West Feliciana Parish residents — both black and white — marched through downtown St. Francisville on Friday in a “March of Solidarity” with nationwide demonstrations over racism and police brutality sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
The crowd, holding signs and wearing face masks, gathered at the corner of Royal and St. Ferdinand streets and marched through town, shouting slogans of the Black Lives Matter movement, including “No justice, no peace!” and “Say their names” followed by a list of black people who have died in police custody or in confrontations with police officers.
Speakers sought to share their experiences in the community to urge change, empowerment and social justice. Speakers Michael A.V. Mitchell and Ronaldo Hardy Jr. spoke of an environment of oppression and a lack of voice that made their childhoods uncomfortable and scarred by division.
West Feliciana schools Superintendent Hollis Milton urged unity as the community looked for ways to move forward and heal.
“Everyone is struggling with what we are seeing, and it’s been for much too long,” he said. “We’ve got to make a change, but it’s got to come from the heart for people to believe it.”
Speakers talked of wounds of social injustice both old and new. Mitchell spoke of the Floyd case, asking the crowd to imagine 30 seconds and then more of not being able to breathe and the loss of humanity necessary for someone to accept a life slipping away right under your knee.
Someone in the crowd shouted, “Mama, mama!” in reference to the pleas that Floyd uttered before dying under police Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee.
Dyvar Anderson made a plea for more voices. Anderson said the Audubon Pilgrimage, which has been canceled, celebrates local history and culture but eliminates the contributions of black people from that and subsequent eras. She urged all residents to tell their stories and the stories of their family. Inclusion would not end the story but add missing parts. The group restoring the Benevolent Society has established a website, Tellthestory.life and Anderson urged the marchers to contribute.
Inclusion would not end the story, Anderson said, but add the missing parts. A website has been established to give a fully inclusive history of West Feliciana.
Speaking from her home in Spain, Hannah Ruth Leming, author of a petition to end or change the Audubon Pilgrimage, participated in the pilgrimage as a child but more recently recognized the event as “part of the system of oppression.”
“I remember going to Oakley Plantation on a field trip and the whole plantation life being glorified and the real history of oppression never was told to me or my black classmates,” she wrote in the Change.org petition, which had 2,198 signatures as of Friday night. “We didn’t see the slave quarters and they were never even mentioned as being a part of this ‘educational’ field trip.”
Leming, an LSU graduate now living in Spain, hopes the story doesn’t end.
“If the pilgrimage is to continue, it should reflect ALL of the history of the 1820s, not just the white history,” she wrote.
Friday’s march was organized by a 2020 West Feliciana High graduate who felt the urge to participate in social change despite being white. Anne-Claire Alberstadt reached out to her former eighth grade English teacher, Amanda Moorer. The two worked together to organize and recruit participants.
“I feel that St. Francisville needs to acknowledge the racial tensions that are so prevalent here,” Alberstadt said. “My goal for this march is to begin to bridge the gap between the communities in our town. My hope is that it opens people’s hearts and minds and allows for hard conversations to take place. I want people to come together, black and white, to support one another in this important time in our history.”
Officers from both the Police Department and Sheriff’s Office were visible during the event. Interim Sheriff Brian Spillman estimated that the march attracted between 150 and 200 participants, and no problems were reported.
St. Francisville voices urge unity, change
The March for Solidarity, held Friday, June 12, was a compilation of voices. Some spoke of outrage, fear, and frustration while others spoke of reconciliation and a full accounting of West Feliciana history. The event, like others held across the country, was sparked by the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, but it also addressed racism and painful scars riddling the community’s history.