Louisiana today is a very different state from the times of my youth. I love the place as my bloodlines have lived there since the 1830’s. I can begin tracing my roots through my four great grandfathers. On my father’s side, there is Harry Watkins and Cicero Alford. Harry’s people came to America through a slave market in Virginia, perhaps Richmond. From there he was sold to slave owners in Bossier Parish, Louisiana. Cicero came through the slave market in Savannah, Georgia. His master (perhaps his father, James Alford) operated a plantation in Noonan, Georgia. From there they moved to eastern Alabama and then eventually settled in Bossier Parish.
On my mother’s side, there is Rev. James Salter and Bill Brown. Both seem to have come through Savannah also. James ended up in Webster Parish, Louisiana. Bill was unique. He was quite a physically built man. He was drafted into the breeding industry. Slave masters would buy him like a strong bull and had him impregnate as many women as possible. He traveled from plantation to plantation and eventually ended up in Webster parish also. He must have had over 100 children. One of his last children was my grandfather, Isaiah Brown. Much of the descendants of Bill have been blessed with his physical prowess.
When World War II started America began changing in a big way. So many of the males in my family went to the Pacific and eventually Europe to defend our nation. What the war provided was a surge in job opportunity as America built up its industrial might to prosecute the war. My parents and their siblings started moving to Southern California in the form of an exodus. Freedom from a vicious Jim Crow racism and a way to provide adequate funding for their growing families. Still the love of Louisiana stayed in their hearts.
As children, my relatives would visit Louisiana every two years. Sometimes we would travel more if there was a funeral. I was born in Ventura, California and most of my relatives were in the greater Los Angeles area. As a high school student, I would spend summers with my grandparents, aunts and uncles. I would rotate every few days spending time and understanding their local environment. Often, I would run into some of my California relatives and friends doing the same thing and even schoolmates who had the same roots as I. Those were great times learning the ways of my elders and fellow cousins. It was the best thing my mother could have done for me. When you know your roots, you become “whole”.
We were heartbroken about the Katrina disaster. However, there were no deaths in my family and somehow, we all got by. The land is still there and the damage has been repaired. Life in Louisiana has now become more than back to normal. It is growing economically at a very nice pace. Energy is the base for Louisiana. Right now, and for the distant future Energy is growing by leaps and bounds. Despite the last eight years of environmentalists’ attacks on the state’s economy, the economic world is quickly changing for the better.
The political leaders of Louisiana have wisely taken advantage of the fact that its neighbor Texas refuses to legalize gambling. Thus, they have opened casinos and race tracks all along their border. From Bossier Parish to Calcasieu Parish casinos and race tracks are popping up generating a windfall of profits for the state and local economies. You visit Louisiana Downs race track in Bossier Parish and all you see in the parking lot are cars with Texas license plates. They have also made it a great attraction for the filming industry. And yes, the energy world has soared to new heights.
Fracking has brought back natural gas to new industrial heights. We are even exporting it. The long – awaited Keystone Pipeline is starting to roll which will bring thousands of good paying union wage jobs. In addition, the new Bayou Bridge Pipeline is in the planning stages. This will bring in 2500 new construction jobs immediately. The Lake Charles area is planning on creating over 7000 new high paying jobs within the next three months.
The ports of Louisiana are bustling with more and more shipping activity and expansion plans are under way for all of them located within the state. With the enlargement of the Panama Canal, new shipping lanes are in place traveling from the West Coast to the Gulf and East Coast regions by sea as opposed to long distance road or rail travel (much less costly).
The state funded colleges are working diligently expanding to prepare their human talent to rise to the challenge of a well-educated and trained workforce. A great investment for the future! All of this makes me and every other child of Louisiana roots so proud.
God is blessing Louisiana!
Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®.