer at any time (leaving them with no ability to obtain the desired New Orleans area), and that approval from President Jefferson might take months, so Livingston and Monroe decided to open negotiations immediately. By April 30, they closed a deal for the purchase of the entire Louisiana territory of 828,000 square miles (2,100,000 km) for sixty million Francs (approximately $15 million).
Part of this sum, $3.5 million, was used to forgive debts owed by France to the United States. The payment was made in United States bonds, which Napoleon sold at face value to the Dutch firm of Hope and Company, and the British banking house of Baring, at a discount of 87+1⁄2 per each $100 unit. As a result, France received only $8,831,250 in cash for Louisiana. English banker Alexander Baring conferred with Marbois in Paris, shuttled to the United States to pick up the bonds, took them to Britain, and returned to France with the money—which Napoleon used to wage war against Baring's own country.
When news of the purchase reached the United States, Jefferson was surprised. He had authorized the expenditure of $10 million for a port city, and instead received treaties committing the government to spend $15 million on a land package which would double the size of the country. Jefferson's political opponents in the Federalist Party argued the Louisiana purchase was a worthless desert, and that the U.S. constitution did not provide for the acquisition of new land or negotiating treaties without the consent of the federal legislature. What really worried the opposition was the new states which would inevitably be carved from the Louisiana territory, strengthening western and southern interests in U.S. Congress, and further reducing the influence of New England Federalists in national affairs. President Jefferson was an enthusiastic supporter of westward expansion, and held firm in his support for the treaty. Despite Federalist objections, the U.S. Senate ratified the Louisiana treaty on October 20, 1803.
By statute enacted on October 31, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson was authorized to take possession of the territories ceded by France and provide for initial governance. A transfer ceremony was held in New Orleans on November 29, 1803. Since the Louisiana territory had never officially been turned over to the French, the Spanish took down their flag, and the French raised theirs. The following day, General James Wilkinson accepted possession of New Orleans for the United States. The Louisiana Territory, purchased for less than three cents an acre, doubled the size of the United States overnight, without a war or the loss of a single American life, and set a precedent for the purchase of territory. It opened the way for the eventual expansion of the United States across the continent to the Pacific Ocean.
Shortly after the United States took possession, the area was divided into two territories along the 33rd parallel north on March 26, 1804, thereby organizing the Territory of Orleans to the south and the District of Louisiana (subsequently formed as the Louisiana Territory) to the north.
Louisiana became the eighteenth U.S. state on April 30, 1812; the Territory of Orleans became the State of Louisiana and the Louisiana Territory was simultaneously renamed the Missouri Territory.
At its creation, the state of Louisiana did not include the area north and east of the Mississippi River known as the Florida Parishes. On April 14, 1812, Congress had authorized Louisiana to expand its borders to include the Florida Parishes, but the border change required approval of the state legislature, which it did not give until August 4. For the roughly three months in between, the northern border of eastern Louisiana was the course of Bayou Manchac and the middle of Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain.
From 1824 to 1861, Louisiana moved from a political system based on personality and ethnicity to a distinct two-party system, with Democrats competing first against Whigs, then Know Nothings, and finally only other Democrats.
According to the 1860 census, 331,726 people were enslaved, nearly 47% of the state's total population of 708,002. The strong economic interest of elite whites in maintaining the slave society contributed to Louisiana's decision to secede from the Union on January 26, 1861. It followed other U.S. states in seceding after the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States. Louisiana's secession was announced on January 26, 1861, and it became part of the Confederate States of America.
The state was quickly defeated in the Civil War, a result of Union strategy to cut the Confederacy in two by controlling the Mississippi River. Federal troops captured New Orleans on April 25, 1862. Because a large part of the population had Union sympathies (or compatible commercial interests), the federal government took the unusual step of designating the areas of Louisiana under federal control as a state within the Union, with its own elected representatives to the U.S. Congress.
Following the American Civil War and emancipation of slaves, violence rose in the southern U.S. as the war was carried on by insurgent private and paramilitary groups. During the initial period after the war, there was a massive rise in black participation in terms of voting and holding political office. Louisiana saw the United States' first and second black governors with Oscar Dunn and P.B.S. Pinchback, with 125 black members of the state legislature being elected during this time, while Charles E. Nash was elected to represent the state's 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Eventually former Confederates came to dominate the state legislature after the end of Reconstruction and federal occupation in the late 1870s, and black codes were implemented to regulate freedmen and increasingly restricted the right to vote. They refused to extend voting rights to African Americans who had been free before the war and had sometimes obtained education and property (as in New Orleans).
Following the Memphis riots of 1866 and the New Orleans riot the same year, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed that provided suffrage and full citizenship for freedmen. Congress passed the Reconstruction Act, establishing military districts for those states where conditions were considered the worst, including Louisiana. It was grouped with Texas in what was administered as the Fifth Military District.
African Americans began to live as citizens with some measure of equality before the law. Both freedmen and people of color who had been free before the war began to make more advances in education, family stability and jobs. At the same time, there was tremendous social volatility in the aftermath of war, with many whites actively resisting defeat and the free labor market. White insurgents mobilized to enforce white supremacy, first in Ku Klux Klan chapters.
By 1877, when federal forces were withdrawn, white Democrats in Louisiana and other states had regained control of state legislatures, often by paramilitary groups such as the White League, which suppressed black voting through intimidation and violence. Following Mississippi's example in 1890, in 1898, the white Democratic, planter-dominated legislature passed a new constitution that effectively disfranchised people of color by raising barriers to voter registration, such as poll taxes, residency requirements and literacy tests. The effect was immediate and long lasting. In 1896, there were 130,334 black voters on the rolls and about the same number of white voters, in proportion to the state population, which was evenly divided.
The state population in 1900 was 47% African American: a total of 652,013 citizens. Many in New Orleans were descendants of Creoles of color, the sizeable population of free people of color before the Civil War. By 1900, two years after the new constitution, only 5,320 black voters were registered in the state. Because of disfranchisement, by 1910 there were only 730 black voters (less than 0.5 percent of eligible African-American men), despite advances in education and literacy among blacks and people of color. Blacks were excluded from the political system and also unable to serve on juries. White Democrats had established one-party Democratic rule, which they maintained in the state for decades deep into the 20th century until after congressional passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act provided federal oversight and enforcement of the constitutional right to vote.
In the early decades of the 20th century, thousands of African Americans left Louisiana in the Great Migration north to industrial cities for jobs and education, and to escape Jim Crow society and lynchings. The boll weevil infestation and agricultural problems cost many sharecroppers and farmers their jobs. The mechanization of agriculture also reduced the need for laborers. Beginning in the 1940s, blacks went west to California for jobs in its expanding defense industries.
In 1920 the state had no continuous paved roads running east to west or north to south which traversed the entire state.
During some of the Great Depression, Louisiana was led by Governor Huey Long. He was elected to office on populist appeal. His public works projects provided thousands of jobs to people in need, and he supported education and increased suffrage for poor whites, but Long was criticized for his allegedly demagogic and autocratic style. He extended patronage control through every branch of Louisiana's state government. Especially controversial were his plans for wealth redistribution in the state. Long's rule ended abruptly when he was assassinated in the state capitol in 1935.
Mobilization for World War II created jobs in the state. But thousands of other workers, black and white alike, migrated to California for better jobs in its burgeoning defense industry. Many African Americans left the state in the Second Great Migration, from the 1940s through the 1960s to escape social oppression and seek better jobs. The mechanization of agriculture in the 1930s had sharply cut the need for laborers. They sought skilled jobs in the defense industry in California, better education for their children, and living in communities where they could vote.
On November 26, 1958, at Chennault Air Force Base, a USAF B-47 bomber with a nuclear weapon on board developed a fire while on the ground. The aircraft wreckage and the site of the accident were contaminated after a limited explosion of non-nuclear material.
In the 1950s the state created new requirements for a citizenship test for voter registration. Despite opposition by the States' Rights Party (Dixiecrats), downstate black voters had begun to increase their rate of registration, which also reflected the growth of their middle classes. In 1960 the state established the Louisiana State Sovereignty Commission, to investigate civil rights activists and maintain segregation.
Despite this, gradually black voter registration and turnout increased to 20% and more, and it was 32% by 1964, when the first national civil rights legislation of the era was passed. The percentage of black voters ranged widely in the state during these years, from 93.8% in Evangeline Parish to 1.7% in Tensas Parish, for instance, where there were intense white efforts to suppress the vote in the black-majority parish.
Violent attacks on civil rights activists in two mill towns were catalysts to the founding of the first two chapters of the Deacons for Defense and Justice in late 1964 and early 1965, in Jonesboro and Bogalusa, respectively. Made up of veterans of World War II and the Korean War, they were armed self-defense groups established to protect activists and their families. Continued violent white resistance in Bogalusa to blacks trying to use public facilities in 1965, following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, caused the federal government to order local police to protect the activists. Other chapters were formed in Mississippi and Alabama.
By 1960 the proportion of African Americans in Louisiana had dropped to 32%. The 1,039,207 black citizens were still suppressed by segregation and disfranchisement. African Americans continued to suffer disproportionate discriminatory application of the state's voter registration rules. Because of better opportunities elsewhere, from 1965 to 1970, blacks continued to migrate out of Louisiana, for a net loss of more than 37,000 people. Based on official census figures, the African American population in 1970 stood at 1,085,109, a net gain of more than 46,000 people compared to 1960. During the latter period, some people began to migrate to cities of the New South for opportunities. Since that period, blacks entered the political system and began to be elected to office, as well as having other opportunities.
On May 21, 1919, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, giving women full rights to vote, was passed at a national level, and was made the law throughout the United States on August 18, 1920. Louisiana finally ratified the amendment on June 11, 1970.
Due to its location on the Gulf Coast, Louisiana has regularly suffered the effects of tropical storms and damaging hurricanes. On August 29, 2005, New Orleans and many other low-lying parts of the state along the Gulf of Mexico were hit by the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina. It caused widespread damage due to breaching of levees and large-scale flooding of more than 80% of the city. Officials had issued warnings to evacuate the city and nearby areas, but tens of thousands of people, mostly African Americans, stayed behind, many of them stranded. Many people died and survivors suffered through the damage of the widespread floodwaters.
In July 2016 the shooting of Alton Sterling sparked protests throughout the state capital of Baton Rouge. In August 2016, an unnamed storm dumped trillions of gallons of rain on southern Louisiana, including the cities of Denham Springs, Baton Rouge, Gonzales, St. Amant and Lafayette, causing catastrophic flooding. An estimated 110,000 homes were damaged and thousands of residents were displaced. In 2019, three Louisiana black churches were destroyed by arson.
The first case of COVID-19 in Louisiana was announced on March 9, 2020. As of October 27, 2020, there had been 180,069 confirmed cases; 5,854 people have died of COVID-19.
Louisiana is bordered to the west by Texas; to the north by Arkansas; to the east by Mississippi; and to the south by the Gulf of Mexico. The state may properly be divided into two parts, the uplands of the north (the region of North Louisiana), and the alluvial along the coast (the Central Louisiana, Acadiana, Florida Parishes, and Greater New Orleans regions). The alluvial region includes low swamp lands, coastal marshlands and beaches, and barrier islands that cover about 12,350 square miles (32,000 km). This area lies principally along the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River, which traverses the state from north to south for a distance of about 600 mi (970 km) and empties into the Gulf of Mexico; also in the state are the Red River; the Ouachita River and its branches; and other minor streams (some of which are called bayous).
The breadth of the alluvial region along the Mississippi is 10–60 miles (15–100 km), and along the other rivers, the alluvial region averages about 10 miles (15 km) across. The Mississippi River flows along a ridge formed by its natural deposits (known as a levee), from which the lands decline toward a river beyond at an average fall of six feet per mile (3 m/km). The alluvial lands along other streams present similar features.
The higher and contiguous hill lands of the north and northwestern part of the state have an area of more than 25,000 square miles (65,000 km). They consist of prairie and woodlands. The elevations above sea level range from 10 feet (3 m) at the coast and swamp lands to 50–60 feet (15–18 m) at the prairie and alluvial lands. In the uplands and hills, the elevations rise to Driskill Mountain, the highest point in the state only 535 feet (163 m) above sea level. From 1932 to 2010 the state lost 1,800 square miles due to rises in sea level and erosion. The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) spends around $1 billion per year to help shore up and protect Louisiana shoreline and land in both federal and state funding.
Besides the waterways named, there are the Sabine, forming the western boundary; and the Pearl, the eastern boundary; the Calcasieu, the Mermentau, the Vermilion, Bayou Teche, the Atchafalaya, the Boeuf, Bayou Lafourche, the Courtableau River, Bayou D'Arbonne, the Macon River, the Tensas, Amite River, the Tchefuncte, the Tickfaw, the Natalbany River, and a number of other smaller streams, constituting a natural system of navigable waterways, aggregating over 4,000 miles (6,400 km) long.
The state also has political jurisdiction over the approximately 3-mile (4.8 km)-wide portion of subsea land of the inner continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico. Through a peculiarity of the political geography of the United States, this is substantially less than the 9-mile (14 km)-wide jurisdiction of nearby states Texas and Florida, which, like Louisiana, have extensive Gulf coastlines.
The southern coast of Louisiana in the United States is among the fastest-disappearing areas in the world. This has largely resulted from human mismanagement of the coast (see Wetlands of Louisiana). At one time, the land was added to when spring floods from the Mississippi River added sediment and stimulated marsh growth; the land is now shrinking. There are multiple causes.
Artificial levees block spring flood water that would bring fresh water and sediment to marshes. Swamps have been extensively logged, leaving canals and ditches that allow salt water to move inland. Canals dug for the oil and gas industry also allow storms to move sea water inland, where it damages swamps and marshes. Rising sea waters have exacerbated the problem. Some researchers estimate that the state is losing a landmass equivalent to 30 football fields every day. There are many proposals to save coastal areas by reducing human damage, including restoring natural floods from the Mississippi. Without such restoration, coastal communities will continue to disappear. And as the communities disappear, more and more people are leaving the region. Since the coastal wetlands support an economically important coastal fishery, the loss of wetlands is adversely affecting this industry.
The Gulf of Mexico 'dead zone' off the coast of Louisiana is the largest recurring hypoxic zone in the United States. It was 8,776 square miles (22,730 km) in 2017, the largest ever recorded.
The oldest rocks in Louisiana are exposed in the north, in areas such as the Kisatchie National Forest. The oldest rocks date back to the early Cenozoic Era, some 60 million years ago. The youngest parts of the state were formed during the last 12,000 years as successive deltas of the Mississippi River: the Maringouin, Teche, St. Bernard, Lafourche, the modern Mississippi, and now the Atchafalaya. The sediments were carried from north to south by the Mississippi River.
Between the tertiary rocks of the north, and the relatively new sediments along the coast, is a vast belt known as the Pleistocene Terraces. Their age and distribution can be largely related to the rise and fall of sea levels during past ice ages. The northern terraces have had sufficient time for rivers to cut deep channels, while the newer terraces tend to be much flatter.
Salt domes are also found in Louisiana. Their origin can be traced back to the early Gulf of Mexico when the shallow ocean had high rates of evaporation. There are several hundred salt domes in the state; one of the most familiar is Avery Island, Louisiana. Salt domes are important not only as a source of salt; they also serve as underground traps for oil and gas.
Louisiana has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cfa), with long, hot, humid summers and short, mild winters. The subtropical characteristics of the state are due to its low latitude, low lying topography, and the influence of the Gulf of Mexico, which at its farthest point is no more than 200 mi (320 km) away.
Rain is frequent throughout the year, although from April to September is slightly wetter than the rest of the year, which is the state's wet season. There is a dip in precipitation in October. In summer, thunderstorms build during the heat of the day and bring intense but brief, tropical downpours. In winter, rainfall is more frontal and less intense.
Summers in southern Louisiana have high temperatures from June through September averaging 90 °F (32 °C) or more, and overnight lows averaging above 70 °F (21 °C). At times, temperatures in the 90s °F (32–37 °C), combined with dew points in the upper 70s °F (24–26 °C), create sensible temperatures over 120 °F (49 °C). The humid, thick, jungle-like heat in southern Louisiana is a famous subject of countless stories and movies.
Temperatures are generally warm in the winter in the southern part of the state, with highs around New Orleans, Baton Rouge, the rest of southern Louisiana, and the Gulf of Mexico averaging 66 °F (19 °C). The northern part of the state is mildly cool in the winter, with highs averaging 59 °F (15 °C). The overnight lows in the winter average well above freezing throughout the state, with 46 °F (8 °C) the average near the Gulf and an average low of 37 °F (3 °C) in the winter in the northern part of the state.
On occasion, cold fronts from low-pressure centers to the north, reach Louisiana in winter. Low temperatures near 20 °F (−7 °C) occur on occasion in the northern part of the state but rarely do so in the southern part of the state. Snow is rare near the Gulf of Mexico, although residents in the northern parts of the state might receive a dusting of snow a few times each decade. Louisiana's highest recorded temperature is 114 °F (46 °C) in Plain Dealing on August 10, 1936, while the coldest recorded temperature is −16 °F (−27 °C) at Minden on February 13, 1899.
Louisiana is often affected by tropical cyclones and is very vulnerable to strikes by major hurricanes, particularly the lowlands around and in the New Orleans area. The unique geography of the region, with the many bayous, marshes and inlets, can result in water damage across a wide area from major hurricanes. The area is also prone to frequent thunderstorms, especially in the summer.
The entire state averages over 60 days of thunderstorms a year, more than any other state except Florida. Louisiana averages 27 tornadoes annually. The entire state is vulnerable to a tornado strike, with the extreme southern portion of the state slightly less so than the rest of the state. Tornadoes are more common from January to March in the southern part of the state, and from February through March in the northern part of the state.