State in southern USA, bordered to the north by Arkansas, to the west by Texas, with the Sabine River and Toledo Bend Reservoir forming much of the boundary, and to the east by Mississippi, with the Mississippi and Pearl rivers forming much of the boundary; area 112,825 sq km/43,562 sq mi; population (2010) 4,533,372; capital Baton Rouge. The state is named after France's King Louis XIV and its nickname is a tribute to the official state bird, the brown pelican, which is native to Louisiana. To the south, the state extends into the Gulf of Mexico, its area expanding continuously through the growth of the delta of the Mississippi River. The Louisiana coast features bayous and marshes, salt domes, islets and channels, and brackish lakes. The economy is based on petroleum products, agriculture, fishing, minerals, and tourism. The state is associated with the development of jazz and blues; the music industry contributes to the economy and is a major tourist attraction. Major cities include New Orleans (the largest in the state), Shreveport, Lafayette, Lake Charles, and Kenner; other metropolitan areas are Metairie, Marrero, and Chalmette. From the 16th century the state was in the hands of the Spanish and the French, before being bought by the USA in 1803. Its culture has also been influenced by African slaves and Caribbean and French-Canadian immigrants. The state was admitted to the Union in 1812 as the 18th US state.
Physical Louisiana lies within the Gulf Coastal Plain, rising to only 163 m/535 ft at Driskill Mountain in the northwest. It consists of three main areas of land: the East Gulf Coastal Plain, the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, and the West Gulf Coastal Plain.
The East Gulf Coastal Plain is mainly marshland, lying east of the Mississippi River and north of Lake Pontchartrain. The Mississippi Alluvial Plain surrounds the lower Mississippi River and runs from Arkansas to the Gulf of Mexico. Broad ridges and high fields in the area are known locally as ‘frontlands’. ‘Backlands’ describes the areas of clay and silt that lie behind these ridges. The Mississippi delta covers 33,700 sq km/13,000 sq mi and contains the state's most fertile soil.
The West Gulf Coastal Plain is characterized by sand ridges in the Gulf of Mexico, known as barrier beaches, and wide areas of marsh in which petroleum, natural gas, and deposits of salt are found. Behind the coast the land rises through a low, rich plain or prairie, and into slightly higher rolling, pine-covered land in the northwest.
The Louisiana coast is a land of bayous and marshes, salt domes such as Avery Island, islets and channels that are constantly changing shape, and lakes such as Pontchartrain and Maurepas. Tributaries of the Mississippi River, notably Bayou Lafourche and the Atchafalaya River, pass through the delta, representing past or possible future main channels of the river, which was heavily engineered, with levees and floodways in place to prevent catastrophic change. Hurricane Katrina breeched the levee system in New Orleans in 2005, causing flooding that devastated the city. Most of the land in the south, including the city of New Orleans, lies below river level.
One of the wettest states, Louisiana has a climate that is hot, humid, and subtropical. As part of the USA's ‘Hurricane Alley’, the region is also vulnerable to flooding from the sea.
Louisiana is part of the ‘Oil Patch’ and a major petroleum producer. There are thousands of wells along its coast and far onto the continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Mississippi is the primary river in Louisiana but others include Atchafalaya, Black, Calcasieu, Ouachita, Pearl, Red, and Sabine. Along the Mississippi are many freshwater oxbow lakes.
Louisiana freshwater fishery is considered the most diverse in the USA and there are around 50 different species of fish in the state's lakes, streams, rivers, and marshes, and in the Gulf of Mexico, including red fish, speckled trout, white trout, black drum, sheepshead, bull croaker, flounder, cobia/lemon fish, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, greater amberjack, spadefish, pompano, bluefish, barracuda, red snapper, Jack Crevalle, cusk eel, and trigger fish. Crabs, oysters, and shrimp are found in abundant supply and are also farmed.
Louisiana is densely forested and almost half the state is covered in trees such as cypresses, magnolias, oaks, longleaf pines, and shortleaf pines, with Spanish moss draping cypress and oak trees. The climate allows shrubs and flowers such as azaleas, camellias, honeysuckle, jasmine, lilies, and orchids to thrive.
With its largely unspoilt habitat and cover, Louisiana is a haven for wildlife, including beavers, muskrats, opossums, raccoons, skunks, and wild hogs, as well as alligators. Louisiana's coastal marshes teem with birds such as egret, ibis, heron, ducks, and geese, and the state bird the pelican is commonly seen here also. Many other species winter in Louisiana.
Features Louisiana has a long history and a complex cultural heritage and is rich in rare natural habitat for wildlife. Poverty Point State Commemorative Area has prehistoric American Indian sites dating from 1800–500 BC. Natchitoches, in western Louisiana, is the oldest permanent European settlement of the Louisiana Purchase and is home to the Old Courthouse Museum and the Wedell-Williams Aviation Museum.
The old state capital is in Baton Rouge and dates from 1849. Port Hudson State Commemorative Area marks the site of a Civil War battle. Chalmette Battlefield in Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve is where the Battle of New Orleans was fought during the War of 1812.
Cajun country (Acadiana) is unlike any other region in the USA, and includes St Martinville, the 18th-century ‘Petit Paris’ with the church of St Martin de Tours and the Petit Paris Museum, while Vermilionville in Lafayette is rich in Cajun architecture, musical events, and cuisine.
Louisiana's many plantation mansions include some designed by Henry Howard, notably Nottoway (1859), the largest plantation mansion in the South with 64 rooms. Other plantations include Madewood, Destrahan Plantation (the oldest surviving plantation in the Mississippi Valley and built by freed black American Garles Pacquet), Rosedown Plantation and Gardens (1835), and Magnolia Mound Plantation. Feliciana Country has many old plantation homes. North of Baton Rouge, Oakley Plantation, where John James Audubon developed his famous bird illustrations, forms part of the Audubon State Commemorative Area.
Historic towns include St Francisville, Clinton, and Jackson, and the historic Florida parishes in English Louisiana are known for the British influence in their architecture and cultural traditions.
The city of New Orleans, a major international tourist attraction, is the oldest city in the South and the celebrated birthplace of Dixieland jazz, with world-famous Mardi Gras celebrations and a picturesque French Quarter (Vieux Carré) around Jackson Square, the site of the original colony founded in 1718. The St Louis Cathedral in New Orleans is the oldest continuously active cathedral in the USA, with the original building dating from 1718; the current cathedral was completed in 1794. The French Old Ursuline Convent dates from 1749 and is the only building to survive from the French colonial period. More Spanish buildings survive than French.
New Orleans is also home to the St Louis Cemetery No. 1 (1789); the Louisiana State Museum, which fills several historic structures, including eight buildings in the New Orleans French Quarter; Beauregard-Keyes House, home of novelist Frances Parkinson Keyes; the Voodoo Museum; and the Garden District, with mid-19th-century estates.
Shreveport in northwestern Louisiana has important cultural resources and is home to the American Rose Centre, headquarters of the American Rose Society. Harrah's Louisiana Downs thoroughbred racetrack is in nearby Bossier City.
Among Louisiana's many state parks and state commemorative areas are the Sabine Wildlife Refuge Tower; the underground salt dome of Avery Island, situated in swamp and marsh near New Iberia and featuring the conservation area Jungle Gardens and an egret sanctuary; the conservation area of Kisatchie National Forest in the central part of the state; and the scenic wetlands of Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.
Culture Louisiana's cultural heritage is more complex than that of perhaps any other state in the USA. About 5% of the state's population speak French or a French Cajun dialect at home. The state roughly divides into an Anglo-Saxon, Protestant north and a Roman Catholic south made up of descendants of Louisiana's French and Spanish settlers; the French and Spanish mixed-descent Creoles and the French dialect-speaking Cajuns are descended from French immigrants who were driven from Acadia in modern-day Nova Scotia, Canada, in the 18th century. Louisiana's culture is also hugely influenced by African slaves and their descendants, as well as by Caribbean immigrants.
Reflecting its diverse heritage, Louisiana has many cultural resources. The Louisiana Creole Heritage Center of Northwestern State University is in Natchitoches. The Canary Islands Descendants Association Museum is situated close to the St Bernard State Park and features a genealogy room with a library, artefacts, and memorabilia focusing on the descendants of Spaniards from the Canary Islands now living in St Bernard. The Isleño Cultural Center is situated in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Numerous folk associations and cultural heritage groups exist in Louisiana. The Louisiana Folklife Program has a mandate for cultural conservation and some of its projects include Cajun music, deer-hide chair making, cypress basketweaving, and wooden boatbuilding. The Louisiana Folklife Festival takes place annually in Monroe. Other important folk festivals are the Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival in Plaisance and Festivals Acadiens in Lafayette.
Southern Louisiana's Creole and Cajun cuisines are world famous. Classic dishes include bisque and bouillabaisse crab and fish soups; huitres en coquille à la Rockefeller (oysters baked on rock salt with spinach sauce); red beans and rice; gumbo, jambalaya, and étouffée. Crawfish, shrimp, and crab recipes are popular. Caribbean influences are evident in the use of spices and hot chilli sauce. New Orleans is renowned for its fine dining and is heavily French influenced. Food festivals in Louisiana include the French Food Festival in Larose; an International Rice Festival in Crowley; Bridge City Gumbo Festival; Bayou Lacombe Crab Festival; the Louisiana Catfish Festival; numerous other shrimp and seafood festivals; and Taste of the Bayou Food Festival in Houma.
Louisiana has several notable art museums and resources. The Cabildo in New Orleans, the former seat of the Spanish government, houses historic paintings, decorative arts, and photographs. The New Orleans Museum of Art has an important permanent collection focused on French and US art, photography, glass, and African and Japanese works. It includes paintings and sculptures by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy, and Jean Miro and a group of works by Edgar Degas.
The Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans specializes in works originating in Louisiana, including early colonial Spanish and French portraiture and early documentary-style photography. Shreveport is home to the Meadows Museum of Indo-Chinese Art at Centenary College and to the R W Norton Art Gallery, with a permanent collection that includes US and European works and focuses on the art of Frederic Remington and Charles M Russell. The Alexandria Museum of Art, Alexandria, opened in 1998 and houses an extensive permanent collection of contemporary Louisiana art and the state's largest collection of north Louisiana folk art.
The cities of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Alexandria, and Lake Charles all support symphony orchestras. Among the popular theatres in New Orleans are Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, Tulane University's Center Stage, and the Dashiki Project Theater.
Louisiana is the state most closely associated with the global development of jazz and the blues, particularly in the city of New Orleans. The Louisiana State Museum has an important collection of jazz sheet music, film posters, memorabilia, and ephemera. New Orleans has many live jazz and blues venues. The ten-day New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival takes place annually in late April and includes food and crafts. Other genres of music originating in Louisiana are Cajun music and zydeco. Several Cajun music festivals take place annually in Lake Charles in western Louisiana and there are numerous radio stations featuring work by local musicians.
Louisianans stages numerous folk festivals, particularly Acadian and Cajun, and New Orleans is home to a huge Mardi Gras celebration, one of the most famous carnivals in the world. Louisianans are passionate hunters, trappers, and fishers, and traditional country events include rodeos, a duck festival, and a Cajun Heritage Waterfowl Festival, as well as alligator and frog races. Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo is the oldest fishing tournament in the USA.
GovernmentLouisiana's state constitution The present constitution (1974) replaced the constitution of 1921, which was amended more than 500 times.
Structure of state government The legislature has a Senate of 39 members and a House of Representatives of 105 members, all elected for four-year terms. The state sends six representatives and two senators to the US Congress, and has eight electoral votes in presidential elections.
The governor is elected for a four-year term and can only be re-elected once. Republican Bobby Jindal took the governorship in January 2008. Louisiana is one of five US states which elects its state officials in odd-numbered years. It is the only US state to use a French-style majoritarian voting system, instead of ‘first past the post’, in its state and local elections. Under this system, a primary election is held on election day which is open to one or more candidates from each party. If no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote a run-off election is held a month later between the top two candidates, who may be from the same party.
The Louisiana Supreme Court is the state's highest court and is composed of seven justices elected from districts throughout Louisiana, with one justice elected from each district. The justices serve ten-year terms of office. The senior justice in point of service is the chief justice, who is the chief administrative officer of the Louisiana judicial system.
Louisiana is divided into 64 geographical and political areas called parishes, which serve the same role as counties in other states. Parishes can have various forms of government, including police jury, parish commission, and consolidated parish/city.
Economy Louisiana's economy has several important components: petroleum, agriculture, fishing, minerals, and tourism. Louisiana ranks among the top producers of crude petroleum and natural gas in the USA. Oil refineries and petrochemical plants also play a major role in the state's economy and synthetic rubber, chemicals, fertilizers, and plastics are major state products. Salt, lime, lignite, and sulphur are the most important minerals mined. Owing to its richly fertile soils, Louisiana is one of the nation's leading producers of sweet potatoes, rice, and sugar cane. Other crops include soybeans, cotton, corn, hay, and pecans. Fishing is a major industry and the primary catches are shrimp, menhaden, and oysters. Crab, butterfish, drum, red snapper, tuna, and tile fish are also caught.
Shipping and shipbuilding are also important: Louisiana's ports at New Orleans, South Louisiana, Baton Rouge, and Plaquemines rank among the top ten busiest ports in the USA. Aerospace and aviation corporations play a vital role in the state's economy. Louisiana has a pelt industry in mink, nutria, coypus, opossum, otter, and raccoon. The lumber industry is also significant, and there are many lumber and paper mills. Other industries include food processing, manufacturing (concentrated on transport equipment and assembly, and electronics), and biotechnology. The music industry also plays a significant role in the state's economy as well as providing a major tourist attraction.
Hurricane Katrina heavily impacted the state's economy in 2005, adversely affecting the service industries, farming, oil, exports, and many other sectors.
HistoryEarly days Louisiana's first inhabitants were American Indians of the Atakapa, Opelousa, Coushata, Chitimacha, Houma, Tunica, Natchez, and Koroa people. They lived off the fertile soil and abundant shellfish and were active traders. Spain explored the region in 1519 and Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca visited it in 1528. Hernando de Soto travelled through Louisiana via the Mississippi River in 1541. The French-Canadian explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle in 1662 erected a cross at the mouth of the Mississippi River after descending the river from the Great Lakes. He named the region after Louis XIV, and claimed it for France. The first permanent settlement in the Mississippi Valley was the French fort St Jean Baptiste (now Natchitoches) in 1715.
French colonial days John Law's Mississippi Scheme, a plan to exploit French colonial areas, attracted many settlers to Louisiana, and a colony there was rapidly settled. In 1718 New Orleans was founded and named after Phillippe Duc d'Orleans. The St Louis Cathedral was built in the same year, and in 1723 New Orleans became the capital of the French colony of Louisiana. Sugar cane was introduced during the 1750s and an early plantation system established, with large numbers of Africans arriving in the state to work as slaves. In 1762 Louis XV bequeathed the ‘Island of New Orleans’ and all of Louisiana west of the Mississippi to his cousin, Charles III of Spain.
Spanish Louisiana This agreement was confirmed a year later in the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years' War. Bernardo de Galvez, Louisiana's Spanish governor and an American ally in the Revolution, prevented the further development of a British stronghold in the Mississippi Valley by capturing British forts at Manchac and Baton Rouge in 1779. The Florida parishes in the eastern part of the region were ceded to England and Baton Rouge was for a period renamed New Richmond. Around this time Acadian families, fleeing Nova Scotia, began to move to the area and were welcomed by the Spanish. Under the Treaty of San Ildefonso (1800), Louisiana reverted to France in 1800 but was sold to the USA by Napoleon I in 1803 under the Louisiana Purchase.
Early statehood After 1803, Americans moved into Louisiana, and it came to be viewed as having a ‘French’ south and an ‘American’ north. Parishes in the southeast, which were involved in a territorial dispute with West Florida, were added in 1812 when Louisiana was admitted to the Union. In the same year the first steamboat to navigate the Mississippi River docked at New Orleans from Pittsburgh. In early 1815, the last battle of the War of 1812 (1812–14; this battle was fought after a peace had been signed in Europe) ended with a crushing victory over the British by Andrew Jackson's motley forces at Chalmette, to the southeast of New Orleans. In 1824 the state adopted a Civil Code based on French Napoleonic and Roman models, which is unique in the USA. Baton Rouge became the state capital in 1849.
The Civil War Cotton and sugar dominated agriculture in the 19th century, and New Orleans was one of the USA's leading ports, serving as the outlet for the Cotton Belt. Louisiana seceded from the Union in 1861 and, after a brief period as a republic, joined the Confederacy. During the Civil War, the Union established control of the Mississippi in 1862, but Confederate forces held parts of the west until 1865. Louisiana was readmitted to the Union in 1868.
The Civil War destroyed the plantation economy and the state's recovery was slow. Sharecropping and tenancy farming replaced the plantation system but did not generate the same levels of wealth. Reconstruction led to Republican control of the state. In 1876 Reconstruction ended, as a result of the trade of electoral votes for Republican candidate Rutherford B Hayes, in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops. During the late 1860s the Ku Klux Klan was intensely active and racial tensions increased.
20th and early 21st centuries In 1901 oil was discovered in Louisiana, and Baton Rouge became a leading refining centre. The Mississippi River was opened for seagoing vessels, and new measures were established for preventing the flooding to which the state was so chronically prone. By the 1930s Louisiana had become one of the world's main centres of petrochemical manufacturing, based on oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico. At the same time New Orleans became the centre of a new musical genre, which came to be called jazz.
In the 1920s, with agricultural importance shifting to lumber and industry, the ‘American’ north became politically dominant in the state, personified in the career of the flamboyant and dictatorial Huey Long who was assassinated in the state capital in 1935.
Louisiana's race history is one of bitterness and struggle. Desegregation was widely resisted, but in 1963 Tulane University accepted five black students, the first in its history. Ernest Morial was elected the first black mayor of New Orleans in 1977.
In recent decades, the rise and fall of the world oil market has had a rollercoaster effect on the state's economy. The boom of the 1980s was followed by a deep recession due to the 1986 collapse of oil prices. Conservation has become a priority, particularly efforts to preserve freshwater marshlands.
Hurricanes in 1965 and flooding in 1973 preceded Hurricane Katrina in 2005, among the costliest and deadliest hurricanes in US history. The worst damage occurred in New Orleans, where the levee system failed and most of the city flooded. The city was evacuated, but tens of thousands were left stranded by the floodwaters and, with difficulties in accessing food and medicine, over 1,500 died, and millions were displaced in the state. Local and federal government were criticized for failing to prepare adequately, despite severe hurricane warnings, and for a slow emergency response and subsequent reconstruction effort.
In 2010 an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, about 80 km/50 mi from the coast of Louisiana, killed 11 workers and resulted in a prolonged and massive oil spill, creating an environmental catastrophe.
Famous peoplesport Bill Russell (1934– ), basketball player and coach
the arts Kate Chopin (1851–1904), author; Jelly Roll Morton (1885–1941), jazz artist; Louis Armstrong (1901–1971), jazz artist; Angela Gregory (1903–1990), sculptor; Lillian Hellman (1907–1984), playwright; Kitty Carlisle (1910–2007), singer and actor; Dorothy Lamour (1914–1996), actor; Truman Capote (1924–1984), novelist; Geoffrey Beene (1927–2004), fashion designer; Fats Domino (1928– ), jazz artist; Ernest J Gaines (1933– ), novelist; Jerry Lee Lewis (1935– ), singer; Anne Rice (1941– ), writer; Wynton Marsalis (1961– ), jazz artist
science Michael DeBakey (1908–2008), heart surgeon
society and education Caroline Merrick (1825–1908), suffragist and social reformer; Katharine Drexel (1858–1955), social reformer; Sophie Bell Wright (1886–1919), educator and social reformer; Paul Prudhomme (1940– ), chef
politics and law Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (1818–1893), military leader and Confederate general; Edward Douglass White (1845–1921), Supreme Court chief justice; Huey Long (1893–1935), politician; Huey Newton (1942–1989), civil-rights activist.
Louisiana – flag
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