SCOTLANDVILLE, La. (BRPROUD) — Scotlandville came up as a rural town as an entry point for the slave trade. Eventually, it became the largest majority African American town in Louisiana and home to Southern University, the largest historically Black college in the state.
“We had everything. We were self-sufficient,” said Dr. Press Robinson, former Southern University professor.
Decades ago, Scotlandville was known for its self-contained vibrant community. With dozens of Black entrepreneurs, doctors and community leaders.
“Over the years, the developments went away,” said Robinson. “Food town, which was the grocery store in the community, was located at Scenic Highway and 78th Street. It closed. When that closed that started the decline of the community.”
Robinson was the first African American elected to the East Baton Rouge School Board. He’s a former professor and vice chancellor within the Southern University system.
Robinson dedicated most of his life to education and advocating for North Baton Rouge, a community he says is being ignored. A neighborhood forgotten about decades ago.
“So today we find ourselves in a food desert,” he said. “For those people who do not have a car, that’s an impossibility.”
Julia Moore’s family roots run deep in Scotlandville. The 97-year-old is a long-time member of the Camphor Church on Scenic Highway — the first church to serve the African American community in the Scotlandville area.
“We did stuff together and you just had children and it was great growing up,” said Moore.
Today, Moore is now a source of oral history.
“The Ku Klux Klan in 1927 tried to divide us and they told the German people in the community that they were going to burn Scotland down,” she said.
Even through the adversity, Moore says she misses her community.
“There’s not togetherness. There’s no oneness like it was before,” she said. “We don’t know one another and we have no desire to know one another.”
Robinson says in order for Scotlandville to grow there are a number of issues that need to be addressed.
“Investing in the community. Making sure that there’s work for people to do. Making sure there are basic necessities like a grocery store, doctors, lawyers and so on. When you do so that then the community can grow,” he said.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks sees a brighter future for North Baton Rouge.
“Our Black Wall Street and over the years, it fell into ruin. But, fortunately, it is on its way back. This is also where housing will be for first responders for police,” she said.
Historical images provided by Councilwoman Chauna Banks
Banks is working on projects that would invest in a new grocery store and housing for young professionals. She is seeking more African Americans who want to invest in revitalization.
“When you talk about building things, we are building in communities that were white,” said Banks. “It does not focus [on] the communities where Blacks had no choice but to move. African Americans here, where you can find 90-year-olds on every street, are neglected.”
“You see a new resurgence of one, young people wanting to invest back into the community,” said Byron Washington, founder of Scotlandville Saturdays.
Washington runs Scotlandville Saturdays, a monthly open market focused on helping small businesses be successful.
“You don’t really turn decades upon decades of divestment, whether it be infrastructure within public works where it be non equitable funding from government, whether it would be people not caring for property. You don’t do that in like five years,” said Washington.
Community leaders said Scotlandville cannot become that community Robinson and Moore once lived through but it is on its way to becoming better.
“It doesn’t have to be totally sufficient, but it has to be sufficient enough to make people comfortable in living here,” said Robinson.