Louisiana, land of Cajun cuisine, bayous, New Orleans jazz and the roiling Mississippi River, was named in honor of King Louis XIV. The French sold the region to President Thomas Jefferson in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase, 828,000 square miles that cost the young American government less than 3 cents per acre, doubled the size of the country.
The Pelican State was the first to be carved from the territory in 1812, becoming the 18th to join the union, exactly nine years after the historic Louisiana Purchase was made.
Situated on the Gulf of Mexico and bordered by Arkansas, Texas and Mississippi, Louisiana boasts of the colonial-era French Quarter and infamous Mardi Gras festival of its largest city, New Orleans, birthplace of American jazz.
A few months prior to earning statehood, the final major battle of the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Britain took place in New Orleans, two weeks after the Treaty of Ghent was signed but nearly a month before slow communications reached the South to bring news of the war’s end.
By 1840, New Orleans had the biggest slave market in the U.S., and though the state also had one of the largest freed black presences in the country, almost half of the state’s population was enslaved in 1860. Louisiana became the sixth state to secede from the Union in 1861.
Resistance to racial equality reigned in Louisiana after the Civil War. The U.S. Supreme Court doctrine of racial segregation with “separate but equal” facilities came from a case brought in the state, and while the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling eventually was overturned by a series of other cases – including the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision – it emboldened segregationists during a Jim Crow era of segregated schools and lunch counters.
African-American disenfranchisement did not begin to wane until the 1960s, when activism and leadership brought national attention to the issue and helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The state has long been vulnerable to Atlantic Ocean hurricanes that barrel into the Gulf of Mexico, with the low-lying land at the mouth of the Mississippi River susceptible to flooding such as during the Great Flood of 1927. In 2005, a catastrophic Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and other low regions of the Gulf Coast, causing large-scale damage and flooding in one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. More than 1,000 people died in the flooding and aftermath, and the state endured more than $100 billion in damage.
Despite the devastation caused by Katrina, the state’s population has grown and diversified. Non-Hispanic whites make up about 59 percent of the population, while just under a third of the state is African-American or black, the second highest state proportion behind Mississippi. Hispanics of any race make up 5 percent of Louisiana’s approximate 4.7 million residents.
The state’s complex demographic and ethnic history date back to the first French settlements. Some Louisiana natives consider themselves Creole or Cajun; each group has significant cultural influence in the state, particularly in the southern region.
Cajuns are the descendants of French Canadians relegated to southern swamps and bayous well into the 20th century. The term Creole was originally used to identify anyone born in the French colony, but has evolved to refer to people with cross-cultural backgrounds, often a combination of Spanish, African, French and Native American. Some of New Orleans’ finest restaurants are based on savory menus of gumbo, crawfish and jambalaya.
Despite Louisiana’s rich and multicultural history, only 4 percent of residents were born outside the U.S., and just over 8 percent speak a language other than English at home.
With just under 390,000 residents, New Orleans is the most populous city, followed by the capital, Baton Rouge. Both rank in U.S. News’ Best Places to Live. The next most populous cities are Shreveport, Lafayette and Lake Charles.
About 85 percent of Louisianians over 25 years old graduated from high school, but only approximately 23 percent hold at least a bachelor’s degree.
The state boasts about two dozen colleges and universities, including Louisiana State University, the state’s flagship university better known as LSU, Tulane University, Loyola University New Orleans, Xavier University of Louisiana and Louisiana Tech University.
Through 2024, employment in the state will see about 7 percent overall growth, with the professional and technical services, health care and social assistance, company management and accommodation and food services industries experiencing the sharpest employment increases. Top companies headquartered in the state include Entergy Corporation, CenturyLink and Tidewater.
In 2015, Louisiana’s tourism industry grew for the fourth consecutive year, accounting for nearly 9 percent of the state’s non-agricultural employment and $11.5 billion in visitor spending. Spending in New Orleans, which U.S. News ranks as a top nightlife, foodie and spring break destination, was $7.1 billion.
Embedded in the heavily Christian Deep South, Louisiana is the fourth most religious state behind Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. It has given its eight Electoral College votes to the Republican presidential candidate in every election since the turn of the millennium.