Louisiana State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General Louisiana State History

No other state has a more varied or colorful past than Louisiana. The state has been governed under 10 different flags beginning in 1541 with Hernando de Soto's claim of the region for Spain. La Salle later claimed it for Bourbon France and over the years Louisiana was at one time or another subject to the Union Jack of Great Britain, the Tricolor of Napoleon, the Lone Star flag of the Republic of West Florida and the fifteen stars and stripes of the United States. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Louisiana became an independent republic for six weeks before joining the Confederacy.

Earlier, in 1803, Louisiana had become a part of the United States because of the region's importance to the trade and security of the American mid-west. New Orleans and the surrounding territory controlled the mouth of the Mississippi River down which much of the produce of the mid-west traveled to reach market. To get the vital region in American hands, President Thomas Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon.

With the acquisition of Louisiana, Jefferson nearly doubled the size of the fledgling U.S. and made it a world power. Later, 13 states or parts of states were carved out of the Louisiana Purchase territory.

Through much of its early history Louisiana was a trading and financial center, and the fertility of its land made it one of the richest regions in America as first indigo then sugar and cotton rose to prominence in world markets. Many Louisiana planters were among the wealthiest men in America.

The plantation economy was shattered by the Civil War although the state continued to be a powerful agricultural region. The discovery of sulfur in 1869 and oil in 1901, coupled with the rise of forestry sent the state on a new wave of economic growth. Eventually, Louisiana became a major American producer of oil and natural gas and a center of petroleum refining and petrochemicals manufacturing, which it remains to this day.

Louisiana Historic Figures

Louis Armstrong
1901-71: Jazz musician, born in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. He was an innovative trumpeter and singer who was the leading star of jazz throughout his career. Raised by his mother in extreme poverty, at age 12 he served a term for delinquency at the Coloured Waifs Home, where he learned to play the cornet. By 1919 he was playing with Kid Ory's band in New Orleans, and also with Fate Marable on Mississippi riverboats. In 1922, he joined his mentor, King Oliver's trailblazing Creole Jazz Band, in Chicago, and in 1924 he spent a year with Fletcher Henderson's pioneering big band in New York, where he also recorded with Bessie Smith and other leading blues singers. Between 1925 and 1929, he made his classic Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, which shaped the course of jazz for the next two decades. In 1930, his recording of the pop song "Ain't Misbehavin'`' became his first show business hit, and for the next 17 years he appeared as a star soloist with various big bands in an increasingly commercial context. In 1947, he formed his All Stars, a Dixieland-style sextet with which he maintained a constant international touring schedule until his death. He appeared in over 50 films as a musician and entertainer, including New Orleans (1947), Paris Blues (1961), and Hello, Dolly. (1969). His autobiography, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, was published in 1954.

Jean Laffite
?-1825: Pirate; probably born in France. He came to New Orleans by 1809 and led a band of smugglers and pirates. He and his men were pardoned by President James Madison after they manned artillery during the battle of New Orleans (1815). He founded Galveston, Texas, and reverted to piracy. After a U.S. naval force dispersed the colony, he sailed away and passed into legend.

John A. Lejeune
1867-1942: Marine officer; born in Pointe Coupee Parish, La. A brilliant combat commander and a reforming commandant, this rugged, charismatic marine oversaw the corps' conversion in the 1920s from a colonial police agency into a modern expeditionary force. The son of a sugar planter, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1888, served in Panama and the Philippines and in command of marine detachments at sea, and in 1914 led the marine brigade that assisted in the capture of Vera Cruz, Mexico. In 1918, he took command of the 2nd Infantry Division of the American Expeditionary Force and led it in the battles of St. Mihiel, Blanc Mont, and the Meuse-Argonne. Appointed commandant of the corps in 1920, he developed amphibious doctrine and tactics that were to be applied in the great Pacific campaigns of World War II. He retired in 1929 to become superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute (1929-37).

Huey P. Long
1893-1935: Governor, U.S. senator, political boss, demagogue; born in Winnfield, La. Admitted to the bar in 1915, he came to prominence during his ten years with the Louisiana Railroad (later Public Service) Commission, where he gained the reputation of being a populist who worked on behalf of the rural poor. As a Democrat, he was elected governor of Louisiana (1928--32) and to the U.S. Senate (1932--35), all the while building up a formidable political machine. Adored by his constituents for the services he delivered, "the Kingfish" was reviled both in the state and nationally for corruption and dictatorial practices; by 1934 he literally controlled every level of government in Louisiana. A founder of the "Share the Wealth" movement, he announced his plan to run for president of the U.S.A. but was assassinated in 1935, allegedly by a doctor opposed to his corrupt ways.

Howard K. Smith
1914- Present: Television correspondent/anchorman; born in Ferriday, La. A Rhodes scholar, he joined CBS (1941--61) in Berlin during World War II, returning in 1957 as Washington correspondent and later bureau chief. He moderated the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, joining ABC in 1961, and later coanchoring ABC Evening News (1969--75). Becoming increasingly conservative politically, he later worked as a commentator (1975-79).