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DONALDSONVILLE, La. – Louisiana is home to many of American history’s well-kept secrets, including the story of Pierre Landry, who became the country’s first African-American mayor in 1868.

River Road African-American Museum Executive Director Kathe Hambrick wants to keep Landry’s story alive for future generations.

“I didn’t know about Pierre Landry,” Hambrick said. “I went to high school here in Ascension Parish, and have lived here half my life.”

Landry was born on the Prevost plantation as a slave, but allowed to live as a free person of color, Hambrick said.

After the Civil War, during which most of the buildings in Donaldsonville were damaged or destroyed, Landry became the country’s first black mayor and a prominent politician.

“He was a member of the House of Representatives, he was a member of the Senate, he was a member of the School Board,” Hambrick said. “He helped to propose and pass the legislation that created public schools in the State of Louisiana.”

In the years after Pierre Landry, there have been three black mayors of Donaldsonville, including the current mayor, Leroy Sullivan.

“You can reflect back on Pierre Landry and the things that he went through, and you can say, ‘well he did it, he could make it, and I can too,’” Sullivan said.

As part of our yearlong commemoration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated 49 years ago this month, we are reflecting on the past, evaluating the present – and seeking solutions for the future.

Click here for more information on the African American Museum and how to help.