If you have been following our travels, then you know I like small town. Bayou La Batre is truly one of those small towns
that I like to visit. In fact, on occasion I drive there just to sit on the shoreline and enjoy the peacefulness.
I always leave feeling better than when I arrived.
Nestled along the peaceful shores of the Mississippi Sound on the Gulf of Mexico, the small, picturesque city of Bayou La Batre is a community richly steeped in Southern tradition and heritage with a unique French flair. But, perhaps most important, is the fact that Bayou La Batre is known as the Seafood Capital of Alabama. This means that not only is Bayou La Batre an outstanding place to eat, but also to fish.
In fact, along with the city's modern fishing fleet, there are numerous charter pleasure boats to provide accommodations for any sportsman or angler. What's more, to commemorate the city's fishing industry, special events are held annually, including the nationally known "Blessing of the Fleet" and "Miss Seafood Contest."
The local Chamber of Commerce estimated that commercial seafood Industry in Bayou La Batre have an economic impact on the state that approaches $80 million annually. Major fishing vessels in the port of Bayou La Batre fish Gulf waters from the Florida Keys to Mexico, to provide some of the best shrimp, oysters, crabs and finfish processed and sold in the world.
Bayou La Batre was the first permanent settlement on the south Mobile County mainland and was founded in 1786, when French-born Joseph Bouzage (Bosarge) [1733-1795] was awarded a 1,259-acre Spanish land grant on the West Bank of the bayou. Bouzage married Catherine Louise Baudreau (Boudreau) in 1762, and was the father of seven children, including one son, Jean Baptiste.
As part of the French settlement of the Gulf Coast, the bayou was originally called "Riviere D'Erbane" and acquired the present name from the French-maintained battery of artillery on the west bank ("bayou of the battery"). The modern City of Bayou La Batre was incorporated in 1955.
The census of 2000, reported that there were 2,313 people, 769 households, and 599 families residing in the city. The large Asian population is attributable to a large influx of Vietnamese American shrimpers as immigrants following the Vietnam War as well as Cambodian and Laotian refugees and their children. Bayou la Batre was a popular destination for such immigrants because it fostered and continues to foster a similar shrimping industry to that of Vietnam.
Bayou La Batre is a center for shipbuilding. In 2005, crews of Disney Studios secretly built a 130-foot pirate ship, the Black Pearl, at Steiner Shipyard in Bayou La Batre; the pitch-black ship was actually a huge wooden prop built on top of a modern 96-foot-long steel utility boat. In April 2005, crews sailed the ship out of the bayou for filming in the Caribbean, making sequels to Disney's 2003 film Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.
Another famous ship, the FV Cornelia Marie from the Deadliest Catch fame, was built in Bayou La Batre in 1989. Bayou La Batre was also featured in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump and the book upon which it is based.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the area with a local storm surge of nearly 16 feet and higher waves that engulfed Bayou La Batre and pushed over 23 shrimp boats and the cargo ship cargo ship M/V Caribbean Clipper onto shore. The captain rode out Katrina on the 179-foot cargo ship, owned by Caribbean Shipping Inc., and the ship was returned to sea six months later, using a large crane.
I had been to Bayou La Batre a number of times before Katrina hit in 2005. The town has come a long way in repairing the damages and getting back on track. A good portion of its downtown area is now gone. The first time I returned after the hurricane, was an experience. I had always relied on landmarks to get around. These landmarks were gone.
Dr. Regina Benjamin, former United States Surgeon General, is founder and CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Bayou La Batre. She is former associate dean for rural health at the University of South Alabama's College of Medicine in Mobile, where she administers the Alabama AHEC program and previously directed its Telemedicine Program. She also served as the president of the Medical Association, of the State of Alabama.
In 1998 she was the United States' recipient of the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights. In 1995 she was elected to the American Medical Association's board of trustees, making her the first physician under age 40 and the first African-American woman to be elected. She has also served as president of the American Medical Association's Education and Research Foundation.