Hundreds of members of Terrebonne Parish’s Black community marched to the Terrebonne Parish’s Sheriff’s Office to honor eight former Black sheriffs.
Within the Sheriff’s Office stands a wall upon which portraits of many of the former sheriffs are displayed. Today, five of Terrebonne’s eight former Black Sheriffs now join them.
Recovered from obscurity, the photos of Washington “General” Lyons, Amos Sims, Jordan Stewart, Thomas A. Cage and John Budd were obtained by the Sheriff’s Office with the help of the Finding Our Roots African American Museum and Nicholls State University’s Allen J. Ellender Memorial Library. The photos were digitally enhanced by Detectives to better show the previously faded images.
The newly restored portraits were hung alongside other former sheriffs in a ceremony Monday afternoon.
Houma Police Chief Dana Coleman said the significance of the restoration is that future leaders may be inspired by the example of the former sheriffs.
“You may have a kid who is watching the actions that we as leaders are doing, that may have that dream and they see these sheriffs being put in the sheriff’s office… and see that up there and say ‘that’s somebody that I want to be,’ ” said Coleman. “I applaud them for paving the way for me to become who I am, along with all of my other ancestors who sacrificed the blood sweat and tears for me to be here.”
Coleman said he did not know, until recently, that Terrebonne Parish had Black sheriffs in the past.
Margie Scoby, President of the Finding Our Roots museum, said she had been looking into the former sheriff’s history when the museum was being founded and had begun speaking with the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office in July of last year. Former Sheriff Jerry Larpenter’s administration had begun the work, and current Sheriff Tim Soignet’s administration continued the efforts.
“I think it’s important for our foundation and our roots of Terrebonne Parish that we realize every single person that has stood in the office that I hold,” Soignet said. “To me, I think that it’s important to share that with the community and pave the way on how we got here.”
Soignet said his administration is working on gathering photos and the history of all of the former sheriffs, and creating a book with summaries and photos of each of the sheriffs. He said he would like to have that book in the reception area for all interested to learn about the previous sheriffs.
Coleman, Scoby, President of the Terrebonne Parish Branch of the NAACP Jerome Boykin, Judge Juan Pickett, Former Council Chairman and current Vice President of the museum Alvin Tillman and Rev. Vincent Fuslier spoke of the importance of the occasion.
“These wonderful men have developed a relationship with many who broke barriers in this country and have gone down in history as some of the finest and greatest to serve in their time,” said Scoby.
Pickett said that this was an example of Terrebonne Parish’s exceptionalism in a time when the nation was having a different reaction to coping with history.
“It’s unique, one, because we were of a parish that elected African Americans as sheriffs, some that were born into slavery,” said Pickett. “And it’s also unique in this environment that we live in today where if you turn on the television and you see people taking down pictures off of walls, bringing down signs and we are here today putting up history.”
The wall of former Sheriffs began in the office of the late Major Michael Elstner who found a box full of photos from the courthouse and hung them on his office wall.
After Elstner’s retirement, the photos were hung on the wall of a reception room, where a list naming all of the former sheriffs not depicted, both Black and white, joined them.
Terrebonne’s eight former Black sheriffs were elected and served during the Reconstruction era.
Elections were heated, and this was best illustrated by the runoff between Washington “General” Lyons and Amos Sims. Groups of supporters roamed the streets with makeshift weapons and the results of the election was contested.
A mob cornered Sims at the town’s stables, located where People’s Drug Store is today, and Sims was forced to defend himself by shooting a man dead.
According to amateur historian Bill Ellzey, who writes a regular column for the Courier and Daily Comet, later court testimony reveals local white business owners saying that Sims tried to talk the mob down, “finally he was pressed so hard that he took the toe of his boot and drew a line in the dirt and said, ‘the first one that jumps across that line, I’m going to shoot them dead.”
Sims served as sheriff in 1872 and went on to be Director of Terrebonne’s schools.
Lyons would succeed Sims as sheriff in 1874 until 1876.
Thomas A. Cage, was sheriff from 1880 until 1884, and later became a state senator serving from 1888 to 1892
Jordan Stewart served from 1876 for two years and later became a State Senator from 1884 until 1888.
John Budd became Sheriff in 1884 to 1888 and later became the postmaster of Terrebonne Parish.
Clifton Theriot, Archivist at the Allen J. Ellender Memorial Library, provided the photos to both the sheriff’s office and the museum. He said the photos were preserved by Randolph Bazet Sr., and that Bazet’s family provided them to the library.
Archival searches have failed to turn up photos of Frederick Marie, elected in 1866 to 1868; William Keys, 1870; and Alfred Kennedy, 1878, said a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office.
Credit: Source link