King’s legacy alive in the River Parishes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 19, 2011

By Robin Shannon

and David Vitrano


LAPLACE – St. John the Baptist Parish residents from all races and creeds braved the cooler temperatures Monday morning to pay tribute to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

From LaPlace to Edgard, jovial groups of proud men, women and children took to the streets of the parish for pilgrimage marches to show their devotion to King’s message of peace, equality and brotherhood.

“We all stand tall and stand together on this day,” said Rev. Forell Bering Sr., head pastor for Bethlehem Missionary and New Pilgrim Baptist Churches and president of the St. John chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “Dr. King paved the way for us, and we must continue his dream for future generations.”

With the help of the East St. John High School marching band and the Destrehan High School ROTC and drumline, about 75 residents participated in the nearly two-mile march from East St. John Elementary to the Percy Hebert Building.

When the parade reached its final destination, the crowd, which had now grown to more than 150 people, was treated to a memorial program, which included a prayer, various solos and a keynote speech from retired Grambling State University mathematics professor Dr. Lawrence Woodward.

Woodward began with a brief history of King’s life, including his quick journey through high school and college. Woodard said he was present for a convocation that King delivered at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

“King had always said that leaders must be trained to lead,” Woodward said. “You can’t teach what you don’t know no more than you can lead where you don’t go.”

Woodward wrapped his speech with a message for parents and children in looking to the future.

“Be an assertive parent to your children,” Woodward said. “Get involved with your children at home, in school and in the community. Don’t point to heights you want your children to scale – start climbing and they will follow.”

Following Woodward’s speech, Parish President Natalie Robottom spoke briefly about strides made in St. John Parish.

“I’ve watched an educational system strengthen in diversity,” Robottom said. “We have a diverse population of students being taught by a diverse group of leadership. Our generation has a duty to continue making strides for the future.”

Meanwhile on the other side of the Mississippi River, west bank residents held a smaller, more community-centric celebration, a celebration that stayed true to the nature of this part of St. John Parish.

After a march that included representation from the two west bank schools as well as various civic organizations, residents of Edgard, Wallace and Lucy gathered in the west bank community center for a low-key, reverent program.

Deacon Warren Pierre of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church opened the proceedings with a prayer targeted at setting the youth of the community on the path toward betterment.

“Just look around you. Most young people today lack motivation. They are satisfied just getting by,” he said. “We must insist that they become more accountable. We need to be in this fight together.”

At the head table in the small room, Parish President Natalie Robottom, St. John Council members Charles Julien and Raydel Morris and School Board member Russ Wise were joined by some of the day’s special honorees, 96-year-old Irene Legaux and 99-year-old Mary Victor.

In introducing the ladies, retired teacher Elizabeth Johnson said, “They can teach you more than any history book.”

Born in 1914, Legaux shared with the audience what life was like during segregation.

“At one time, we had very little chance in life,” she said.

After tales of segregated churches, eateries and water fountains, she noted, “Martin Luther King gave his life for our lives.”

Another special honoree for the day, 96-year-old Daisy Roussell was unable to make the celebration.

Although only a few sat at the front table, the community took the opportunity to honor all of the community members age 90 and above. These included Cecile Bailey Alexander, Marie Jarrow August, Oscar Augusta, Zenobia Meadaux Augusta, Lucinda Batiste, Lillian Dinvaut, Willie Mae Dinvaut, Eola Scioneaux Dorest, Marie August Jasmine, Harold Lapeyrolerie, Melvin Joseph Louper, Edith Hilairie Meadaux, Blanche Moll, Myrtle August Roussell, Bertha Sorapuru and Louella Trench.