For all the amazing feats mentioned in history books, all the monumental contributions to society, there are just as many accomplishments that have been erased or ignored over the course of human history. Those in control of cultures and societies dictate what accomplishments make it into textbooks, and which ones are left out. African-Americans were brought to America by force for over five hundred years, for two hundred years to Louisiana, and despite leaving an indelible mark on American society their contributions are often ignored.
The African Scientific Research Institute (ASRI) is working to bring to light the contribution of African slaves to American society and culture. One particular project focuses on the contributions of Africans of Creole descent in southern Louisiana. A group led by Professor Jihad Muhammad, Founder, President and CEO of ASRI, has begun digging into the past of the African-American slaves who brought their unique culture to the Americas; many of whom died at the hands of their slave masters and were buried in unmarked graves and to be forgotten by history.
Louisiana has long been home to a culture unique unto itself in the United States. A former French and Spanish possession, Louisiana is home to a number of cultures that left indelible hand prints. African slaves flowed into the United States by the hundreds of thousands in the port city of New Orleans. While many would live and die as slaves across the South, others would live a free life in Louisiana and contribute to the unique Creole and Cajun cultures that developed in the region.
New Orleans has become a famous tourist destination in the United States, largely due to its unique culture. Celebrations like Mardi Gras, voodoo shops, and Creole and Cajun cuisine draw thousands to New Orleans each year. Without the contributions of African-Americans the city would likely have few of these cultural aspects to attract tourists and their dollars to the region.
Aside from scientific field work, studies, and research, the ASRI is devoted to helping African-American communities finally reap the rewards of their cultural contribution to Louisiana. The Promiseland Project in St. Martin Parish has ASRI contributors working hard to examine remains and artifacts at the Promiseland Slave Burial Ground (PSBG).
The PSBG is the final resting place of hundreds of known and unknown individuals of African descent whose Creole heritage helped make Louisiana the unique destination it is. Modern descendants of these pioneers continue to struggle. Studies have revealed that there exists a disproportionate amount of wealth generated by African-American culture that finds its way to the originators of that culture.
Professor Muhammad is a renowned forensic scientist and is helping the local African-American communities better understand their own history through his work at Promiseland Burial Ground. By helping the local community learn more about their heritage, he hopes to assist them in preserving their unique Creole heritage for future generations and hopefully generate cultural tourism that will benefit the community.
Language is an important tool in spreading knowledge. The French language played a big role in Louisiana’s history, and Creole French was a unique tongue unto itself that is slowly being replaced by English as time passes by. Part of helping the local African-American communities preserve their heritage is bringing about awareness of French Creole.
Assisting Professor Muhammad in his massive project is Ms. Mavis Frugé, president of La Table Française at NuNu’s Arts and Culture Collective. Ms. Frugé, from Arnaudville, has assisted in the established group known as “la Table Créole” in St. Martin Parish. The goal of the group, captained by Mr. Arron Flugence, Mrs. Melba Braud and Ms. Marie Mouton of Promiseland community, will be to preserve the local French African Creole language and help use it as a tool of cultural tourism trails development.
Charles Larroque is a member of Professor Muhammad’s research team, helping to bring to light the contributions of African-Americans to the Creole culture of Louisiana. Mr. Larroque is a retired teacher and freelance author who is from Jeanerette, Louisiana. Mr. Larroque has written articles and books, both in French and English, about the history of Louisiana and the contributions of African-Americans to local culture.
Mr. Larroque is the President of Louisiane à la carte inc., a non-profit organization that works to preserve the French culture and language in Louisiana. His group allows local communities the chance to reconnect with their roots and learn more about their history and culture.
The state of Louisiana has a rich heritage that includes, amongst many other groups, those with Creole and African roots. To ignore and erase these roots from its memory would be a shame. Even worse though, is taking advantage of their contributions without allowing the descendants of those who brought that culture to benefit as well.
The greater goal of Professor Muhammad and ASRI is to help local African-American communities understand their heritage and its contributions to Louisiana. Once this is accomplished, ASRI and the local communities can work together to ensure that a strong base is constructed for cultural tourism in the area. With a greater knowledge of their past, local communities can build an accurate and attractive tourism industry.
Not only will locals be able to preserve their Creole heritage for future generations to enjoy, they will be able to benefit from a new found tourism industry that can assist future generations in becoming self-sustainable through a strong economy.