http://louisianademocratslafourche.webstarts.com
LAFOURCHE PARISH DEMOCRATIC
 EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE  

Labadieville Lynching


By JOHN DeSANTIS
Death of Freddie Moore

A new bridge spans Bayou Lafourche in Labadieville, at the site where 16-year-old Freddie Moore was tortured and hanged from the old bridge on Oct. 11, 1933. He was accused of killing 15-year-old Ana Mae LaRose. St. Philomena Catholic Church now, as then, appears prominently on the La. 1 side of the bayou.

On the western bank of Bayou Lafourche in Labadieville, erected by St. Philomena Catholic Church, is a towering likeness of the crucified Christ, whom the gospels say was condemned by a mobs will, 2000 years ago.

Steps away from that cross is the spot where, 81 years ago this week, a different mob imposed its will, committing its own form of crucifixion. A bridge truss was their cross, a hangmans rope their nails and sword. Their victim, a black 16-year-old named Freddie Moore, was tortured before his death, dragged to his personal Golgotha for six miles after Sheriff Lezin Himel turned his jail keys over to a mob of 100 men or more, led by one of his deputies, who later himself became a sheriff of Assumption Parish.

A second black teen, Norman Thibodaux, was dragged to the bridge as well, but lived to tell the tale, because two local men, bridge-tender Louis Coddou and his son, Harry, pleaded with the crowd to abandon their efforts.

Now as then, some people in Labadieville and surrounding communitiesí thirst for answers while others say the atrocity should not be discussed. The row was fueled by the murder of a young white girl, Anna Mae LaRose, whose family has members now living in Thibodaux. The question of who killed her remains unanswered. Students from Bostonís Northeastern University School of Law continue seeking information about the case, as does a retired New Orleans social worker, a descendant of Mooreís mother.

STIRRING THINGS UP

In Assumption Parish, as well as Thibodaux and Houma, black people aware of the case say the continued quest for answers is a good thing, another path toward healing the scars inflicted from the time of slavery to this very day by a power structure they say has never really yielded. Some whites hold a different view, especially in Labadieville, expressing concerns during interviews last week that continued talk of the incident might stir up the coloreds, in some cases using terms far more offensive.

I donít know what purpose it serves, said one white Labadieville woman, who like other locals said she could not speak freely if identified by name. Other than to drag up the past, and embarrass us and our ancestors. Margaret Burnham, a law professor and former judge who is founder and director of Northeasterns Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, is among scholars who maintain that Moores death is significant from several perspectives, and deserves scrutiny. For one thing, Burnham said in a telephone interview last week, the case is unique because family later won a judgment from an all-white New Orleans federal jury against the Assumption sheriff, which due to legal complications resulted in a paltry award, but an award nonetheless. The case is unusual as well, Burham said, because while lynchings did occur in southeast Louisianas bayou region. They were fewer in number than those in other parts of the state or the South as a whole. South Louisiana does not have the same lynching record as some other places, and part of that may be due to the influence of the Catholic Church in that area, she said.

BY THE NUMBERS

One database of Louisiana lynchings lists 316 between 1882 and 1928 and includes no entries from Terrebonne or Lafourche, although there are two listed in Assumption. Elsewhere in the region, 12 each are reported in Jefferson and Orleans; St. John has three, St. Charles eight and there were four in Lafayette. Scholars note that such records can be misleading. Many lynchings went unreported; others were prosecuted or investigated as simple homicides. North Louisiana numbers, meanwhile, showed 25 in Bossier, 23 in Caddo and 22 in Ouchita.

Burnell Tolbert, president of the Lafourche Parish NAACP, recalls his grandfather, a Layton Plantation cane worker named Melvin Ballard, discussing the case. I was kind of young and didnt understand, but when I got older he started talking about it again and I started doing some research, and read some of the same things my grandfather told me, said Tolbert, who welcomes the law schools efforts. Some people donít want to remember, or acknowledge that racism still exists. But it is part of our history; people need to know the history whether it was good or bad. It is a good thing that people are telling it.

Tolberts grandfather and other elders would warn younger men in their family of the fate that might befall them if accused of a crime against whites, however unjustly. We should always be willing to look at the past, said Tolberts vice president, ONeil Mills, father of Chicago Bears right tackle Jordan Mills. Its not just an African-American thing, it is a human issue.

Terrebonne Parish NAACP President Jerome Boykin said it is important for such things to be remembered, to show how far we have come as a community. It is part of our history, Boykin said. When you shine a light on bad situations like a lynching it educates our young and our old.

FOUND IN A FIELD

Research of primary sources by The Times along with interviews of Assumption Parish and Thibodaux residents confirm in large part the accounts of Freddie Moores case, as related in reports by Northeasterns Civil Rights and Social Justice Project. In Assumption Parish, October marked the start of sugar cane grinding season. In 1933, Anna Mae LaRose, 15 years old, was preparing to attend a dance on the afternoon of Oct. 7, a Saturday. She was observed talking with her neighbor, Freddie Moore, a year or so older than she. Anna, according to what accounts are available, was reported missing when she did not return home. Her body was found in a Labadieville cane field Monday, Oct. 9, by Assumption Parish deputy Fernand Richard. She had been stabbed in the throat. NEU law student Robert Black, in a report for the project available on its Website, http://www.northeastern.edu/civilrights/, states that at the girlís Oct. 10 funeral her stepfather mentioned that Moore had asked LaRose about her plans for the evening and when she planned to leave.

Sheriff Lezine H. Himel and several of his deputies arrested Moore. The sheriff brought Moore to the front of the outside of the church where LaRoseís funeral was being held. After the services concluded, the men attending the funeral accused Moore of killing LaRose, Blacks report states. Moore denied the accusations before he was taken to the Assumption Parish Jail in Napoleonville.

BRANDING IRONS

Richard visited the teens mother, Lilly Eliska Moore, searched his room and left with articles of his clothing, returning for additional clothing several times. On the night of Oct. 11, a mob of between 50 and 100 people from Assumption Parish and the surrounding area gathered outside the Assumption Parish Jail, Blacks narrative states. The mob forced Moore to wear a noose around his neck while they marched him to the cane field where LaRose had been found. At the cane field, the mob began to beat Moore. From the cane field, the mob forced Moore to march nearly 10 miles to the Labadieville Bridge. Whenever Moore fell, the mob would use branding irons to force him to stand up. Around 10:30 p.m., the mob beat Moore until he falsely confessed to the murder of LaRose. Moore also named a Norman Jackson during his beating. The mob hung Moore at the Labadieville Bridge. Afterwards, the mob affixed a written note to Moores body that said, Nword, let this be an example. Do not touch for 24 hours.

ONE LIVED TO TALK

Members of the mob, Blacks report says, had brought their children to see Moores hanging body and told them that if any Nword bothered them, the Nword would be treated likewise. But the mob was not done. On Oct. 12 at 2 a.m., Richard and seven other men kidnapped 20 year old Norman Thibodaux from his grandmothers house, believing he was the Norman Jackson referenced by the tortured Freddie Moore. Richard dragged Thibodaux to the Labadieville Bridge, where Moore was still hanging, the Black report states.There they beat and hung Thibodaux. While beating him, members of the lynch mob told Thibodaux that they would let him go if he confessed to the crime. Thibodauxs later account, published in several newspapers, says his tormenters demanded a confession and that the only parts of his body not beaten were the soles of his feet. The mob talked about burning him, Thibodauxs accounts state, in part because another rope could not be found. But a stretchy rope was produced, he stated, and it was placed around his neck. The Times has been able to confirm reports from the project that at least two men present at the bridge spoke up for Thibodaux.

Coddou, the bridgetender, and his son told the mob they had seen Thibodaux get off a bus from New Orleans a day or so before, making it impossible for him to have been involved in the killing of LaRose. Although they cut Thibodaux down from the bridge, Richard and others were not done with him, according to his accounts and the digested version appearing in the project report. After cutting Thibodaux down, Richard and a few others dragged Thibodaux to the Assumption Parish Jail at the recommendation of a judge who was part of the mob, Black wrote. However, Himel refused to admit Thibodaux because one prisoner, Moore, had already been taken out of jail. Richard and others, reports state, brought Thibodaux to a cane field where he was told to run. As he did so, shots were fired, but did not hit their mark. Thibodaux escaped to New Orleans by freight train. Hayes Coddou Jr., a nephew of Harry Coddou, knew his ancestors were at the bridge.†His great uncle was the bridgetender. But he did not learn until last week that his Uncle Harry was a hero. The Coddou men never did take anything from anybody, said Hayward Coddou Jr., the father of the two Assumption Parish deputies. So, I am not surprised.

LIVING LEGACIES

An air conditioner hummed gently in the living room of Clara LaRose Guillots Thibodaux home last week as she answered what questions she could about knowledge of Anna Mae LaRose, the aunt she never knew. The grownups would talk about it, she said. But we children were not allowed in the room when grownups were talking. Its not like today. She and her brother, Ernest LaRose, who now lives in Chackbay, recalled seeing for years a picture of two young girls on a family homes wall. They knew one of them was their Aunt Marie. The other girl, they were told, was their Aunt Anna Mae, and that she had been murdered. But few details were given.

Some accounts related to the Moore lynching, including the suit brought by the teens family in federal court, state that Anna Maes stepfather confessed to the slaying, but that has never been verified. Annas father died, family members say, prior to her murder. As for any potential that her grandfather, David, had been involved, Clara Guillot said that in her mind that could not be possible. My grandfather was the sweetest, kindest man that I never knew, she said. It is not possible that he could have done such a thing. While they believe it was most possible that Freddie Moore committed the murder, her descendants say that what was done to the teen at the bridge was cruel and wrong. Nobody should ever do something to someone like that, said Ernest, who is a retired Louisiana trooper. The lynching, they said, eliminated any possibility that a judge and jury could have weighed whatever facts were known under the rule of law, meaning that for all time Anna Maes murder will go unsolved.

SEARCH FOR ANSWERS

Another person living today who actively seeks answers to the questions surrounding the case is a distant cousin of Freddie Moore, Janet Hebert Johnson, now of Algiers, who grew up in New Mexico. My father would talk about it, she said. He was a World War II veteran and one of the reasons he left the South was he said things there were just not right, that he had a cousin who had been lynched in Labadieville. A decade ago, determined to learn more, Johnson traveled to Labadieville. It was wrong for them to take him like that whether he was guilty or not guilty, to deprive him of due process. Seeking to clear her ancestors name in the records of history, Johnson wrote to President Bill Clinton but received no response. Johnson has attended national events commemorating victims of lynching. On the wall of her Algiers home hangs a formal apology from the U.S. Senate for not acting on antilynching laws passed by the House of Representatives for a decade, an effort largely fueled by the work of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). In 2005, the resolution finally passed just a few months before Hurricane Katrina strafed New Orleans. Johnson hand wrote Freddie Moores name on the list of victims apologized for in the Senate document. Like a number of black people in Labadieville, she finds curious the fact that the mob, presumably and largely Catholic, if not exclusively, would have committed a lynching in full sight of St. Philomena Church and its steeple, which dominates the immediate landscape. It is almost as if there was no respect for the church that day, Johnson said.

The law failed. And then it is a great irony that people who call themselves Christians would conduct themselves in such an unchristian like manner in front of the church itself. A Labadieville resident, John Tillman, has questions about the venue as well. He has heard about the lynching since he was a boy, and is haunted by the stories. What was wrong with the priest there? he said last week. Thats what we have always said. If the priest had come out, I believe he could have stopped them, that they would have listened. Donna Carville, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, offered a response on behalf of the Diocese to questions about any peripheral involvement of St. Philomena Church, including suggestions that a parish priest could have intervened. While this travesty occurred over 80 years ago, it is especially poignant that it happened in the month of October, a month that the Catholic Church has set aside to emphasize the commitment to and reverence for human life, Carville said.

The incident was a miscarriage of justice and showed a reprehensible disregard for the sanctity of life which the Church defends from conception to natural death. Although, it occurred in Labadieville, we know of no evidence that would connect St. Philomena Church in any way to this tragic event. The Northeastern University law school students are continuing their effort to find facts, meanwhile, which have sparked a new interest locally, and an affirmation that no good ever comes from a rush to judgment. What we can learn from this is that people cannot judge before they get all the facts, said the NAACPs OíNeil Mills. It was unfortunate the way things went down back in those days. We have moved on and things should be better for us. But in many ways I believe the players might have changed, but the game is still the same. This is our past, hopefully it is not our future.


© All Rights Reserved, 2012 A.D.