Civil rights trail group meets

Published 3:28 am Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A little more than 30 citizens and government representatives attended a meeting Wednesday, July 31, at Bogalusa City Hall, to discuss the future planned Louisiana Civil Rights Trail and potential Washington Parish stops on the trail.

Sharon Calcote, director of Louisiana Byways for the Louisiana Office of Tourism, led the meeting. Accompanying her were Glenda McKinley, who has assisted the LOT with various projects, and Norman Robinson, a former news director for WDSU and news reporter for WWL in New Orleans.

The meeting was held in the “War Room” at city hall, and elected officials in attendance included State Rep. Malinda White, Parish Council members Levi Lewis and Perry Talley, and Bogalusa City Council member Gloria Kates. Also present was Michael Willis with U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham’s office.

The meeting was a chance for local citizens to offer input on the future Louisiana Civil Rights Trail. The trail’s goals are to help share the overarching role that Louisiana played in the civil rights movements, and trail sites could be located in every parish of the state.

Trail sites can be nominated with the online submission form found at Criteria suggested for submission as a site include:

  • Be associated with events that made a significant contribution to the Louisiana civil rights movement, or
  • Be associated with the life of a person(s) who was significant in the Louisiana civil rights movement.
  • Must be open to the public or public view as a tourist attraction, providing guided or self-guided experiences, or displaying a series of commemorative markers that communicate context for the Louisiana civil rights movement.
  • Must have regular hours.
  • Should have a website and/or promotional materials.

Robinson said that citizens should feel free to submit any ideas they have.

“We’re going to be listening to all of you,” he said. “We are building this thing from the ground up, not from the top down.”

Talley read a statement in which he expressed support for the idea of the trail, and the necessity for Washington Parish and Bogalusa to be involved.

“It is imperative that we preserve our history,” he said. “If our cultural history is not preserved, we may eventually forget all the sacrifices made to get us to this point. We surely do not want to forget the progress or the mistakes that have been made in the past.”

Although the only way to have a site considered is to fill out the nomination form, the meeting leaders encouraged citizens present to tell their stories right then.

Chief Deputy Mike Haley of the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office said that there needs to be a stop honoring the death of Oneal Moore, the first black sheriff’s deputy in Washington Parish. Moore was murdered while on duty in June of 1965.

Emma Dixon mentioned the importance of civil rights leader A.Z. Young, and Kates suggested that a site should be selected for the late city council member William Bailey Jr., namesake of a city park.

Barbara Hicks-Collins, executive director of the Robert “Bob” Hicks Foundation, was also present and spoke at Wednesday’s meeting. The foundation is dedicated to preserving the memory of the late Hicks, a key figure in the Bogalusa civil rights struggle.

In an emotional storytelling, Thomas Kates — a former Bogalusa City Council member and Gloria Kates’ husband — offered his suggestion for a site on the trail. He said that he has vivid memories of a street location in Bogalusa where “I witnessed the police sic about five German shepherds” on a black citizen. Kates also said that many other citizens were also injured in the skirmish, which took place outside local nightclubs and other businesses.

“I have never seen dogs like I saw that night,” he said. “They just sic’ed them on the people.”

Kates said that memories of that time still affect him to this day.

“This is the first time in over 50 years that I’ve been able to share this story with anybody, other than a few of my friends,” he said.

Robinson said that personal stories like Kates’ are the reason for the civil rights trail and why the state elected to hold events like last Wednesday’s meeting in Bogalusa.

“That’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “We’re looking for stories and ideas that are personal.”

After the meeting, Hicks-Collins said that she felt it was productive and inspiring.

“What a powerful and emotional meeting it was,” she said. “I was so pleased with the support and interest of the many people who took the time to come to share their stories. We are well on the road to making Bogalusa a ‘Better Bogalusa’ and Washington Parish a ‘Proud People Parish.’”