LOUISIANA CIVIL RIGHTS MARKER UNVEILED AT TEXAS AND PACIFIC RAILWAY DEPOT IN NATCHITOCHES, LOUISIANA
NATCHITOCHES, La. – Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser and the Louisiana Office of Tourism were joined today by the National Park Service, the Cane River National Heritage Area, and the City of Natchitoches to unveil the 13th marker on the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail – the Texas & Pacific Railway Depot in Natchitoches. The occasion also served as an open house marking the completion of construction that began in January 2022 to convert the abandoned depot into the new National Park Service headquarters and visitor center in Natchitoches.
“As one of the last remaining examples of segregated public facilities, this site is significant to the Louisiana Civil Rights story,” said Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser. “It is a testament to the long-standing tradition of public-private partnerships in Natchitoches and the community’s investment in historic preservation that we’re here today in celebration. After four decades of trials, the depot's doors are open, and her stories of the resilience of the Cane River people will be shared with new generations of residents and visitors.”
Lt. Gov. Nungesser was joined by Carrie Mardorf, Superintendent of Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Rebecca Blankenbaker, Executive Director of Cane River National Heritage Area, and Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr., who have worked in tangent to save the depot from deterioration and have breathed new life into the facility.
The Texas and Pacific Railway Depot was a conduit for the Great Migration as African Americans migrated from rural communities in the South to larger cities in the North and West. During Jim Crow and the early Civil Rights Movement, migration allowed for better economic opportunities, access to better education, and a departure point for military service. It was also the departure and arrival point for local and national civil rights leaders who worked on voting and civil rights issues in Natchitoches Parish.
"Today’s dedication celebrates our success in preservation, but more significantly, today is a tribute to the spirit of the people of Cane River and highlights that the struggles and successes of the Civil Rights Movement were not limited to our bustling cities,” remarked Rebecca Blankenbaker. “Instead, it was here, in our quiet and unassuming corners of rural Louisiana, that the seeds of change were planted, taking root amidst our fields and farms.”
Constructed in 1927 in the Italianate and Spanish Revival architectural styles, the depot is one of the last remaining examples of segregated facilities for black and white passengers. The depot remained operational for passenger service until 1969. “This building honors the resilience, courage, and unyielding spirit of the African American community in our relentless pursuit of civil rights and equality," said Superintendent Carrie Mardorf. As the new headquarters for the National Park Service, the depot will house exhibits and first-hand accounts from the period of segregation and the Civil Rights Movement, part of a more significant effort to magnify the African American experience in the Cane River region. “Separate, segregated public facilities in Louisiana are one critical part of that story, and the National Park Service is honored to interpret that story to visitors,” continued Mardorf.
The Louisiana Civil Rights Trail brings together the events of the 1950s and 1960s that placed the state of Louisiana at the center of the National Civil Rights Movement and narrates the compelling stories and experiences of the people who dedicated themselves and their lives to making civil rights real in Louisiana.
“The City of Natchitoches is often described as charming, historic, and one of the best small towns in America. I wholeheartedly believe this and am extremely proud that the City of Natchitoches continues with these time-honored qualities that make our great city like no other. Embracing and highlighting ugly truths can be difficult. Still, today is a monumental occasion of reflection and inspiration for our great City,” remarked Mayor Ronnie Williams, Jr. “As we unveil this marker and open the depot to the public, we honor the memory of those who dared to dream of a world where every person, regardless of their race, gender, or background, could live free from discrimination and injustice. We honor the countless sung and unsung activists who organized, marched, protested, and advocated for equality. Their sacrifices have paved the way for the progress we all enjoy today,” continued Mayor Williams.
The first series of Louisiana Civil Rights Trail markers were installed in 2021 at Little Union Baptist Church in Shreveport, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans, and the Louisiana Old State Capitol and A.Z. Young Park in Baton Rouge. Last year, additional markers were installed at McDonogh 19 Elementary School in New Orleans, the Louisiana Maneuvers & Military Museum in Pineville, and the Robert Hicks house in Bogalusa. In January 2023, the eighth marker along the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail was installed at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. This year marker installations took place at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Pillars of Progress, the Kress Department Store Building in Baton Rouge, Deacons of Defense and Justice in Jonesboro, and Friendship CME Church in Lisbon.
About the Markers
The Civil Rights Markers are life-sized metal figures that are cut from steel, weigh over 200 pounds and stand over six-feet-tall. The fabrication of the interpretative markers for the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail is being supported in part by an African American Civil Rights grant from the Historic Preservation Fund administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior.
The Louisiana Civil Rights Trail
The trail is a cultural tourism product that informs, inspires, and invites visitors to experience and explore Louisiana’s prominent role in the modern movement. The trail reveals inside stories and examines the civil rights era from culture and commerce to desegregation, protests, and confrontations. Two years in the making, the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail was developed with community vision and public submissions from across the state. Twenty-two meetings were held in every region of the state and university scholars and subject matter experts reviewed all submissions. To learn more about the unique and important history of the movement in the State of Louisiana or to nominate a site, a person, or an activity for inclusion, visit LouisianaCivilRightsTrail.com.
Attached Photo Caption:
Photo1: Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser unveils the newest Louisiana Civil Rights Trail marker at the Texas and Pacific Railway Depot building in Natchitoches, LA. Joining Lt. Governor (from L to R) are Rebecca Blankenbaker, Cane River National Heritage Area Executive Director; Natchitoches Mayor Ronnie Williams; Ed Ward, Natchitoches civic leader and civil rights advocate; Carrie Mardorf, National Park Service; Claire Prymus, Ben Johnson Educational Center founder and chair; Randy Lacaze, City of Natchitoches Community Development Director.