“Go Home . . . and Listen Again:” A Religious Studies Oral History Project Offers Insights Into Life Along Bayou Lafourche


EPISODE 11     (33:13)

Student interviewers visit a Bayou Lafourche resident to collect oral history

Today’s show is an interview with one of the Center’s partners, Dr. Mike Pasquier, a professor in the Religious Studies Department here at LSU.  Dr. Pasquier is working with the Center to establish the Bayou Lafourche Oral History Project.  He and his students collected these oral histories to gain a better understanding of the role of religion in everyday life among Bayou Lafourche residents.  He’s also partnering with LSU’s Coastal Sustainability Studio and is using this material to garner a better understanding of how south Louisiana culture is being affected by wetlands loss.  Pasquier teaches courses in U.S. religious history, Christianity, and world religions, and his research focuses on the history of Roman Catholicism in the American South, Catholic devotional culture, and religion in colonial Louisiana.

In this episode, Center Director Jenifer A. Cramer will speak with Pasquier about his ongoing project in Bayou Lafourche, how he uses oral history in the college classroom, and how this research will be useful to a larger, interdisciplinary study assessing the impact of land loss on residents of the area.  We’ll get to hear some clips from interviews recorded by some of his students with Bayou Lafourche residents.  So join us today as we hear about men murmuring the rosary during Hurricane Betsy, school children being punished for speaking French on state property, and how the land and waters where people fish, work, and live is disappearing before our eyes.

Also, please keep in mind that a large part of the Center’s mission is public outreach. If you have a project like this in mind and you would like to partner with the Center, please get in touch with me at jabrah1@lsu.edu.  If you’d like to make a donation to help us with our mission, please visit our donation page or contact me.

 

AUDIO EXCERPT TRANSCRIPTIONS AND CITATIONS

 

DAVID HAYWARD:  What type of neighborhood did you live in and where did you play at and go hang out with your friends at?

BRENDA ROBICHAUX:  So, my name is Brenda Dardar Robichaux. I grew up in a community called Golden Meadow, but I actually grew up below the corporation limits of Golden Meadow because Indian people did not live in the corporation limits in Golden Meadow.  We lived below the corporation limits of Golden Meadow, that’s where the Indian community was.  In the community, there was a church and there was an old Indian settlement school. The old Indian settlement school housed from kindergarten through seventh grade and that was it.  There were no high schools or anything that you could further your education.  So the generation of my father has been a seventh grade education and that’s because that was all that was available. Our people, the Sabines.  If you were brave enough to go teach the Sabines down the bayou, you would have a job. And so I did not attend the school there. It closed with the Civil Rights Movement.

HAYWARDOh, you mentioned the bayou. Did y’all utilize the bayou for transportation or did y’all use, you know, usual means? Cars and trucks?

ROBICHAUX:  At the beginning, it was for transportation. There was actually a school boat that would go and pick up children across the bayou. There were no highways there. And so this boat would go across the bayou and pick up the children and bring them to the settlement school.

HAYWARDOh wow, that’s cool.

ROBICHAUX:  And then even after that in later years, there were still people who lived there and there was a smaller boat that would go to this one particular house and pick up children and bring them to school.

HAYWARDDarn. Gathering places in your community, is there any that you were fond of that you could recall?

ROBICHAUX:  Driving in the car down the bayou to Leeville, which is the town right after Golden Meadow, and there were thistles that would grow “chadrons” in French. And so it’s this tall thing with pickers that grow out and so we’d go with vinegar, salt, and a cane knife and that’s how you spend your afternoon just driving down and you’d see one, “Oh that one’s too tall,” you know, “That one’s gonna be too hard.” It’s kind of like a celery. And so you would just stop the car “Oh, there’s one!” So you’d stop the car, you’d cut it, you know, get in the car, slice it up, put salt, eat it and just keep traveling down. So it was a very simple life but it was fun. That’s what we did.

Robichaux, Brenda, interview by David Hayward, audio recording, 2010,4700.2100. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

 

RYAN BRANTONSo you say family was the center?

JOHN DOUCET:  Yeah, definitely, it wasn’t the community that was the center necessarily because we were stretched out for miles. Or maybe we just didn’t get along, I don’t know [laughs], I think it’s a geographical thing. I think this whole parish is in the same situation because we all developed along the linear bayou and now we have cars and transportation and email. We don’t even have to get out of our houses. But I think things were different. I think you established those sub-communities within your families and, if you’re fortunate, your neighborhood.  But as far as big community gathering, it was only church, or it was only a high school graduation, as far as I know, or things like that.

DOUCET:  My mom used to tell me stories of how she was punished in high school for speaking French when it was her native language.

BRANTONReally?

DOUCET:  Oh yeah. There was a law in 1915 that made speaking French forbidden on state property, including public schools, and this was okay for some place in Natchitoches or in Baton Rouge, perhaps, but in a place like Golden Meadow, it was horrible because the first language of the students is French, and you’re making us speak something else. So if you spoke French to a teacher, whether you’re doing it sarcastically, or if you could not formulate the sentence, you were punished and it was corporal punishment and even cruel punishment. My mom used to have to kneel in the corner in a little pad of corn kernels. That was her punishment. She never ate corn the rest of her life.

Doucet, John, interview by Ryan Branton, audio recording, 2010, 4700.2099. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

 

KAYLA DUPLECHAIN:   Would you say life was in . . .  like growing up here was different than other places?

LARRY WILLIAMS:  Oh, definitely, yes.

DUPLECHAIN:  How so?

WILLIAMS:  Well, for one thing, when I went to school my parents all spoke French. And while we were in school, teachers didn’t want us to speak French. I learned French with my grandmother. She taught me French and there was more or less, old timers were like that. And most of the families, that’s how they are, learned French from their grandmothers cause they knew nothing but French.

DUPLECHAIN:  What does it mean to you to live along Bayou Lafourche?

WILLIAMS:  As far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Because of the close-knit families. It was all about the family back when I was growing up. Families would get together at night and cook and you know, feed everybody.

Williams, Larry, interview by Kayla Duplechain, audio recording, 2010, 4700.2139. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

 

x

Ophelia Lefort showcases her many paintings

OPHELIA LEFORT: Most people that lived along the bayou lived, they worked in . . . later on in the oil field, but before that, it was trappers. We trapped furs like muskrats, minks, otters. Every year, we’d go to a camp in the marsh. I used to be the skinner of my daddy’s muskrats, I used to skin pelts.

BLAKE CWIEKA: Wow.

LEFORT: Yes. And I was just fourteen, fifteen years old so everybody would . . . but the bayou was it. That was “Main Street”. And on both sides, people lived and I remember as a child we had a grocery store across the bayou. We had to ride a flat boat to go buy groceries. Painting . . . if people would realize just what painting is . . . that you can lose yourself. It’s so rewarding. You can meditate, you can . . .  you know. It’s really wonderful. I had to do a rendering of this boat to show my children how it was when I was a young kid growing up we’d stand on the bayou and they would pass, they’d go from New Orleans from Grand Isle. Grand Isle raised watermelons and, I didn’t know that at that time, but I found out later that they did the cucumbers and they’d go to the French market in New Orleans with that. So I did a rendering of that boat, as I’m standing on the shore. They would throw us bananas and apples and stuff like that. So I did that and I’ll show it to you if you want.

Lefort, Ophelia, Interview by Blake Cwieka, audio recording, 2010, 4700.2098. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

 

KAYLA DUPLECHAIN:  What are some of the differences between living in Golden Meadow with the lock systems and below Golden Meadow without them?

LARRY WILLIAMS:  Well, the flooding. I don’t remember any hurricanes I went through. There was always the threat of flooding. Now that we have this levee system, more or less, we still can flood, but we’re protected because of the levee system.

DUPLECHAIN:  What kind of jobs have you held throughout your life?

WILLIAMS:  I used to work, well, on Sundays when we’d go to church, on the way back. They used to have . . . it was a trolling for shrimp community. And when there was a lot of boats would come in with a lot of shrimp, they would sound the siren and all the people in the community wanted to go to the shrimp shed, they’d break heads and they had a bucket about a gallon . . . about three gallon bucket and when you put all the heads in there, and you’d turn in your bucket, you’d get ten cents a bucket [laughs] and on the way back from church sometimes, we’d stop at the shrimp shed and break heads just for ten cents to buy us a candy or something.

DUPLECHAIN:  The major industries in the area are the oil industry . . .

WILLIAMS:  The oil and the fishing industry. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand; It goes hand in hand, you see, the fishing industry, when the season is finished, a lot of the fishermen would go and get jobs in the oil field. They’d work in the oil field because there was always contractors, you know, that would hire them. And then when the season was open again, they’d all quit the oil field and go back to fishing. I guess everybody supported each other like that, the whole community.

Williams, Larry, interview by Kayla Duplechain, audio recording, 2010, 4700.2139. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

X

 

J.B. Barnes

J.B. BARNES:  But during that time, it was . . .  everything was real good. A pair of shoes, you had to have a stamp to buy shoes.

MARY TANNEHILL:  Really?

BARNES:  Okay, you gets a stamp every six months for a pair of work shoes. You gets a stamp for dress shoes once a year, so we had to walk to school eight miles to school in the church so we would carry our shoes, put them on our shoulder, we had a wet rag, a towel as you called it. One wet, one dry. We sat down, we wiped our feet. We put our one pair of socks, our shoes on. We’d go to church, and we’d enjoy church, Sunday school. We had to go to church, we had to go to Sunday school every Sunday; we had to go to that. But during that time, it was . . . We didn’t know any better. It was good. Oh, it was really a good time, we . . . Now, Sunday, we couldn’t play on a Sunday. We had to do all our work Saturday. Sunday, that’s the Lord’s day. We had to go to church, Sunday school, and all that. We had to sit around in the yard. We couldn’t do no sport like ball games and shooting marbles and all that. We couldn’t do that on a Sunday.

BARNES: I had to hire, and I was the one who had to fire.  They couldn’t.  I didn’t care what trouble that they would give. They had to come to me to do it. Well, I run in to quite some problems with that because . . .  it was mostly with the white bosses.  The idea of me being a black man over them. They didn’t like that so well. But like I told the owner of that factory, I was gonna run it or either I was gonna quit it. Only one color that I go by, one color. That’s the color . . . I don’t have no pick in colors. I said, we working a man , you know, we don’t work boys. I didn’t allow them to call a man a boy. I put their initial on their hat, their names, so the foremans could call them by their names. “I say, boy!” you know . . . they used to have that thing of calling men boys. That don’t go no more, you know, call them boys. I enjoyed doing that. I did it until the factory closed in 1979.

Barnes, JB, interview by Mary Tannehill, audio recording, 2010, 4700.2102. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

 

JOHN DOUCET:  Anyway, by the time we got there, things were really bad. We got out, we went in the house and it was late. It was almost time to go to bed but as a kid, I was petrified. I was a nervous wreck. I couldn’t possibly go to bed. Alright? So mom was nervous, everybody was nervous. They wanted the kids in bed and away, so I was nervous. I threw up in bed. I remember that the boards that my aunt had put against her window were pounding and one of the windows crashed on top of me so there was no way I was getting back in bed so I was a wreck all night but the most harrowing thing was when the man got together to murmur the Rosary. When women pray, it’s alright. When men pray, you know something’s wrong. And that was probably . . . it wasn’t’ the nervousness, it wasn’t ’cause my dad wasn’t there although those were tremendously big emotional things. It wasn’t the glass falling on me. When my grandpa and the other men started praying, that was scary.

Doucet, John, interview by Ryan Branton, audio recording, 2010, 4700.2099. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

 

This podcast was written and produced by Jennifer Abraham Cramer.  The audio engineer was Rob Fleming.  Special thanks to Germain Bienvenu, Erin Hess, and Tim Schiro.

 

IMAGES

All photographs courtesy of Dr. Michael Pasquier

 

MUSIC

King, Freddie, interview by Tatiana Clay and Eric Julien, audio recording, 2008, 4700.1921.  Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

 

This podcast is copyrighted by LSU Libraries Special Collections.

For a full transcript of the podcast, please contact Jennifer Abraham Cramer at jabrah1@lsu.edu.

 

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