Thursday, February 19, 2015

In the Big Swamp, Race Just Seems To Adjust Itself.

Excerpt  from Bayou Pigeon, La. Spirit of the Atchafalaya

Since 1976, the U.S.A. has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. It is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans. In that light we publish this story relative to Black History at Bayou Pigeon.

In the late 1930's, there was a small nucleus of Cajun families living at Bayou Pigeon. The town of Plaquemine was 25 miles away. Travel to Bayou Pigeon was mostly by water/ boat at that time and as far as most town folks thought Bayou Pigeon, was a semi-isolated community of levee dwellers who talked French and a little broken English.  They eked out a living hunting and fishing and most did not have much if any formal education. Little did the people at Bayou Pigeon or the folks that lived in town realize that this was a blissful isolation.

The Bayou Cajuns people lived a simple life; they grew, caught, trapped or killed their next meal. They sold what was extra when they could to earn a few dollars for other necessities. They were considered poor, but they had few prejudices, except maybe they did not trust government.

No African Americans lived at Bayou Pigeon.

In 1935, the building of a road from Bayou Sorrel to Bayou Pigeon started a process of Americanization. With the opening of the new clamshell highway, one of the first people to travel to Bayou Pigeon was an African-American named Charlie Eads, Sr. who started a peddler service to Bayou Pigeon. What was once an all day trip was now a half-day trip. Mr. Eads’ flatbed truck was outfitted to serve as a store on wheels. ( Page 224 in the book)

Mr. Charlie Eads, Sr. operated this peddler service route for approximately two years, after which time he turned it over to one of his sons, Charlie Eads, Jr., affectionately nicknamed "Bully".
Bully rode down the highway, stopping and blowing his truck horn at every five or six houses on the highway. Bayou Pigeon had one or two small grocery stores, but Bully offered milk, fresh vegetables, fruits, some staples, some fish, meat, sliced bread and ice, the most valuable commodity of all.

The Eads family children would get up at 4 a.m. to pick the fresh vegetables and load Bully's truck for his daily delivery to Bayou Pigeon.  At first, Bully served the community on the east side of Grand River.  Co-author Adam Landry remembers he would get in his father’s pirogue and paddle across the river to the Hwy 75 road and purchase supplies from Bully.

After the Bayou Pigeon Pontoon bridge was built in 1957, Bully would cross the bridge and deliver services to folks across the bayou and made crossing the river by boat to get to him no longer necessary.

Bully always received a warm, “Bonjour, Comment Sa Va” welcome, because not only was he a source of goods not available in the community, but also he was a source of news and gossip and a link to the outside world for people who seldom strayed outside of Bayou Pigeon.

Bully would also do special favors for his customers such as going to the post office in Plaquemine and bringing Money Orders to his customers in Bayou Pigeon.

Bully was also a taxi service.  Mr. Curtiss Leonard, now of Morgan City, lived at Bayou Pigeon until the sixth grade, remembers Bully very well.  He and his mother would catch a ride with Bully for one dollar, to Plaquemine.  Bully dropped them off at Dalbors store for shopping and they would spend the night at the Lamar Hotel.  Bully would pick them at the hotel the next morning and ride them back to Bayou Pigeon.

Bully did this for many other folks who had no other transportation.  All would ride in the front seat of Bully’s single cab pickup truck.

In the 1950’s when many of the weekend campers began to arrive at Bayou Pigeon, Bully would stop in front of their camps as well. He had a sense of humor and was always smiling.

In 1959, Bully had health issues that forced him to end his store-on-wheels route to Bayou Pigeon.
Mr. Calvin LeBlanc, a lifelong Bayou Pigeon resident purchased the flat bed compartment from Bully’s truck (for $125) and transferred it to his pick-up truck.  Calvin maintained the business that Bully had so successfully run for so many years, for two more years 1959 - 1960.  During that time, the road from Bayou Sorrel to Bayou Pigeon was paved, making the trip to Bayou Plaquemine even more accessible and faster.

But the future of the business route was sealed with the new paved road.  Bayou Pigeon began a second period of Americanization, so to speak. With the new paved road and automobiles becoming affordable by almost everyone, people went to town every day. The store-on-wheels ended and became part of Bayou Pigeon history.

Iberville Parish as well began to change in the 1960’s. Public schools were integrated and nationally the civil rights struggle reached high intensity.  Looking back, Bayou Pigeon seemed to avoid a lot of the negative things about racial matters, and Charles “Bully” Eads had a lot to with that.

Oh, there was always some modest negotiation, with selling goods, but there was never a feeling that someone had the upper hand because Bully was black.  Bully had a great work ethic and personality He was known in the community as a trustworthy and reliable person.

Race has always seemed to adjust itself in the big swamp, after all, who cares what race  and or ethnicity you were when someone helps you grow, catch or kill your next meal? 

If you enjoyed this story, in the book on page 63, you can read another Black History interesting story, i.e. Susan Verami, one of the first documented full time residents of Bayou Pigeon, (Susan's Point 1843). She was a Free Woman of Color. 

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