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Louisiana

History

The lower Mississippi River area was dominated by the Mississippian mound-building culture until around 1592 when Europeans arrived and decimated the Native Americans with the usual combination of disease, unfavorable treaties and outright hostility.

The land was passed back and forth from the Spanish to the French, to the British and back to the French. After the American Revolution, the whole area passed to the USA in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, and Louisiana became a state in 1812.

Steamboats plying the rivers opened a vital trade network across the continent. New Orleans became a major port, and Louisiana’s slave-based plantation economy kept a flowing export of rice, tobacco, indigo, sugarcane and especially cotton. Louisiana seceded from the Union in 1861, but Union forces seized control of New Orleans in 1862, occupying much of the state during the war. Louisiana was readmitted to the Union in 1868, and the next 30 years saw political wrangling, economic stagnation and renewed discrimination against African Americans.

In the early 20th century oil discovery gave the economy a boost, while the devastation of cotton crops by boll weevils forced some agricultural diversification. In the 1920s, autocratic governor Huey Long was able to modernize much of the state’s infrastructure. Industry and tourism developed, but the tradition of unorthodox and sometimes ruthless politics continues today. Race and economics are ongoing sources of struggle: witness the post-Katrina rebuilding process. The 2005 hurricane and the flooding in its aftermath have reshaped southern Louisiana. Locals negotiate the tricky path through redevelopment, the return of displaced people, wetland restoration and outsider involvement.