NEW ORLEANS – Nearly 60 years ago, a historic black community founded as a home for newly liberated slaves was demolished to expand the national park in memory of the Battle of New Orleans and the victims of the Civil War. Now park rangers and iris lovers believe they may have found a botanical reminder – Louisiana Irises and African lilies, which may have been planted by villagers.
Woody Keim, the great-grandson of the community’s founder, says he considers it a tragedy that Fazendeville was destroyed, and it is remarkable that dark purple irises and white and pink crimson lilies were discovered.
“Even though the government has tried to wipe out this village, life is still raising its little flowery head to show that there was once a community here,” he said.
“We may never know for sure” that the flowers were planted by residents, but that seems very likely, said Gary Salat, who set up a team to rescue local irises and was the first to spot them 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 family known as free colored people, said Bill Highland, the official historian of St. Bernard, where the national park is located southeast of New Orleans along the Mississippi River.
Fazende wanted to give the newly freed slaves housing. Thus, he divided the hereditary strip of land, which was wide enough for only one row of houses, into 33 plots for “colonies of freedmen.” The land eventually included 30 houses, a church, bars, a grocery store and a school that was used at night as a dance hall.
“Like many people in his class, he understood that the transition of prisoners to freedom would be a long and difficult process,” Highland said.
For decades, the families lived and worked in a small community built where American troops defeated a powerful British army on January 8, 1815.
In the early 1960s, looking to unite the national park to the 150th anniversary of the Battle of 1965, the Parks Service tried to buy back the land. The hosts refused. Eventually, Congress approved the expropriation, and the community was destroyed.
“I think it’s a tragedy that the community, which has existed for about 100 years, was not considered as important as the five-day event of 1815,” said Keim, who was about five years old when Fazendeville was wiped out. and grew up in a white neighborhood, unaware that he was related to free colored people.
Homeowners were paid about $ 6,000 at a time when new homes in the area cost $ 16,000, according to a 2014 article in the 64 Parishes magazine published by the Louisiana Foundation for the Humanities. In subsequent years, the park service turned to expropriation in an article on its website.
“The choice to keep one story sacrificed another,” said the park service. “Although as a result of this choice we can better visualize the experience of soldiers during the War of 1812, 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 sign in memory of Fazendeville was erected on the battlefield near the road.
Last February, Salate and other members of it Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative planted a small group of blue irises in another part of the park. Salad, whose group seeks to save Louisiana irises from planned development and plant them in prominent places in nature reserves and parks, noticed long tall leaves growing in the grass near the road. They looked like irises. A closer inspection confirmed this. He and the park guards returned a month later when the flowers bloomed and received two surprises.
First, irises were dark purple, not the more famous light blue iris, which is the state flower. Then came a more amazing discovery – lily crinum. Volunteer Paul Christiansen recognized in them a species from Africa, possibly brought by enslaved people that could not grow wild there.
“People should put them in jail,” he said.
The group then found a small depression where the Fazendeville road once ran. Salate said all the bases of the iris were on the side where the houses once stood, ending about where the backyards would end.
Salad said he asked permission to move some irises and lilies to a place where they would be easier to see. The park is considering such an exposure, said park ranger Kim Acker.
Keim learned about his mixed racial heritage when he began researching his origins online about a decade ago.
“I am proud to have become part of the Louisiana gambo culture of which my family has been a part for the last 300 years,” he said.