After several public meetings across the state earlier this year, the Louisiana Office of Tourism continues to seek feedback from residents about what should be included in a future Louisiana Civil Rights Trail. Coordinators hope the trail will be interactive and eventually include the state’s first civil rights museum.
Residents can go online to submit suggested sites, events or people they think should be part of the trail as well as share stories or experiences they feel had a “significant impact” on the state’s civil rights movement. A team of professors, pastors, civil rights activists and others will determine which sites should be included.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said the Office of Tourism is considering putting markers along the trail that have Quick Response (QR) codes tourists and residents can scan with their phones to pull up a video of a historian, civic leader or resident telling a story related to each site.
“The passion, the pain, the memories — no plaque and no schoolhouse can tell the story like the people that have the memories, so we're hoping that we can get those interviews,” Nungesser said. “We're losing people every day that are passing away with great memories.”
The videos also would be available on the website, so people unable to physically visit the trail will have an opportunity to learn about civil rights events and leaders in the state — stories they might not have learned in school.
“I grew up here in Louisiana, and I've learned more about civil rights through these meetings and people that know the stories,” Nungesser said. “They didn't teach it in school.”
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There have been 15 meetings across the state since April to gather feedback about what should be included in the trail. Online submissions are another part of the feedback process.
“It’s very emotionally charged for a lot of people, so we want to make sure that everyone has a voice,” said Betsy Barnes, Nungesser’s director of public affairs.
While there are African-American museums in Louisiana, the state has yet to open a civil rights museum, which activists have advocated for more than a decade. Nungesser said he has pledged to the Louisiana Civil Rights Museum Advisory Board that the museum will finally become a reality.
Nungesser said the board is looking at buildings in New Orleans that could house a future civil rights museum, including one at 420 Julia St. that housed the Louisiana Children’s Museum for the past three decades before its recent move to City Park.
The state has a fund for a civil rights museum set aside through the Office of Tourism, which Nungesser said currently contains around $700,000. The goal would be to lease a building so some of the money in the fund could be used to install kiosks inside, he said.
“That would just put the icing on the cake if we were able to announce and kickoff that museum coinciding at the time when we're kicking off this trail,” Nungesser said. “It would actually kick it up a notch, both in attractions with tourism and excitement for the city and the state to kick them all off and have them intertwine and work together.”
After online submissions close on Dec. 6, Nungesser said, the team “probably take a month of two” to choose which locations to include in the first batch of sites and determine what work needs to be done before they are added to the trail. Then, they will begin marketing the trail and developing the website.
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Once the initial sites are established and more funds become available through grants and the Office of Tourism, Nungesser said he hopes more sites will be added down the road.
Six sites in New Orleans and Baton Rouge are already part of the United States Civil Rights Trail, which runs through 15 states and Washington, D.C.
“I believe that it is so important for people to know the stories,” Nungesser said. “I always tell people, we should never try to erase any history, the good and the bad, because if you erase the bad, it has a tendency to repeat itself. … I think it is so important that this trail tells the story the right way, by the right people, and that's the people that have memories of it.”