In the mid-1800s, this stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans was home to the country’s highest concentration of millionaires. Their fortunes were made possible by the sweat of enslaved Africans and their descendants, whose lives—and deaths—went largely unrecorded, though they had a profound influence on American culture.
Many enslaved were buried in plots in the Buena Vista and Acadia Plantation Cemeteries that are invisible today, and the conflict in St. James Parish reflects a nationwide problem. Abandoned and overgrown Black cemeteries turn up during construction of highways, housing developments, and industrial plants, prompting calls for greater protections and new efforts at documentation. In addition to helping archaeologists study America’s hidden history, these sites are also sacred spaces for descendants.
While many plantations have been lost along River Road, historic remnants are hidden among sugarcane fields. Descendants of the enslaved at these burial sites have researched their ancestry back to 1852. The land is now the site of a proposed plastics complex. Construction was delayed after opposition by the Corps of Engineers. United Nations have raised concerns of continued environmental racism increasing regional health issues.
For more information contact: Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation