Our African American Legacy Images

Our African American Legacy


Prominent Establishments of the Local American Community

In recent years, many of the cultural centers for the African American community in Baton Rouge have been listed as historical landmarks, some of which show up in both the Louisiana and National Registers of Historic Places. Most of these are educational and entertainment establishments which played a crucial role in the cultural development of the local African American community.

Here is a list of some of these places with links to articles describing the historical importance of each of these establishments:

Leland CollegeCirca 1870

Leland University owes its existence to the wise forethought and broad generosity of Holbrook Chamberlain, a resident of Brooklyn, New York. Chamberlain came to New Orleans for the purpose of establishing an institution of higher learning for Blacks of Louisiana. Leland University was founded in 1870. Leland University was named after the wife of Chamberlain, whose father was Elder John Leland of Cheshire, Massachusetts. Leland University's charter extended to all people regardless of sex or color, but the institution's first educational recipients were the descendants of the Black race.

The school, at first a primary grade, gradually advanced to grammar and to high school instruction and for some years chiefly provided for the preparation of teachers to supply the needs of public and private schools then springing up in all the Southern States. Principals instead of presidents headed the institution from 1870-1876. Leland originated and was carried on for the purpose of promoting Christian education among the people of Louisiana and adjacent States. Its aims were to prepare ministers for the work of preaching the Gospel, to fit teachers for their important field of usefulness, to train mechanics for the trades, and, in a word, to qualify men and women to discharge efficiently all the responsibilities of life; thus seeking to advance religion, sound morality, intelligence, and prosperity among all classes.

In 1982, Leland was added to the National Register of Historic Places list (building #82000433). Though not much remains but an entry marker and a few walls in a state of disrepair, Leland College is remembered as one of the permanent sites of America’s first private college for African-Americans.

SOURCE: Southern University and A&M College-Archives Department-John B. Cade Library

Read about Leland College: The Architecture and People of Leland University and Leland College by Lionel Lee La 378.763 L478a

McKinley High SchoolCirca 1926

“McKinley High School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of the history that enabled this structure to be listed on the register is as follows:

The forerunner of McKinley was named the Hickory Street School, which was located several blocks East of the present site, in 1907-1908.

The Baton Rouge Colored High School was located on Perkins Rd. at Bynum St. in 1913. This facility was later struck by lightning and destroyed.

McKinley is the oldest high school established for African Americans in East Baton Rouge Parish.

McKinley’s first graduating class was in 1916. The four students became the first African American high school graduates in Louisiana.

The present building was erected in 1926-1927, and named in honor of the 25th President of the United States. The school opened September 19, 1927.

The High School was moved in 1950 to a new facility at the corner of Louise St. and McCalop, next to the present day I-10. The Delpit Blvd. facility became McKinley Junior High School.

In 1962, the third and present day McKinley High School was built on East McKinley Street, the Junior High School was moved to the I-10 site, and the Delpit Blvd. site became McKinley Elementary.

The original McKinley High School facility was entered into the National Register of Historic Places on November 16, 1981.

The original structure was purchased by the Alumni Association from the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on February 5, 1992.

Original McKinley High School building was destroyed by fire on July 3, 1998.”

SOURCE: McKinley High School Alumni Association Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Program, April 9, 2006.

Southern UniversityCirca 1880

"Southern University opened its doors in 1880 in New Orleans, Louisiana, with twelve students, five faculty, and a budget totaling $10,000. In 1914, the University was relocated to Louisiana's capital city, Baton Rouge, and in 1947, opened a public law school. Today, the Southern University Law Center (SULC) graduates the majority of the state's African-American lawyers.

The University later expanded to other cities in the state, establishing Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO), Southern University at Shreveport (SUSLA), and a livestock and horse facility in Baker. The System's major land-grant programs are primarily conducted through cooperative extension and agricultural programs dating back to 1890.

In 1974, the Southern University and A&M College System was created by the state legislature under the management of the Southern University Board of Supervisors. In order for the Southern University Law Center to enjoy professional standing in the legal education community, it was necessary to make the Law Center an independent budgetary unit within the Southern University System. Hence, the Southern University Law Center became the fourth campus of the System.

The Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center (SUAREC) was established on July 1, 2001, out of the need to enhance the impact of our land-grant programs on the citizenry of the State of Louisiana. In July 2001, the agricultural research program was relocated to the newly established Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center (SUAREC), the fifth campus of the Southern University and A&M College System. From its humble beginnings, Southern University has become the only historically black university system in America with an enrollment of over 15,000 students. Its annual operating budget is more than $200.5 million, and the combined physical plant is valued at approximately $382.5 million. The Southern University System offers 86 baccalaureate degree programs, 23 associate degrees, and 12 certificate programs. Although the majority of the programs are offered at the undergraduate level, the University currently offers 26 masters, 1 post master, 1 professional and 5 doctoral degree programs. The System encompasses five institutions offering two-year, four-year, graduate, professional and doctoral degrees. Southern University at Baton Rouge, Southern University at New Orleans, and Southern University at Shreveport are accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award certificate, associate, baccalaureate, master, doctorate, and professional degrees."

SOURCE: Southern University System Website

Tabby's Blues BoxLocal Cultural Institution

Tabby's Blues Box and Heritage Hall opened its doors in 1979 as the first and only blues club in Baton Rouge. It featured authentic blues music, offered the original blues "jam," and welcomed fans from all over the world. The Thursday night Hoo Doo Party was a favorite with college students.

Famous local musicians -- Henry Gray, Silas Hogan, Raful Neal -- could be found playing there when they were in town. Tabby's son and Grammy Award winner, Chris Thomas King, got his start there and signed his first recording contract in the Blues Box. The "Box" was visited by many famous people: Mike Tyson, Paul Newman, Bruce Springsteen and Shaquille O'Neal were just a few.

In 1999, the North Blvd. railroad overpass project caused the demolition of the original location and a new location was found on Lafayette St. in downtown Baton Rouge. The new "Box" opened in 2000 and stayed open until 2004 when Tabby had a massive stroke while waiting to go onstage.

Temple Theatre / Prince Hall Masonic LodgeCirca 1924

The Prince Hall Masonic Temple: Taking Pride in Baton Rouge’s Black Heritage

By Henry Kiely

The recent acceptance of the Prince Hall Masonic Temple in Baton Rouge by the National Register of Historic Places is a tribute to seventy years of persistent faith. It would have been easy at times, through some troublesome years, for the founders and their successors to abandon the dream of perpetuating a showplace for the black community.

It started in 1924. The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows contracted with contracted with Conner, Bryant and Bell, a Baton Rouge black contracting company, to erect a building at 1335 North Boulevard. Occupation of the Neo-classical brick building with concrete accents began in 1925. In fact, Frank Johnson, a concrete mason who worked on the original construction, celebrated his ninety-ninth birthday this past February.

North Boulevard is still a major access road into downtown Baton Rouge. At the time the building was completed, there were some forty merchants and businesses between 12th Street and 16th Street. There were meat markets, grocers, a motor car company, a furniture company, a dry cleaners, a hardware store, a jeweler, a tailor, a drugstore, a dry goods store, a lumber company, a coffee company, and a funeral home.

The two major attractions of the building were the Temple Theatre, occupying most of the first floor and part of the second floor, and the Temple Roof Garden occupying the fourth floor. The rest of the space on the second floor and all of the third floor contained offices for various businesses and professional people. The District Grand Master of the Odd Fellows Lodge, Dr. B. V. Baranco, had his dental office in the building. On the third floor today are the executive offices of the M.W. Prince Hall Masonic Lodge Grand Master Earle L. Bradford, and his staff, as well as a huge meeting room used by some twenty-nine local Masonic lodges. An interesting tile floor in the meeting room is decorated with symbols of mason trade tools: a square, a plumb line, and a level.

The Roof Garden, now the Grand Ballroom, was the glamour spot for black Baton Rouge social functions. Best known were the appearances of national big name bands such as Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. When they played in the spring and summer months, the huge windows of the Roof Garden were thrown open and the music reverberated throughout the neighborhood. Today, local bands provide music for scheduled activities, which are held either in the ballroom or the theatre.

In the early ‘30s, the Odd Fellows experienced some financial difficulties. Spaulding Business College rented the Roof Garden until they relocated to Government Street years later. In 1948, the Temple was sold to the present owners, the M.W. Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F.A. & M. of Louisiana. The building became the headquarters of 179 Masonic lodges.

When it became available, air conditioning installed in the Roof Garden provided a significant change for the summer months. The windows were bricked in and plywood paneling was installed on the interior. Despite these changes, the space retains much of its original character, including handsome Neo-classical detailing.

Two sets of stairs at the north end of the room lead to an original balcony from which spectators relaxed while viewing the activities on the ballroom floor. Steam heated radiators provided heat during the winter months for many social activities. Debutante parties included prominent socialites of the black community. Other catered social events were fraternal dances, wedding receptions, sorority cotillions and banquets.

As the social hub of Baton Rouge’s black population, the Temple is an important addition to the National Register of Historic Places. This much deserved recognition is the result of a project launched by the Foundation for Historical Louisiana to nominate buildings important to the black community in Baton Rouge.

SOURCE: Preservation In Print, (New Orleans, LA.) vol. 21, no. 5, June 1994.