From civil rights pioneers to chicken finger connoisseurs, Baton Rouge has been home to countless influential figures since its founding in 1699. Read up on some of our most well-known Baton Rougeans below.
Civil Rights Activists
The civil rights movement in Baton Rouge began in 1953 with the nation’s first bus boycott organized by Reverend T.J. Jemison. The city had discontinued Black-owned buses, enforcing segregated seating in 1950. Black citizens were forced to stand up on the bus even if seats designated for white citizens were empty, a rule Jemison described this as “out-of-order and cruel” (NPR). Reverend Jemison set up a free-ride network, coordinated by the churches, to compensate for the lack of public transit. The free-ride bus network was the signature action for the boycott, and inspired other bus boycotts around the South. The bus boycott lasted eight days while Jemison testified to the Baton Rouge City Council about the injustices as well as the raise in bus fare. This testimony aided in the passing of Ordinance 222, which established a first come-first served system. Jemison’s hard work, compassion, and courage is still celebrated today.
A.Z. Young & Robert Hicks
A.Z. Young and Robert Hicks, activists from Bogalusa, Louisiana, both began the 106-Mile March to the Louisiana State Capitol to raise awareness of the rash of violence against African-Americans nationwide. The march, with up to 600 participants, ended 10 days later with a rally on the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol.
Robert Hicks was a leader of the Bogalusa chapter of the Deacons for Defense for Justice in the 1960s, a grassroots self-defense force that protected civil rights workers and African-Americans trying to register to vote. His efforts as a plaintiff in Bogalusa, Louisiana achieved groundbreaking legal victories nationwide.
Todd Graves is the founder and CEO of everyone’s one love, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. Graves and his classmate Craig Silvey created the franchise as a project for an LSU business class. The project received a C- in the class, and the professor commented that a chicken-fingers-only business could never succeed. But with a dream, determination and a killer recipe for dipping sauce, success is possible. Raising Cane’s now has locations in more than 22 states including its most recent restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii! The original location was established in 1996 on Highland Road where patrons still gather today to enjoy exceptionally good chicken.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Though Baton Rouge has created many incredible athletes, the name “Odell Beckham Jr.” is one that tends to turn heads. Born in Baton Rouge, Beckham Jr. graduated from LSU in 2014 where he played football as a true freshman. He’s been noted as “the most influential player of his generation” at only 27 years old. As the current wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, Beckham Jr. has not forgotten his hometown. He frequently attends LSU football games to share his purple and gold pride.
Odell S. Williams
Born in 1922, Odell S. Williams was a beloved Black educator in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System for 39 years after graduating from Southern University in 1952. Teaching Black students about African-American history was against school policy, but that did not stop Williams. In secret, she used posters that featured successful African American achievers as tools to teach her students Black history. Williams hid the posters under the blotter on her desk and would pull them out to discuss the less-well-known political, scientific and artistic achievements of African American individuals. Now, her activism is commemorated in Sadie Roberts-Joseph’s founding of the Odell S. Williams Then and Now Museum of African American History, also known as the Museum of African-American History. The posters Williams used to teach as well as other artifacts from her classroom are displayed in the vibrant museum. Roberts-Joseph organized the State Juneteenth Celebration for years until her death in 2019.
Huey P. Long
Huey P. Long served as Governor of Louisiana from 1928-1932, and though his time in office turned the state upside down, Long is one of the most notorious figures in Baton Rouge history. The “Kingfish” was given his nickname for his charismatic and flamboyant nature, but the Washington Post preferred to call him “the most entertaining tyrant in American history” (PBS). He is most known for his “share-the-wealth” plan and is credited with higher voter turnouts in the 1930s. Though most of his policies did not actually favor those he was swearing to protect, the lower class, he still received support from the lower class as it was “something for them.” Keep an eye out for his burial site, marked by his statue at the Louisiana State Capitol, and learn more about Long at his exhibits at the Capitol Park Museum and the Old State Capitol.
Looking for more history during your staycation in Baton Rouge? Check out visitbatonrouge.com/things-to-do/museums-history to find all of the museums that the Capital City has to offer.