river road african american museum

The River Road African American Museum in Donaldsonville is celebrating its 25th anniversary with an Oct. 6 gala.

In 1994, the River Road African American Museum opened to tell the story of African American life in the rural parishes along the Mississippi River.

A quarter of a century later, a celebration is in order.

At 6 p.m. Oct. 6, the museum's 25-year anniversary gala will be held at The Water Campus, 1110 S. River Road.

"This isn't an annual celebration," said Todd Sterling, chairman of the museum's board. "This is something special we're doing to celebrate, and all proceeds will benefit the museum."

The museum, located at 406 Charles St. in Donaldsonville, originally opened at the Tezcuco Plantation in Burnside. It was the first venue dedicated to educating visitors about the contributions of Africans and African Americans who lived and worked on the sugar cane and rice plantations in the region, known as plantation country.

The museum’s collection was established from the donations of buildings, family documents, artifacts, photographs, maps and art of African American life in Louisiana's rural parishes along the Mississippi River.

After fire destroyed the plantation in 2003, the museum relocated to Donaldsonville.

The gala will celebrate the museum's history and also pay tribute to African American pioneers in the hair and beauty industry, beginning with Madame C.J. Walker, America’s first self-made female millionaire.

"She wasn't just the first female African American millionaire, but the first female millionaire, period, in the United States," Sterling said. "She was born in Delta, Louisiana, and went on to own a house in the Hudson River Valley in New York in the early 1900s, when millionaires like Rockefeller lived there."

Born Sarah Breedlove to parents who were slaves, Walker made her fortune in the hair care and cosmetics industry and went on to become an activist and philanthropist. The museum will open an exhibit on Walker later this year.

The program also will honor the late civil rights activist Emmitt Douglas, who lived in New Roads and owned Baton Rouge food and hair care businesses. He also served as president of the Louisiana National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Other hair care professionals to be honored include Mada Porter Edwards, Roland and Robert Irvin, Mohair Salon and Webb’s Barber Shop.

"We invite all barber and beauty professionals to join in this acknowledgment of these legendary entrepreneurs," Sterling said.

The gala will include food and music, including trumpeter John Gray.

"We're still working on that part of the program," Sterling said. "We're hoping to have a harpist and a liturgical dancer."

Tickets are $75 at RRAAM25th on Facebook. For more information, call (225) 474-5553 or visit africanamericanmuseum.org.

Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com