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Louisiana sheriff adding portraits of 19th century Black sheriffs

1 month 4 days 6 hours ago Saturday, October 24 2020 Oct 24, 2020 October 24, 2020 3:31 PM October 24, 2020 in News
Source: Associated Press
Photo: Nicholls State University, Ellender Memorial Library Archives

HOUMA, La. (AP) — A south Louisiana sheriff is adding photographs of five 19th century African American sheriffs — two of whom went on to be state senators — to the portraits displayed in his office’s waiting room.

“Terrebonne Parish’s African-American sheriffs played crucial roles at critical times in the development of our parish and our nation,” Sheriff Tim Soignet said in a news release Friday. “The photos ... will ensure that their places in history are properly recognized.”

He planned a ceremony at 1 p.m. Monday to add the pictures.

Voters elected some during Reconstruction, which covered the post-Civil War years to 1876 in Louisiana, and some in the following 12 years, the news release said. Researchers were unable to find portraits of three other African American sheriffs who served between 1872 and 1888, said Deputy John DeSantis.

The sheriff’s office doesn’t have pictures of all of the white sheriffs who served since the parish was founded in 1822, he noted.

He said the Finding Our Roots African-American Museum in Houma and the Allan J. Ellender Memorial Library at Nicholls State University helped the sheriff’s office with the project.

The first two sheriffs took office one after the other in 1872, because of a contested election. Amos Sims, who later became director of Terrebonne Parish schools, was the first. After a long recount, Washington “General” Lyons was then declared the winner. His posses faced rioting and labor unrest in 1874, said DeSantis, who wrote a book about a racial massacre in 1887 in Thibodeaux, the seat of neighboring Lafourche Parish.

Jordan Stewart was sheriff from 1876 to 1878 and a state senator from 1884 to 1888.

Thomas A. Cage, who had been born into slavery, was elected sheriff in 1880 and served until 1884. He was a state senator from 1888 to 1892.

John Budd, elected in 1884, faced tumultuous labor arrest while also serving as Houma’s postmaster, appointed by President Chester A. Arthur.

Exhaustive archival searches failed to turn up photos of Frederick Marie, elected in 1868; William Keys, 1870; and Alfred Kennedy, 1878, DeSantis said.

The portrait project began under former Sheriff Jerry Larpenter. Soignet authorized it to continue when he took office in July.

“We are still attempting to locate photos of them,” he said in an email.

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