Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan said recently that although the end of February has come, it is important to never forget black history.
That being said, in honor of Black History Month, LSU's Dr. Wayne Parent visited the Ascension Parish library in Donaldsonville on Thursday, February 23 to discuss black politics in Louisiana.
Parent, a Russell B. Long Professor of Political Science at Louisiana State University, is also the author of "Inside the Carnival: Unmasking Louisiana Politics." The 61-year-old white professor of African American Studies admits to having an "odd perspective" on the subject.
The seminar was called the Evolution of Black Politics. Parent began by discussing his upbringing in Baton Rouge in Fairfield, explaining that a physical wall separated his neighborhood with the predominantly black Eden Park. Famous black guitarist Buddy Guy is said to have had relatives living in Eden Park at this time.
Parent said there was a white fear of the wall coming down. But when it finally did in 1964, leaving some bamboo and things in its place that things got better for a while.
"While this isn't Mississippi or Alabama, Louisiana has similar racial proportions. But there was still the notion of "black threat' in white communities."
However, Parent explained that in Louisiana in the 90s, black had more political power than any other state in the union. Going back to 1837, P.B.S. Pinchback was the first black governor of Louisiana.
"He was an important force," Parent said. "He was active as long as he could be."
Blacks faced voting oppression soon after Pinchback, and that lasts until the Civil Rights Movement. Just before the turn of the 20th century, former Governor Foster's grandfather is said to have created legislation to turn the number of black voters from 145,000 1,500 overnight.
Parent reminds us that before Rosa Parks, there was the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott. Moreover, Parent explained that the democratic party switched over to push for black voting rights from 1965-77, and that we see such figures as Lindy Boggs, James Carville and Bill Clinton have great success from this.
"Earl and Huey Long didn't fan the flames of racism," Parent said. "I'm not going to argue that it was good, but it was better than in Mississippi and Alabama."
In Louisiana there grew an even mixture of urban and rural legislators. The Reagan Era sees the beginning of 90s black-white coalitions, according to Parent. Louisiana had a more unified coalition, and it became a swing state. This was unlike Mississippi where all blacks were democrats and all whites republican.
"East Baton Rouge today is majority white," Parent said. "But Mayor Kip Holden got 70 percent of the vote."
A black patron of the event, the only black person in the room began to engage Parent. He said he was a historian who taught in the Louisiana school system for many years. He and Parent discussed why black students are feeling oppressed today. He felt that they shouldn't feel that way at all.
"Black students would say we are in the middle of a new Civil Rights Movement," Parent said. "The death of Alton Sterling paralyzed Baton Rouge for two months."
These issues are ongoing. Black politics are not entirely unified, and they are based on individual perspectives these days. There are more than one school of thought on the black experience and what it means to be black. Perhaps all are correct.