By Thomas Waring
The institution of slavery influences the geography of Baton Rouge, Louisiana today. The first subsection of this project is concerned with housing subdivisions or neighborhoods located on former antebellum plantations. The second subsection involves the naming of roads that memorialize major slaveholders in Baton Rouge. The roads that are named after leaders for the Confederate State of America are also discussed. The final subsection is concerned with the racial disparities that are found in Baton Rouge today and is focused on North Baton Rouge as it has a larger Black population than South Baton Rouge. The geography of Baton Rouge was molded by the institution of slavery and the effects still linger today.
Throughout my research, I found several greater truths about Baton Rouge society. The lives of enslaved people are almost always ignored. Restored plantations rarely mention the word “slave” and often fail to educate people on the reality of antebellum plantations in Baton Rouge. Instead, the lives of white men and women who benefitted from slavery and the effects of white supremacy are memorialized. By ignoring the truth, whether purposefully or not, Baton Rouge upholds the legacy of white supremacy celebrating the “beauty” in a place that should symbolize extreme abuses and exploitations of human rights. Some argue that the name of a street such as Lee Drive is significant to their Southern history and heritage. However, there is little aversion by the same people to restore the cabins of the enslaved people. When it comes to historical preservation, Baton Rouge is focused on reaching the hearts and minds of white people. Baton Rouge often ignores the Black community, and the racial inequities and injustices are noticeable. Overall, I found that Baton Rouge would rather ignore the truth and continue to support white supremacist ideals than acknowledge the reality of the city’s dark history.
Housing Divisions & Neighborhoods
Adelia at Old Goodwood
Adelia at Old Goodwood is a high-end, luxury housing subdivision located on Baton Rouge’s antebellum Goodwood Plantation. OnSite Design and Development is a Baton Rouge firm that specializes in creating subdivisions and they were tasked with developing Adelia at Old Goodwood. The original plantation house was restored with a neighborhood of over 30 antebellum-style homes surrounding it.
The romanization of the Antebellum South and this subdivision go hand-in-hand. The lead developer for the plantation-turned-luxury subdivision, Michael Hogstrom, even describes the subdivision as a “romantic development” and “a love story.” The owner of the Goodwood plantation, Dr. Samuel Laycock, forced enslaved people to build the house in 1850 as a wedding gift for Adelia, his bride.
According to the 1860 Baton Rouge Census, Dr. Laycock owned around 70 slaves. It is important to remember that around this time, around one-third of Baton Rouge residents owned slaves, but most of them only owned one. There is no doubt that the remains of enslaved people are underneath the houses in the Adelia at Old Goodwood subdivision. Their unmarked graves are further neglected through the false narrative OnSite Design created.
OnSite Design focuses on the “beauty” of the plantation house instead of identifying the exploitations of human life that occurred there. Such negligence has a major effect on the residents of Baton Rouge. The Baton Rouge community faces a major threat when places such as Adelia at Old Goodwood promote pro-Antebellum fantasies. Through the romanticization of the antebellum plantations, residents of Baton Rouge are left with a misconstrued representation of the institution of slavery. This version of history conveys that slavery was justified, and the actions of slaveholders were warranted. As such, it is reasonable to assume that some white Baton Rouge residents may begin to view plantations as physical reminders of their heritage. However, to Black members of the community, the repurposing of plantations into subdivisions is anything but the restoration of history. Adelia at Old Goodwood disregards the men, women, and children who suffered on the land, their stories forgotten, buried beneath whitewashed Antebellum porches.
Adelia at Old Goodwood is a prime example of white supremacy hiding in plain sight. The residents seem to be comfortable with masking the true history of Baton Rouge all while memorializing people who deserve no recognition. OnSite Design chose to memorialize the wealthy elite class that fueled the institution of slavery. Overall, Adelia at Old Goodwood is reflective of the attitudes and feelings the community in Baton Rouge decides to remember history.
Fun Fact: Adelia Bird of the Bird family and Hollywood Plantation married Dr. Laycock in March 1848. The Bird and Laycock families both owned neighboring plantations and the marriage between wealthy plantation families was common.
The Settlement at Willow Grove
The Settlement at Willow Grove shares some similarities with Adelia at Old Goodwood as a housing subdivision located on a former Antebellum plantation. The subdivision is around the original plantation house like other plantation subdivisions. John Kleinpeter Jr. is credited with the establishment of the house after he married Amelia Sharp in 1811. Descendants of the Kleinpeter family believe that the house was built around the 1820s. There is no documentation or record of enslaved people building the house, though the Kleinpeters owned a significant number of enslaved people. According to the 1860 Slave Schedule, John P. Kleinpeter owned 131 enslaved people, and his son, George Kleinpeter Sr., owned 42 enslaved people.
A major issue is that the restoration of Willow Grove only included the plantation house. The remains of enslaved people lie under the ground while an affluent class of people live happily in their homes surrounding a “breathtaking” piece of southern architecture. The cabins that housed enslaved families were never restored—the lives, history, and culture of the enslaved further neglected and forgotten. There continues to be a pattern of removing Black people from their homes throughout the history of Baton Rouge.
Willow Grove romanticizes the idea of living on a former plantation. By living on the land, one can buy into the false narrative that surrounds the Antebellum south. Someone can feel as if they traveled back to antebellum times, living like a plantation owner in the south.
Like Adelia, The Settlement at Willow Grove primarily focuses on forgetting the twisted history behind plantations. Antebellum plantations are glossed up to appear as if they are preserving a critical part of White history. However, we should preserve plantations so that they are used as educational tools and museums to teach people the reality of slavery. Plantations that fail to recognize the horrors that were present on the land further contribute to the disparity in racial representation in Baton Rouge.
Children who grow up in these plantation subdivisions may learn to associate plantations with happiness and charm. The truth is that plantations were places of human suffering where a white supremacist class forced and abused enslaved people into work tirelessly until they died. A plantation house should be seen as enslaved people saw it: a place of horror.
The Settlement at Willow Grove does everything it can to not call itself a plantation. The word “farm” is often used instead of plantation to describe its history. Though it was a “farm,” it was also a plantation where the exploitation of human lives was a normal practice. The problem with The Settlement at Willow Grove and Adelia at Old Goodwood is that they purposely ignore the history of enslaved people. Plantation owners and residents choose to ignore the full history of the land where they live. People do not want to live in a neighborhood where there are constant reminders of slavery, but in an area with beautiful landscapes and rich history.
The owners of Willow grove chose to capitalize on these feelings and turn their family’s plantation house into a venue for small gatherings, like wedding receptions and family reunions.
White Oak Estate and Gardens
Recreating plantation homes is an insensitive action. White Oak Estate and Gardens sounds like a fancy name for a place that was once a plantation. Upon first glance, one would believe that the plantation house was from the Antebellum era. However, the house was built in the 1970s as a venue for parties and weddings. This is problematic because it exists for all the wrong reasons. The grandiose and elegant landscape masks the truth of why this antebellum house was built.
The main purpose of constructing the house was to capitalize on the prejudice that is wrapped around plantations. According to the Better Business Bureau’s website, White Oak Estate and Gardens is a new name for the faux plantation. “White Oak Plantation” was the original name and it has been retired for several years. White Oak completely ignores the fact that plantations were places of extreme torture and dehumanization of enslaved persons. Weddings are joyful and memorable occasions with family and friends. A plantation wedding celebrates the antebellum lifestyle of a planter that our society has come to normalize and ignore.
Plantation homes were often places of terror for enslaved women who were subjected to rape and molestation in these houses. But through distorted representations like White Oak, the harsh truths of slavery are forgotten and lost. This model of history refuses to acknowledge the truth about the plantation lifestyle. The history White Oak and other plantations offer is completely distorted. White Oak Estate and Gardens has the potential to teach the reality of slavery to guests, but as of right now, it only shows the glorified lifestyle of the wealthy white class.
The Villas at White Oak is a subdivision that is located near White Oak Estate and Gardens. Alvarez Construction is in charge of building the subdivision. Below features a map of the subdivision and its proximity to the White Oak Plantation. The developers chose The Villas at White Oak as the name for their subdivision because it is near White Oak and many people want to live near a plantation. Ironically, White Oak is not even a real plantation. Instead, it is an example of how the history of plantations and the enslaved becomes whitewashed. White Oak Plantation presents itself as a recreation of a River Road plantation house with a focus on the lavish lives of plantation owners. Overall, White Oak Plantation or Estate and Gardens is the epitome of false narratives concerning the history and reality behind the institutions of slavery and plantations.
Psychological Study of Antebellum Style Architecture
Two psychology professors affiliated with southern colleges researched whether architectural style could be associated with ideas concerning racism and a lessened sense of belonging for minorities. Dr. Sarah Driskill and Dr. Sophie Trawalter conducted this research through three studies. Study 1 focused on architectural style and the participant’s sense of belonging. Study 2 aimed to reflect the first study and produce results that reveal a pattern. Finally, Study 3 explored “the phycological cost of Antebellum architecture” and whether the redemption and reclamation of Antebellum places influence the Black participants. Redemption refers to addressing the racist history associated with Antebellum places while redressing past injustices. Reclamation refers to Black Americans having control over Antebellum places. For example, what to do with plantations if they were controlled by a Black agency. Empowerment refers to the empowerment of Black Americans as they are the descendants of the enslaved people who suffered on plantations. This is an important step for repairing relations between white and Blacks Americans.
The psychologists refer to antebellum-style architecture as houses that often feature “symmetrical brick or whitewashed facades and columns in a Greek revival style.” The participants in the study were college students and focused on white and Black students.
The study found that the Black participants felt less belonging in the old antebellum and modern Antebellum structures than the Modern American structures. In other words, the houses that feature Antebellum-style architecture greatly impacted how the Black participants felt and revealed that Black participants associate slavery and racism with Antebellum-style architecture. It made no difference if the houses selected were built in modern times or the Antebellum period. Slavery and racism were among the topics that Black participants associated with the Antebellum-style houses when asked why they were averse to this style of architecture.
The research also concluded that Black Americans must reclaim a plantation to feel welcome there. Reclaiming refers to Black Americans having direct control over the plantation. They should have the authority to decide how it is memorialized. For example, the Whitney Plantation in Edgard, Louisiana is used to tell the stories of the enslaved men, women, and children that lived on the property instead of the slaveholder family. Black Americans should at least be given this opportunity so reconciliation over slavery between white and Black residents can be successful in Baton Rouge. There is still a long road ahead and the first step towards building a better society is reconciliation and starts with changing how plantations are used and memorialized today.
Memorializing the Names of Slaveholders
Housing developers will sometimes name a subdivision based on Antebellum times. For example, Rouzan is a developing subdivision named after a major slave owner in Baton Rouge. This new housing development is in the Southdowns neighborhood, tucked behind the Sprouts grocery store along Perkins Road. In 1858, J. P. M. Rouzan owned the Longwood Plantation. According to the 1860 Baton Rouge Slave Schedule, a total of 120 enslaved people lived on the Longwood Plantation and suffered horrors often forgotten by society today. These slaves—who were tortured by the Rouzan family—were sometimes given the surname Rouzan, their decedents forever reminded of their enslaved ancestors who were beaten, raped, and tortured by their owners. The surname also reminds the descendants of enslaved people that their history is rooted in white supremacy and racist ideologies. Ignoring the reason, the name was chosen is a way to purposely ignore the reality of what the slaves of Longwood Plantation endured.
The website features an informational page titled “Why Rouzan?” The page goes on to explain that the neighborhood sits in the heart of Baton Rouge and is a historic neighborhood. It does not explain why the name Rouzan was chosen but is still indicative of the romanization of the Antebellum south. We can assume the name was chosen because it sounds French and historical to the area. However, the name blatantly ignores the lives of enslaved people. The name is extremely disrespectful because it honors a man who took advantage of hundreds of people based on their skin color.
The Southdowns neighborhood in South-East Baton Rouge features several roads named after leaders of the Confederate States of America. The neighborhood was established in 1923 on a large portion of land that once was the Richland Plantation. Alfred St. Amant, one of the two investors credited with creating the neighborhood, named a number of the roads after Confederate leaders, including generals Lee, Pickett, and Stuart. Currently, there are seven roads featuring names connected to white supremacy in Southdowns. The map below features the general boundary (bright yellow) for the neighborhood as well as the names of streets (red) referencing the CSA.
According to CityData.com, 5,641 residents living in the Southdowns area in 2019. The chart below displays the racial demographics of the area. Southdowns features a large number of street names memorializing Confederate leaders. A majority white demographic in the area is a sign of racial division and we can infer that the Confederate street names have little effect on the white residents
Overall, Southdowns is a clear example of Baton Rouge memorializing names of men who upheld white supremacy. This is problemtic because minorities, especially Black Americans, may feel less welcomed in the area with physical monuments glorifying the Antebellum South.
Streets Named After Major slaveholders.
Along with the numerous streets memorializing Confederate leaders, Baton Rouge often memorializes major slave owners, including several major roads throughout the city. For example, Thousands of people travel along Perkins Road each day as it stretches across Baton Rouge. The road is named after Dr. John and Henry Perkins who were antebellum plantation owners in Baton Rouge. According to the 1860 Slave Schedule, Dr. John Perkins owned at least 173 enslaved people.
Another street memorializing a major slaveholder in Louisiana would be Duncan Kenner Drive in Baton Rouge. This road is in the Riverbend Subdivision of South Baton Rouge. Duncan F. Kenner was a politician who served as a member of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States. He owned the Ashland Plantation in Baton Rouge as well as over 80 enslaved people according to the 1850 Slave Schedule. However, the sugar planter did not become successful by himself nor overnight. According to the 1860 Slave Schedule, Kenner owned around 470 enslaved people. There is no reason to memorialize and honor Duncan Kenner. As such, Duncan Kenner Drive should be renamed because the current name honors a Confederate leader and major plantation owner in Baton Rouge.
Additionally, the Riverbend subdivision features Rene Beauregard, the son of famed Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard. Judge Rene Beauregard was born in Louisiana in 1843. He fought for the Confederacy and earned the rank of Major near the end of the war. Beauregard became a lawyer after the war and worked his way to becoming a judge in New Orleans. The Beauregard name comes from a wealthy plantation-class family and no doubt exploited enslaved people before the Civil War.
There are major problems with naming roads after major slaveholders. Giving credit or honor to slaveholders is dangerous because it discredits the lives of enslaved people. Plantations would not exist without the forced labor of enslaved people. The memorialization of slaveholders is reflective of what our society deems more important than others. Through this, the history of Black Americans is ignored and our society forgets their fellow Americans’ history. Roads symbolizing slaveholders create a false narrative that slavery was not as bad as people make it out to be. This mindset is rooted in racism and contributes to the spread and normalization of white supremacy in Baton Rouge in society.
Racial Disparities in Baton Rouge
The widening of Interstate 10 had a significant impact on the racial divide that is present in Baton Rouge today, directly impacting Black residents in the community. The population in Baton Rouge increased significantly during and after World War II. Between 1940 and 1956, the city’s population grew by 380%. This uptick in population caused many white residents to believe the interstate should be widened. This expansion was prompted after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the 1956 Federal Highway Act.
Predominantly Black neighborhoods were targeted in the development of the interstate to enact “slum clearance.” The expansion of I-10 split the Old South Baton Rouge neighborhood, resulting in over 400 Black homes getting demolished to build the elevated lanes the highway features today.
By the 1960s, Black students felt the devasting effects of the new interstate. The interstate split the community and a large number of students had trouble reaching their schools. Many students crossed the interstate as a shortcut to get home or to school. This created a daily traffic hazard and white residents failed to understand the significant impact the expansion in Baton Rouge was having on the Black community.
Another consequence of the expansion of I-10 was time delaying detours. The expansion of I-10 was beneficial to many white residents and had little effect on them as the highway did not cut through their neighborhoods. The Black community, however, was unable to voice their concerns in any significant manner. It did not matter if the Black community was upset because they had little to no representation in the state legislature. Like Antebellum Louisiana, Black people were marginalized. Overall, the expansion of the interstate in Baton Rouge is a prime example of how racial tensions continued after the Civil War.
Plank Road is a staple roadway for residents of Baton Rouge. The road is in the North Baton Rouge area and holds a historical significance unknown to many people in the parish. Construction of the road began in 1850 and was built with the forced labor of enslaved people. The name derives from the wooden planks that enslaved people laid for the road.
Plank Road was a major transportation route for sugar cane and slaves. The road connected Baton Rouge to a train depot 30 miles north in Clinton, Louisiana. Currently, there is no historical marker signifying the connection of Plank Road to Slavery. It is not surprising that the enslaved people who were forced to build the road are denied historical recognition. Many southern cities share in the fixed ignorance that ignores Black history and is indicative of the community purposefully overlooking the history of Black Americans.
Plank Road is an example of the racial and socio-economic divide that is present in the city. The road extends through the 70802 and 70805 zip codes. The 70805-zip code encompasses the less diverse demographics. According to UnitedStatesZipCodes.org, 93.5% of residents in 70805 are Black. Plank Road previously was a white residential area with successful commerce, though after years in the 1960s and 70s of racial equality progression it has turned into an area strongly influenced by white flight.
There are local organizations that are focused on investing and redeveloping Plank Road. These efforts are focused on the Plank Road Corridor that is displayed in Figure 16. Build Baton Rouge and Project 70805 are organizations focused on promoting social and economic growth along plank Road and surrounding areas in North Baton Rouge. The importance of Plank Road is being debated among residents of North and South Baton Rouge. Plank Road residents and future business owners must have patience and commitment toward redeveloping the community to assuage disparities in the community. For example, the bus system in North Baton Rouge is lacking immensely. Public transportation in North Baton Rouge is extremely important because it connects the community, and it is utilized by thousands of residents every day. Furthermore, South Baton Rouge residents typically have higher education and higher wages than residents of North Baton Rouge, according to StatatiscalAtlas.com. The poor portion of South Baton features a majority Black demographic. In other words, racial disparities linger throughout the city and disproportionately affect the Black members of the community. In short, Plank Road was built by slaves who suffered oppression and faced white supremacy and the North Baton Rouge community continues to feel the lasting effects today.
Racial inequality and inequity are visible when analyzing Florida Boulevard. Baton Rouge parish, the racial divide in Baton Rouge is defined by Florida Boulevard—even being referred to as a modern-day Mason-Dixon Line. The road separates a majority White population (South Baton Rouge) from a majority Black population (North Baton Rouge). The demographic map below displays the racial.
Violent crimes are more prevalent in Northern Baton Rouge compared to its southern counterpart. One reason for this is that poverty in North Baton Rouge is more concentrated compared to South Baton Rouge. As a result, there is over-policing in areas north of Florida Boulevard, creating a much larger law enforcement presence in North Baton Rouge that negatively impacts the area.
Florida boulevard once was a bustling hub for economic activity. The 1970s marked the heyday for economic prosperity along the road. The Cortana Mall was established in 1976 at the intersection of Florida and Airline Highway. The large size of the mall reflected the economic opportunities found along the road and was the largest mall in the south, with 1.2 million square feet. Over time, however, the mall was neglected and largely vacant until its demolition in March of 2021.
Florida Boulevard is currently struggling in the media. A Google search shows that the media negatively portrays Florida Boulevard more times than not, often depicting the area as a dangerous zone where anybody and everybody is welcome to be a victim. This has a major negative impact on the whole community of Baton Rouge. For example, many businesses refuse to open a location along Florida Boulevard. There are numerous reasons for this, however, the image of the area that is portrayed in the news is a primary factor. High crime rates and the departure of businesses are all reasons that Florida Boulevard is struggling. Crime rates tend to increase in poverty-stricken areas, which is made worse by the lack of economic opportunities in the area.
In Short, Florida Boulevard was once a hub for businesses and economic prosperity. Currently, the boulevard separates a majority Black population from a majority White population. Negative media portrayal of the area has resulted in many establishments on the road closing. Baton Rouge remains a highly segregated place even 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement and this is seen through the divide created by Florida Boulevard.
Overall, my project explores the impact that slavery has on the geography of Baton Rouge, Louisiana today. In the first subsection, I analyze a few plantation subdivisions and the politics behind why residents choose to live there. I found this part of the project to be the most interesting and I enjoyed learning about the psychological effects that Antebellum-style homes have on Black Americans. The second subsection explores the impact roads named after major slaveholders and Confederate leaders have on how Baton Rouge memorializes racist figures in history. The last subsection is dedicated to the racial inequalities that are present in Baton Rouge today. Slavery had a major role in the establishment of Baton Rouge and its lingering effects are seen in the present geography of the city. It is important to talk about these topics because they are often ignored by the white community. Black Americans feel the repercussions of an oppressive system 200 years after it was abolished and is evident in how it influences the geography of Baton Rouge today.