For All Our Citizens
By the mid-20th century, black people in Louisiana had seen their rights eroded. The 1868 Reconstruction-era Constitution had been replaced by a Jim Crow-era Constitution that enacted segregation and reversed much of the progress made following the Civil War.
In West Baton Rouge Parish
In 1896, 95.6% of eligible black voters in West Baton Rouge Parish were registered to vote. By 1901, that number had declined to 1.1%. The poll tax and literacy tests, which were established to limit the participation of black voters, had achieved their purpose.
In the 1940s and 50s, Black churches played an important role in the community, encouraging and preparing African Americans to vote. Reverend Freddie Williams organized and served as president of the Louisiana Progressive Voters’ League, which was dedicated to helping Black citizens navigate the system and register to vote. In 1952, Black citizens of West Baton Rouge succeeded in their efforts, twelve years before the 1964 Voting Rights Act ended literacy tests and poll taxes. The League was also instrumental in creating public recreational facilities for Black children.
Respected science teacher, Edward Searcy, organized and served as president of the Greater West Baton Rouge Parish Improvement Association. This organization lead economic boycotts, picket lines, and staged sit-ins to encourage the employment of and equal access to service for Black citizens by local businesses and government in the 1960s.
Renewed Faith in the Promise of Democracy and the Great Potential of Louisiana
In 1944, Black leaders across the state formed the Louisiana Progressive Voters League to organize Black voter registration drives. In West Baton Rouge Parish, Freddie Williams led the movement to register Black voters.
Thurgood Marshall was the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court of the U.S. Prior to his tenure as a judge, Marshall was a lawyer with the NAACP and worked closely with Tureaud, consulting on Louisiana civil rights cases. Marshall’s most famous case as a lawyer was Brown vs. the Board of Education. In that case, the courts ruled that “separate but equal” education for Blacks and Whites was unconstitutional because it was, at its core, unequal.
Justice System: By the People
West Baton Rouge Parish had been governed by a police jury since as early as 1809. Voters approved a home rule charter. Starting in 1996, the parish replaced the police jury system with an elected parish president and parish council.
At the Polls: Women’s Changing Roles
The first woman to hold political office in West Baton Rouge was Elsie Lefebvre. Her husband, Victor James Lefebvre, was Clerk of Court for 24 years until his death in 1940. Lefebvre was appointed to fill his unexpired term. She was elected and served for the next 28 years until she retired in 1968.
The first woman to serve on the Parish Police Jury was Evelyn Rivault who, like Lefebvre, was also appointed to fill her husband’s unexpired term in 1967. Myrtis Alexander of Brusly was the first woman elected to the Police Jury in her own right in 1976 and served two terms until 1984. It was not until 1993 that a woman, Lynn Robertson, served as a Mayor in West Baton Rouge Parish; she served as Mayor until 2000.
Elsie Lefebvre pictured on the right.