Baton Rouge’s Troubled Waters reveals a self-sufficient community that included doctors, dentists and business owners. Negroes had their own schools, churches, theaters, grocery stores, bakeries and fish markets. They could even go to the community tailor to get clothes custom-made. The society enjoyed a rich social environment, with many of the nation’s top entertainers performing on the Temple roof.
While all seemed well in the African-American community in the 1940’s and 50’s, things changed drastically, depending on where Negroes went and who they met. Segregationist laws often meant Negroes had separate and inferior accommodations at department stores, hospitals and doctors’ offices. They had no access to many parks, pools, restaurants and hotels. Any African-American who wanted to get an advanced degree had to leave the state because of a lack of access to white colleges and universities in the state.
Many Southern Negroes were tolerant of the situation and only hoped and prayed for change. However, the people of South Baton Rouge were strong-willed and eventually – and deliberately – demanded change. Baton Rouge’s Troubled Waters reveals what happened when residents became weary after several young Negroes drowned in rivers, creeks and other water holes because segregation denied them access to City Park and its swimming pool.
The Civil Rights movement moved slowly in Baton Rouge according to Negroes and whites who lived through the period. Power brokers often yielded as little as possible. However, Negroes in South Baton Rouge were determined and capable. They chose the courts when they didn’t feel they were accomplishing anything when talking to city leaders.
Baton Rouge’s Troubled Waters illustrates how the community made strides in integrating City Hall, the local pools, public schools and the city bus system in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the city where they chose to live and raise their children.
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Credit: New-York Historical Society - "Great Egret," painted in Louisiana 1821