It’s often hard to recognize history’s cycles. That’s why historians take care to document the past, to prevent the negative portions from repeating.
The Iberia African American Historical Society held a two-day remembrance this weekend honoring the four doctors and four NAACP leaders who were expelled from New Iberia 75 years ago. In addition to a presentation from historian Adam Fairclough, professor emeritus of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, descendants of the expelled physicians and leaders — doctors Eddie L. Dorsey, Howard C. Scoggins and Luins Williams, dentist Ima A. Pierson, and community leaders Herman Faulk, J. Leo Hardy, Octave Lilly Jr. and Franzella Volter — were part of a panel discussion to share the stories of their families and the memories that had been shared with them of the expulsion.
Southern University Law Center Chancellor John Pierre compared the tension felt in those times to the current rise in racist ideologies.
“If you do not see there is a movement to reimpose what happened in 1944 afoot today, you are fooling yourself,” Pierre said. “History moves forward, but it can also go backward.”
Fairclough, a British historian who has dedicated his life to the study of American history, has written extensively on the expulsion. In his book “Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972,” he goes into detail about how the expulsion began.
Iberia Sheriff Gilbert Ozenne had “browbeat” Hardy, then told him he should leave town, Fairclough said. When he was still in New Iberia the next evening, Fairclough writes that four sheriff’s deputies in a black car arrived at the saloon where Hardy was talking with friends and took him to Ozenne’s office. There Hardy was beaten, then dumped on the outskirts of town.
He called Scoggins, who came to him and administered first aid, then took him to Lafayette. He brought Hardy clean clothes in Lafayette the next day. Hardy then took a train to Monroe, putting New Iberia in his past.
That night, May 17, three deputies rounded up Faulk, Pierson and Williams. After deputies beat the trio, they were also dumped out of town. Lilly visited Person in Lafayette and made the decision to leave New Iberia. Volter and Dorsey also made the decision to leave.
Upon hearing of the expulsions, Scoggins barricaded himself in his house overnight and left for Lafayette the morning of May 18.
Also part of the presentation on Saturday was a live podcast from Stinson Liles. Liles has hosted the “Southern Hollows” podcast for the last two years, focusing on the darker side of Southern history. His telling of the tale of the expulsion drew applause from the crowd at the Sliman Theater as he completed the piece.
There was also the unveiling of a painting from local artist Paul Schexnayder. “Voices of the Dreamers” follows several of Schexnayder’s themes, taking the viewer from dark to light as they moves from right to left, with the recurring kings from his previous works representing the turmoil of the expulsion, then moving forward to resolve into peace.
The culmination of the weekend was the unveiling of a historical marker in front of Dorsey’s former home at the corner of French and Field streets. Organizer and IAAHS founder Phebe Hayes said the goal of the weekend was to bring awareness to the history of the African American community in New Iberia.
“It’s about getting our stories out,” Hayes said. “It’s about our history. The era of Jim Crow, the Reconstruction, the Deep South. It is all part of the history of the African-American community.”