‘Like Indiana Jones’

Interns unearth early 20th century artifacts in historic African-American neighborhood near downtown Shreveport

Calanthean Temple owner Jason Brown (standing) discusses the cultural resource investigation internship project with LSUS student Brady Loflin as Ben Derose sifts through dirt at the base of the building.

LSU Shreveport students are sifting through soil around a century-old building to uncover the history of a once-thriving African-American neighborhood.

The cultural resource investigation at the Calanthean Temple near downtown Shreveport is part of a new internship program offered by LSUS and the Spring Street Museum. The experiential learning program is open to any LSUS student.

Join LSU Shreveport student interns at a reception at 6 p.m. April 13 at the Calanthean Temple, 1007 Texas Avenue in Shreveport, to learn more about the artifacts and history they uncovered at the Calanthean Temple.

“It’s like Indiana Jones!” says Mik, who discovered an apothecary bottle and a bullet, among other items. Mik also researched his family’s connection to Cora Allen, the prominent African-American woman who built the Calanthean Temple in 1923. African-American business owners rented offices in the building, and a dance club operated on the roof and the upper floors.

“Dr. White said the club was a speakeasy, and my family did a lot of moonshining back in the day,” Mik says.

Indiana Jones faced down snakes and Nazis. The students swatted mosquitos and squelched in the mud.

“There were clouds of mosquitos,” says Nickolus Pickett. “There’s some sort of spring or standing water in the woods by the dig site.”

Nickolus wasn’t deterred.

“I would have to cite Indiana Jones as my first hero,” he says. “It’s a great experience for anyone interested in history. It’s not often that you get sites to explore, especially that you don’t have to relocate for. The majority of the time when sites come open, they’re a good way off. The majority of our sites relate to Caddo Indians or Civil War battlefields.”

“I pulled a 1930s apothecary bottle out of a pile of dirt. That was the moment I was hooked.”

Ben Derose

Angela says the project helped her realize that Shreveport – a small city compared to her hometown of Bogota, Colombia – was a major hub of African-American commerce and culture a century ago.

“I found a beer bottle that says ‘Shreveport Avenue’,” Angela recalls. “That bottle demonstrates the commerce that went on in the Texas Avenue area in the early 1900s.”

She and several of the other students are participating in the project again this semester. Students document their work and finds in a journal and earn three hours of college credit each semester. History majors may participate in the internship for two semesters.

“I took my journal and made notes as I dug, but sometimes we were finding so much, one thing after another, that I didn’t want to stop and write,” says Ben. “When we started the project, I pulled a 1930s apothecary bottle out of a pile of dirt. That was the moment I was hooked.”

Luke uncovered the head of a blacksmith’s ax but says he and others also collected lots of shards and remnants with their trowels.

“There were lots of broken beer bottles. There were some mystery objects. They were metal but we still have no idea what they were,” he recalls.

Their most exciting find—a loaded .22 caliber pistol—went straight to the Shreveport Police Department.

“They may be able to give us some information about it. We hope to get it back for the collection,” says Marty Loschen, who’s supervising the project.

Students will continue searching around the Calanthean Temple as long as they find artifacts and will potentially explore other sites in the future, says LSUS history professor Dr. Cheryl White. Dr. White holds the Yancey Strain Endowed Curatorship for the Spring Street Museum and the Hubert Humphreys Endowed History Professorship.

“We have plans to begin a cultural resource investigation on the grounds of LSUS at the site of a sharecropper cabin that dates to the turn of the twentieth century,” Dr. White says.