Baton Rouge: A Tale Of Two Cities

Jul 15, 2016

Many only know the state’s capital city at the “best of times”, such as during legislative sessions or LSU football season. But since the Alton Sterling shooting, the world is seeing Baton Rouge at the “worst of times”.

“Baton Rouge is a classic ‘Tale of Two Cities’,” says Southern University political science professor Albert Samuels, and , he adds that race is the primary factor creating that duality.

“Racism is there, we just don’t want to talk about it, and talk about it openly.”

Instead, he says, it’s easier to talk economics, although the economics are driven by race.

“North Baton Rouge was at one time majority white and, like many places around the country has experienced white flight and business flight over the last several decades,” Samuels explains. “And south Baton Rouge is prosperous; it is growing.

“This race thing is this issue that is always very close to the surface in Baton Rouge.”

Over the past few years, some have tried to formalize the divide, In 2013, state Sen. Bodi White -- currently a candidate for Baton Rouge mayor – led a failed legislative effort to give south Baton Rouge its own separate school district.

“We’ve been through a lot in this parish in the last 30 years – with desegregation, forced busing. There’s a huge distrust in all communities in this parish about the school system,” he told this reporter at that time.

He claimed then that the reason was economics -- helping parents free up the money they “had to” spend sending their children to private schools.

“Probably half of the kids in this parish go to private or parochial schools, “ White said, freely admitting, “Many of those schools are very segregated. I can’t put any money in my 401K. I can’t put any money in their higher education fund. I can’t upsize my house. You take 30-thousand cash out of my budget every year? It’s crippling us.”

Now compare that to what Alton Sterling was doing before he had his fatal encounter with Baton Rouge police: selling  CDs in front of a convenience store, to earn the money to feed his kids.

Samuels says the “two cities” viewpoint is what is truly crippling.

“If we could just have a much more inclusive vision,” he wishes. “Baton Rouge has a lot going for it, but this is the one thing, I believe, that holds us back from being a truly great city.”