SHREVEPORT – A self-guided walking/driving tour of the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Caddo Parish.

That’s what LSUS history professor Dr. Gary Joiner started working on four years ago, and the Caddo Civil Rights Heritage Trail became operational earlier this week.

By downloading the free Clio app on one’s phone, people can chart their own trail through Shreveport’s and Caddo Parish’s role in the Civil Rights Movements and events in the decades prior that influenced that movement.

Using a Geographic Information System (GIS) map, a traveler can see nearby virtual historical markers, head to those locations and have the app read aloud the history or event that took place in that location.

“Think of Pokemon Go – you can look up a location, it gives you directions and then reads the information to you,” Joiner said. “It’s the most exciting thing I’ve done in years.

“One goal is to create a boilerplate for other areas to follow. There are other universities with trained historians that can follow this roadmap and do something similar in their own towns and cities.”

The trail includes 180 activists, local folks like dentist C.O. Simpkins and national figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, an Alabama reverend who convinced King to join the Montgomery Bus Boycott after the arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955.

“We know (King) was in town a lot, and we know where he stayed and who he stayed with,” Joiner said. “There were out-of-town activists who came in to help like Ella Baker – who stayed here for seven weeks and would come back occasionally.”

Simpkins, a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, had to flee Shreveport after his home and office were firebombed. He left the city for nearly three decades before finally returning and eventually serving in Louisiana’s House of Representatives.

Joiner and Simpkins were friends, and that relationship along with the knowledge and documents Simpkins possessed was the inspiration for the project following Simpkins’ death in 2019.

The database tracks elected officials at the time (both black and white) as well as other key figures like public safety commissioner George D’Artois, considered by some to be the most powerful public official in Shreveport at the time.

Key events and locations are also part of the database. Many of the locations are centered around downtown Shreveport and African American neighborhoods like Ledbetter Heights, Allendale, Cedar Grove, Queensborough and Mooretown.

Businesses where sit-ins, stand-ins, or picket lines occurred. Churches that held meetings, had run-ins with law enforcement or were the starting places for marches.

Little Union Baptist Church on Milam Street is considered the epicenter of Shreveport’s Civil Rights Movement, serving as one of the first places where the movement’s theme song “We Shall Overcome” was taught to demonstrators in 1960. Little Union hosted the annual SCLC Leadership Conference in 1960 and later was a site of police brutality following a demonstration after the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham Baptist church resulted in the death of four girls. 

The database tracks Caddo Parish’s own history of death associated or leading up to the movement.

Joiner has marked every public execution in Caddo Parish since 1844, which included 21 lynchings.

“It wasn’t only black men who were lynched, there were black women and white men as well,” Joiner said. “Most of the lynchings weren’t for capital crimes.”

Other types of death associated with the movement is also included, such as the death of beauty shop owner and local civil rights leader Ann Brewster.

The 1964 death was ruled a suicide, but it’s widely believed to be a murder today.

Every entry, whether it be person, place or event, has been vetted with academic rigor. Entries consist of the history of that entity and any associated photos or documents that are available.

Not every historical person/place/event will be available in the initial wave of information, but sites will be added periodically.

The trail is designed to expand as more research is conducted and more figures and places come to light.

Along with a team of undergraduate and graduate students, Joiner has paired with KTAL/KMSS to help highlight the most significant stories included in the project. Other local entities that were critical to the project includes the Northwest Louisiana Archives and Red River Radio.

Aside from having other towns and cities using this example to conduct their own Civil Rights Movement history, Joiner dreams of having the project designated a heritage district.