Lunch Time Lecture: Early History of Mulatto Bend in West Baton Rouge
The West Baton Rouge Museum will host a lunch time lecture on January 24, 2013 at noon, “Early History of Mulatto Bend in West Baton Rouge.” Historian Dr. Lee Smith has spent several years researching and writing about Mulatto Bend, uncovering new information about the historic free people of color community from 1763 to 1865. Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in Port Allen, this community includes an historic African American cemetery. Laced with acres of sugar cane fields and residential clusters, Mulatto Bend harks back to the early 18th century.
Colonial powers played a key part in the establishment of Mulatto Bend, a small community of white and free black residents located on the Mississippi River in close proximity to Baton Rouge. Liberal ideas of race and the paternalism during the French period resulted in a group of mixed-race offspring of French men and African women who were freed by their fathers and sometimes received financial assistance from them. Spanish control of Louisiana resulted in an even more relaxed environment in which authorities hungry to find settlers suitable to populate and guard their colony freely granted land to free people of color as well as whites. The community that developed was constituted of free mixed-race individuals who were property-owning Catholics, who intermarried, lived in a single geographical area, and cooperated in almost all facets of social, legal, and economic life in order to maintain their identity as a group.
Two centuries later, Blues musician Slim Harpo became Mulatto’s Bend’s most famous son. Born James Moore in Lobdell, Louisiana, James dropped out of school to work as a longshoreman and played the harmonica in area nightclubs and bars in order to help support his orphaned siblings. He performed under the name “Harmonica Slim”. In the mid 1950’s he was introduced to a man in the record business and in 1957 he released his first record under his new stage name “Slim Harpo”. He was buried in the Mulatto Bend cemetery in 1970.
West Baton Rouge Museum • 845 Jefferson Ave • Port Allen • Louisiana •70767 • 225-336-2422