National Park battlefield irises could mark razed black houses | KTA

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Nearly 60 years ago, a historic black community founded as a home for newly freed slaves was demolished to expand a national park commemorating the Battle of New Orleans and Civil War casualties . Now park rangers and iris enthusiasts believe they’ve found a botanical reminder – Louisiana irises and African lilies that villagers may have planted.

Woody Keim, a great-great-grandson of the community’s founder, says he thinks it’s a tragedy that Fazendeville was demolished and wonderful that the dark purple irises and white and pink crinum lilies were discovered. .

“Even though the government has tried to obliterate this village, there is still life lifting its flowery little head to show that there was once a community here,” he said.

The flowers were first noticed last spring, nearly 60 years after the small community was expropriated to join the two sections of the national park. Part was the land where the Battle of New Orleans took place; the other was a national cemetery where approximately 7,300 Union soldiers and sailors are buried along with later U.S. servicemen.

“We may never know for sure” that the flowers were planted by locals, but it seems very likely, said Gary Salathe, who started a group to save native irises and was the first to plant them. notice on the battlefield.

The community, called “The Village” by the people who lived there, was founded around 1870 by Jean-Pierre Fazende, a grocer from a prominent family in the social class known as the Free People of Color, said Bill Hyland, the official historian of St. Bernard Parish, where the national park is located southeast of New Orleans along the Mississippi River.

Fazende wanted to provide housing for recently freed slaves. He therefore subdivided a strip of inherited land that was only large enough for a single row of houses into 33 lots for a “freedmen’s colony”. The land eventually included 30 houses, a church, bars, a grocery store and a school that served as a dance hall at night.

“Like so many of his class, he understood that the transition from slavery to freedom would be a long and arduous process,” Hyland said.

For decades, families have lived and worked in the small community built where American forces defeated the mighty British army on January 8, 1815.

In the early 1960s, in an effort to unify the national park in time for the 150th anniversary of the battle in 1965, the park service attempted to purchase the land. The owners refused. Eventually Congress approved the expropriation and the community was demolished.

“I think it’s a tragedy that a community that had been there for nearly 100 years was not considered as significant as an event that took place over five days in 1815,” Keim said, who was about 5 years old when Fazendeville was erased and grew up in a white neighborhood, not knowing he was related to free people of color.

Homeowners were paid about $6,000 at a time when new homes in the area cost $16,000, according to a 2014 article in “64 Parishes” magazine published by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Years later, the park service addressed the expropriation in an article on its website.

“The choice to preserve one story sacrificed another,” the park service said. “While we are able to better visualize the experience of soldiers in the War of 1812 as a result of this choice, it leaves us less able to appreciate the struggles and triumphs of future generations, and less aware of the complex layers that make up our common history.

In 2010, a Fazendeville memorial marker was erected near the battlefield road.

In February of last year, Salathe and other members of his Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative were planting a small group of blue irises in another part of the park. Salathe, whose group seeks to save Louisiana irises from areas slated for development and plant them in visible locations in nature preserves and parks, noticed long, tall leaves growing in the grass some distance away. of the road. They looked like irises. A closer examination confirmed this. He and the park rangers returned a month later when the flowers bloomed and had two surprises.

First, the irises were dark purple, not the more well-known light blue iris which is the state flower. Then came a more surprising discovery – crinum lilies. Volunteer Paul Christiansen recognized them as a species from Africa, possibly brought by slaves, that could not have grown there in the wild.

“They should have been planted by people,” he said.

The group then found the slight depression where the road to Fazendeville once passed. The iris stands were all on the side where the houses once stood, ending roughly where the backyards would have ended, Salathe said.

Salathe said he asked permission to move some of the irises and lilies to an area where they can be more easily seen. The park is considering such an exhibit, said park ranger Kim Acker.

Keim learned of his Métis heritage when he started researching his ancestry online a decade ago.

“I’m proud to be part of the Louisiana gumbo culture that my family has been a part of for 300 years,” he said.

About Jermaine Chase

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