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Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Published: 02 May 2024

Deep-seated racial and economic tensions will be present in the new chapter of Baton Rouge’s history because of the Louisiana Supreme Court’s historic decision approving the creation of the City of St. George. The decision follows a protracted legal battle initiated by affluent white residents seeking to carve out their own municipality from the broader cityscape, citing concerns over governance, public safety, and educational quality.

Encompassing a sprawling 60-square-mile expanse in the southeast of East Baton Rouge Parish, St. George is poised to emerge as an autonomous entity with its own mayor and city council, catering to an estimated population of 86,000 residents. Advocates tout the move as necessary to address high crime rates and underperforming schools.

However, critics argue that the decision heralds the creation of a de facto segregated enclave, further entrenching racial and economic disparities within the Baton Rouge community. The polarizing debate underscores broader societal challenges and raises profound questions about equity and inclusion. It also has all the earmarks of America’s dark history of racial segregation, which preserves the economic advantages and social dominance of whites and the politically powerful, who have utilized legal and societal barriers to maintain their elite status over other communities.

In Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, an African American student protested segregation by sitting at a drugstore lunch counter designated for whites only. Demonstrators staged a famous protest at a Woolworth store in New York City in 1960 to denounce segregation at the chain’s Southern lunch counters. 

Racial segregation has been pervasive worldwide among mixed-race communities, excluding regions like Hawaii and Brazil with significant racial integration. According to Brittanica, while social discrimination exists in these areas, formal segregation does not. Conversely, in the Southern United States, the segregation of Black and white individuals in public spaces was legally sanctioned from the late 1800s to the 1950s under the Jim Crow laws. In response, African Americans initiated the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s to dismantle racial segregation. The movement culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provided robust protections against discrimination and segregation in voting, education, and public facilities.

Meanwhile, the genesis of St. George dates back nearly 15 years, when residents initially sought to establish an independent school district. Over time, the ambition evolved into a broader push for municipal independence, culminating in a decisive 2019 ballot initiative in which 54 percent of residents voted in favor of incorporation.

Legal wrangling ensued, with Baton Rouge city officials contesting the move, warning of dire fiscal consequences and service disruptions. While lower courts initially sided with Baton Rouge, the state’s Supreme Court ultimately overturned their rulings, endorsing the viability of St. George’s internal budget to sustain essential public services.

Nevertheless, lingering concerns persist regarding the economic fallout. A 2014 study by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber projected a substantial budget deficit for the remaining portions of Baton Rouge, raising apprehensions about the city’s capacity to uphold public services post-separation.

“My goal from the very beginning—and it will always be my goal — is to advocate for a united Baton Rouge,” Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome told reporters. “I am committed to serving the residents of St. George.” 

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