Everybody's gone.

And everything that made Louise Haynes' neighborhood a community has disappeared.

"Everybody moved when they built the highway," she said. "It's dead, dead. No groceries, no nothing. No people."

Those last two words are the most powerful in Haynes' description of what was once a thriving South Baton Rouge: No people.

Many left when U.S. Interstates 10 and 110 divided their neighborhood, wiping out their homes and places of business, leaving a blighted landscape propped up by memories.

Johanna Warwick now is documenting the plight of Old South Baton Rouge through photographs. An exhibit of her work, where Haynes' quote about the neighborhood appears, tells its story.

The show, "The Yellow Book: Old South Baton Rouge," runs through May 7 at the Capitol Park Museum. The exhibit is named for the 1955 yellow-covered government publication, "General Location of National System of Interstate Highways," that mapped out proposed interstate routes. 

"The Yellow Book" opened immediately after the museum's showing of the Smithsonian's "The Negro Motorist Green Book," focusing on Victor Hugo Green's 1936 guide for African-American travelers.

Some places in what simply became known as "The Green Book" were located in Old South Baton Rouge, including the Lincoln Hotel and Lincoln Theatre. 

And though photos of these places also are included in Warwick's show, the Yellow Book didn't enhance lives but left them in chaos. Interstate routes sliced through African-American neighborhoods in 104 cities.

A walk through the Capitol Park Museum’s exhbit, “The Yellow Book: Old South Baton Rouge.” Staff video by Robin Miller

Warwick's show specifically examines how the two interstates, built in the early 1960s, divided Old South Baton Rouge in two, displacing people and businesses and rupturing its sense of community. She uses the elevated interstate as the framework, capturing the shadows they cast over this African-American neighborhood and revealing how it all unfolded.

It's a history Warwick didn't know when she and her husband moved into that neighborhood in 2016. They were photographers looking for an unconventional home in which to live and work.

Then Warwick started talking to her neighbors. She took photos of the cats congregated in the front yard at a house owned by neighbors known as Chance and Mr. E. She snapped images of middle school-age boys dressed out for football in a BREC park beneath the interstate.

The highway expansion has since forced BREC to close the park for safety reasons.

"They had no other place to go, so they kept practicing there for a while, even after it was closed," Warwick said. "They were practicing beneath all the machinery working on the interstate."

She also captured the heartbreaking image of an elderly man named Pops helplessly surveying storm damage to his tiny wood frame house.

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These photos are among the exhibit's mix of happy neighborhood scenes and emptiness in a shell of a community. The project is ongoing, and has Warwick on sabbatical leave from her job as assistant professor of photography at LSU for the spring semester.

She'll be traveling to other cities among the 104 listed in the Yellow Book to photograph more neighborhoods affected by interstate construction. The only difference will be that she won't know those residents, nor will she have a chance to get to know them.

"I knew I didn't want to photograph my neighborhood unless I was a part of it," she said. "We were living in Mid City before we moved there, and a lot of people told us we shouldn't move to The Bottom, because it wasn't a good neighborhood."

That's what the neighborhood is called these days, "The Bottom."

"But we couldn't find the kind of building we needed in Mid City," Warwick continued. "We found it in The Bottom."

She also found neighbors she's grown to love.

"I wanted to show the lovely people who live in this neighborhood in my photographs."

Warwick's curiosity grew as she explored her new community. She wanted to learn why it had been marginalized. She started studying Baton Rouge maps in LSU's Hill Memorial Library and in the City of Baton Rouge's map room.

There were several causes, the most obvious being the construction of I-10. It not only created a distinct dividing line between the neighborhood and Baton Rouge's downtown, but also caused some residents to lose their homes.

Even more people will lose their homes as I-10 expands to alleviate traffic congestion.

Warwick's photos of city plans and maps juxtaposed with her neighborhood images create a portrait of her experience in this community. The Yellow Book's result, she realized, was a way to maintain segregation.

As this history continues to unfold, Warwick works closely with the people in her neighborhood to carefully negotiate her responsibility in representing them — residents like Haynes, whose powerful quote in the exhibition mourns Old South Baton Rouge in just a few words: "No neighbors, no groceries, no people."

'The Yellow Book — Old South Baton Rouge'

Capitol Park Museum, 660 N. 4th St.

Through May 7. Hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

$7, adults and $6, students, senior citizens and active military. Children age 6 and younger are admitted free, and groups of 15 or more with reservations will receive a 20% discount. School groups with reservations are admitted free.

Call (225) 342-5428 or visit louisianastatemuseum.org/museum/capitol-park-museum.


Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com