Perseverance, Strength and Faith

The River Road African American Museum, located in the historic district of Donaldsonville, Louisiana is the premier facilitiy in the South to focus on the history and heritage of
African Americans along the Mississippi River.
The River Road African American Museum exhibits include Free People of Color; African Influences on Louisiana Cuisine; Rural Roots of Jazz; Black Doctors of the River Road; Louisiana Black Inventors; Folk Artists; Louisiana Underground Railroad; Reconstruction Period; History of Education in Plantation Country and Slave Inventories
Visit the River Road African American Museum and learn about the past in order to understand the future.
Learn about the story of the River Road African American Museum from its beginning to our future plans. Here also you find is our vision/mission statements and a letter from the founder/director of the museum, Kathe Hambrick.
With over 300 years of history, the legacy and importance of Africans in America to the growth of the South, the United States and the world is evident through the collection and exhibits of rare artifacts


found at the museum.

We invite you to view a glimpse of the exhibits we offer at the River Road African American Museum here on our website. History awaits you.

Free man of color,L.L. Fernandez during the antebellum period
Monde de Couleur Libre (Free People of Color) were persons of mixed African, European, and or Native American descent who bought their freedom. In addition to self-purchase, manumission sometimes gave them their freedom for meritorious service in battle or saving the life of their masters. A significant amount of enslaved people became free because they were the children of white native born and European fathers who sometimes openly acknowledged their mixed offspring and who also freed the mother of their children.

What is the name of the benevolent association that L.L. Fernandez founded?

True Friends Benevolent Association was started as a mutual aid society at the end of enslavement, when African Americans had no access to health insurance, health care or burial insurance.

Click here for more information on benevolent societies

This exhibit lists the names of hundreds of individuals who obtained their freedom in Ascension Parish or who moved to Ascension Parish as freemen and freewomen.

The exhibit shows occupation, skill, and property ownership of these free people. The list of names dates back to 1806 when the town of Donaldsonville was founded. The museum will publish its second book for the Donaldsonville bicentennial in 2006, Monde de Couleur Libre. The book will include copies of detailed maps and freedom documents from courthouses, Catholic church records, family papers and the state archives.

Why do we eat red beans and rice on Monday? Why is rice a main staple in the diet of Louisianans . Explore this exhibit
to find out.

Like the gumbo for which it is famous, South Louisiana cuisine has been influenced by the African presence of spices, vegetables, and grains. Sometimes called Creole or Cajun; the food is a rich blend of African, French and Spanish cultures. Preparation methods and traditions have been greatly influenced by the Africans and it was sometimes the black hand in the pot which made the food interesting and unique to Louisiana culture.

Can You Pronounce These Louisiana Words?
In this exhibit we explore the origin of various foods, which have become a part of American cuisine. Many of the foods referred to as soul food are influenced by the crops and preparation methods carried over to the new territory in Louisiana by the enslaved Africans.

This exhibit includes photographs, recipes, sculptures and artifacts from rural families in “plantation country”. Unlike any other exhibit on Louisiana cuisine, this kitchen exhibit is actually in a kitchen with curtains made of antique rice and sugar sacks and hand-stitched aprons, made of old chicken feed sacks. The exhibit pays tribute to the "mawmaws and pawpaws" who cooked in southern kitchens professionally and domestically across the South using recipes handed down from one generation to the next.

Although New Orleans is known as the birthplace of Jazz, a lesser-known fact is that many African American performing artists hailed from or were born in the river parishes: Ascension, Assumption, St. James, St. Charles and St. John. Trace the roots of Jazz through its rural beginnings by exploring local musicians such as:

Joe King Oliver - Was Louis Armstrong’s mentor. Oliver was born in Abend, Louisiana in 1885, a mile or two down river from Donaldsonville.

Plas Johnson - Played the slinking intro to Henry Mancinis "Pink Panther" theme. This Donaldsonville native, has played a standard part of the orchestral recordings with Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra.

Bill Summers - Bill Summers grew up in Ascension Parish. Summers is internationally recognized for his work on the Emmy Award winning television series Roots, The Wiz, and The Color Purple.

Other entertainment greats from the rural area were Claiborne Williams, Billy Kersand, Papa Celestine, Worthia “Showboy” Thomas, Ernie Kato, Kid Ory, Fats Domino and hundreds of others. Look for the future exhibit on the rural roots of jazz designed for the True Friends Benevolent Society Hall.

Dr. John H. Lowery

What year did Dr. Lowery recieve his medical degree.
Dr. John H. Lowery, a very prominent doctor in Ascension Parish and born in Plaquemine, Louisiana, received his medical degree from New Orleans University in 1894.

This is the Africa Plantation.

The Africa Plantation is also associated with the museum for another reason. Want to know why? Then click on the link MUSEUM at the top of the page.
Why is Dr. Lowery associated with it?

Ulysses Grant Dailey- Was born in Donaldsonville in 1885. Dailey assisted the well-known African American Dr. Daniel Hale Williams with the first successful open heart surgery.

Ernest Nester Ezidore – One of the first students to attend Southern University, Ezidore served both black and white patients during the time of segregation; in the St. James parish rural community.

Visit the museum or purchase Our Roots Run Deep to learn more about Dr. Feaster Dean, Dr. Watkins, Dr. Brazier, and Thelma Wakefield, each born one generation out of slavery, becoming prominent citizens in the rural communities along the Mississippi River.

Leonard Julien, Sr.
What year did Leonard Julien invent the sugarcane planting machine?
Leonard Julien, Sr. was born in 1910 in Modeste, Louisiana. His great love for farming; combined with a lifelong ambition to improve agricultural production, lead to his invention of the sugarcane-planting machine. Learn the amazing story of this incredible inventor and see his actual invention.

Madame C. J. WalkerMadame C. J. Walker – Born in 1867 on a cotton plantation in Delta, Louisiana in Madison Parish, to enslaved parents, she was orphaned at the age of seven and at the age of twenty, became America’s first female self-made millionaire. Come discover why.The museum collection includes photographs and original documents from the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company & Beauty School and actual graduation certificates.

This museum program brings together poetry and art in this exhibit of featured area folk artists, which is sure to delight all who visit. Enjoy the works of artists such as:

Alvin Batiste – A native of Donaldsonville, Batiste began drawing at the age of three and he has become a world-renowned self-taught artist. Discover the works of this artist who reflects different themes of the African American culture and life captured from his observations and experiences in the rural South. Learn more about Batiste at

The River Preacher - Painting By Malaika FavoriteMalaika Favorite – An acclaimed poet, artist and author was born in Geismar, Louisiana. “I learned to do without what I didn’t have and to use what was there.” The River Preacher, painted on an 8’ x 4’ roof tin, is a featured mixed media work of art in the museum collection. Malaika's art can also be seen at Hambonz in downtown Donaldsonville. To contact Malaika; email

Art by Michael SmithMichael Smith - The folk artist known as Louisiana’s “toothpick sculptor"; Michael’s Jug of Faith captivates young visitors who try to figure out Michael’s method of sculpting a toothpick church in an uncut wine bottle.

Discover how Gordon was successful in finding his way.

Octave Johnson was once enslaved by S. Contrell of St. James Parish and sold for $2400. He became a member of the distinguished Corp d’ Afrique. Which way to freedom did he travel?
YOU ARE ENSLAVED. Your family has been working on a sugarcane plantation in south Louisiana for three generations. There has been talk of freedom for years, but everyone who has tried it, was captured and punished. Your mother was recently sold to a cotton plantation in Texas, your father to a tobacco plantation in Virginia. You feel all alone. Word is going around that a group is leaving tonight. You begin to wonder. Are they going up river to Canada, or down river to New Orleans where some of you are already free? How many rivers and bayous will you have to cross? What will you eat? I've heard that there are alligators, water moccasins, black bears and pattyrollers out there. Maybe you'll make it far enough into the cypress swamp and find shelter with the maroons, maybe not. Freedom means a hard dangerous trek... Are you going? ...asks the museum volunteer... Do you try it?

Experience the interactive kiosk and learn how others on the Louisiana underground trek to freedom found their way.

Pierre "Caliste" Landry was the first elected black mayor of Donaldsonville in 1868.

Learn more about local black elected officials in Ascension Parish in this exhibit that teaches about Reconstruction in Ascension Parish. The Reconstruction Period in UnitedStates history was the process of rebuilding that followed the Civil War. While much has been written about the role of blacks in state governments, little has been said about their role in local governmental affairs.

Reconstruction Facts:
  • Ascension Parish had five black Sheriffs between 1870 and 1888: Frederick Fobb, Aaron Hill, Peter A. Jones, Victor Cantrell and Louis Lefort.

  • An all black police jury was elected in 1872.

  • Donaldsonville had a black coroner, postmaster, school board president, and tax collector.

  • Who was the first black govenor of Louisiana

Buy museum Reconstruction poster



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