March 16, 1986
This week in 1986, Northwestern State University in Natchitoches awarded its fourth
honorary doctorate in philosophy to 99-year-old Clementine Hunter. Hunter had been
born near Marco in Natchitoches in 1885 or 1886 and spoke only French until marriage
to her second husband, Emanuel Hunter. Her primitive paintings of people fishing,
riding horses, going to school, or burying their dead were first exhibited in public at
Northwestern State, but she was not allowed to visit during the gallery’s open hours.
She had to view her own art when the exhibit was closed to the public. Later in 1986,
Hunter would also receive an honorary degree from Southern University in Baton
May 17, 1927
Today in 1927, the Great Mississippi River Flood had already surged through a large
part of Iberville Parish and reached Bayou des Glaises between Grosse Tete and
Henderson. The levee on the bayou crumbled and the water continued its westward
march. At 5:30 on the morning of May 17th, the Atchafalaya River levee at Melville also
broke, and water from the two breaks met in the middle of town with "the sound of a
thousand freight trains," sweeping the town away. During the Great Flood, 127,000
square miles were under water as deep as thirty feet. Deaths were certainly in the
thousands, but no reliable estimates exist.
May 18, 1857
Shreveport’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church, the city’s oldest Catholic congregation,
purchased the land to build the church this week in 1857. Parish property records
indicate that Father Pierre purchased two lots near the northeast corner of Marshall
and Fannin Streets for the sum of $900. By 1858, Father Pierre had plans and most of
the money to build a brick church 60 by 40 feet and to equip it. In February 1859,
Father Pierre would purchased the corner lot to the south of the church for $1000,
which would become the location of the present rectory. The current church on the site
was built in 1896.
May 19, 1943
Naval Air Station Houma opened today in 1943. To safeguard commercial shipping in
the Gulf of Mexico in World War II, LTA Squadron ZP-22, a squadron of dirigibles,
began conducting anti-submarine patrols along the Gulf coast. The heart of the base
was its hangar, which was over 200 feet high, 1000 feet long and 300 feet wide. It was
the largest wooden structure in the world and could house three fully-inflated K-class
dirigibles. The doors alone weighed 50 tons and were on rails. The unit was
decommissioned on September 12, 1944, and although the hangar was demolished
after the war, the concrete foundations of this immense building are still visible.
May 20, 2001
The fictional North Louisiana town of Bon Temps became the center of the
Sookieverse in May 2001. Dead Until Dark, the first novel in the Southern Vampire
Series by Charlaine Harris. Also known as the True Blood series, the books developed
a detailed mythology and alternate history that approached supernatural beings as
real. At the beginning of the series, the existence of vampires had only been public
knowledge for a couple of years, and other supernatural beings like werewolves,
shape-shifters and faeries were still underground. The series would explode onto the
public consciousness when True Blood, loosely based on the books, ran on HBO from
May 21, 1939
The Long Hunt came to an end in Louisiana schools today in 1939 as State School
Superintendent T. H. Harris announced that the 1930 “The Long Hunt” by James Boyd
had banned from all Louisiana school libraries. Some reviews of the story of Murphree
Rinnard, a lone hunter in post-revolutionary days, had described it as a “valuable
contribution to the literature of the early days of America.” Harris said, “In parts, it is
indecent and filthy. In my mind, the book is not only wholly lacking in merit, but it
probably vicious in its influence upon the young minds of high school boys and girls.”
May 22, 1961
Ernie K-Doe's Mother-in-Law hit Number 1 on the Billboard pop chart today in 1961. By
his own admission, Ernest Kador, Jr. was “the most beautiful boy child ever born at
Charity Hospital” in New Orleans in 1933. He recorded as a member of the group the
Blue Diamonds in 1954 before making his first solo recordings the following year.
"Mother-in-Law", written by Allen Toussaint, was his first and only hit. In later years, he
was known for his frequent self-promotion. Catch phrases included "Burn, K-Doe,
Burn!" and "I'm a Charity Hospital Baby!" He billed himself as "Mister Naugahyde", until
he was ordered to desist by owners of the Naugahyde trademark.
May 23, 1934
Today in 1934, law enforcement officers and posse members gunned down Bonnie
Parker and Clyde Barrow beside the Jamestown-Sailes Highway, eight miles from
Gibsland. The Texas-born couple first met in Dallas in 1930, and would begin their
crime spree in early 1932. Although they were known for their bank robberies, they
generally preferred to rob small stores or rural gas stations. The gang is believed to
have killed at least nine police officers and several civilians before they were finally
tracked down and killed by four Texas Rangers and two Louisiana policemen. Thirty-
five years after their deaths, their reputation was revived by Arthur Penn's 1967 film
Bonnie and Clyde.
May 24, 1943
Today in 1943, the Associated Press reported that the Veterans of Foreign Wars post
in Hammond celebrated the success of its fundraising campaign to send cigarettes to
fighting soldiers, sailors and airmen serving overseas. Carl S. Anstead, director of the
campaign, said that the campaign had already collected enough donations to send
272,000 packages of cigarettes to servicemen and that donations were still rolling in.
Anistead had initiated the campaign by placing "small receptacles" in places of
business around Tangipahoa parish. Meanwhile, just north of Hammond, the Defense
Department had been using a tract of land for gunnery practice. The extent of the
testing would not be known until 2009.
May 25, 1938
This week in 1938, Jelly Roll Morton, living in Washington, DC at the time, sat down for
an extensive series of oral histories with Alan Lomax, who was researching folk life and
music for the Library of Congress. Between May 23rd and June 12th in 1938, Lomax
recorded Morton’s extemporaneous commentary about his life and career, often
punctuated by musical passages at the piano. Born Ferdinand Lamothe into a New
Orleans Creole family in 1890, he grew up in a formal musical environment, and
whether he actually invented jazz, as he often claimed, is and will always be debatable.
He was, however, the first serious jazz composer.
May 26, 1865
Although Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Grant in Appomattox in mid-April, the
Confederates’ Trans-Mississippi in Shreveport was the last Confederate command to
surrender today in 1865. When he was captured in Irwinville, Georgia, on May 10th,
Confederate President Jefferson Davis was reportedly on his way to Shreveport from
where he would try to slip into Mexico and eventually to Europe. While Confederate
General Edmund Kirby-Smith would surrender his army and sign the last papers in
Galveston on June 2nd, during his own post-war flight to Mexico, Shreveport would be
the last place the Confederate flag would ever be sovereign.
May 27, 1863
Today in 1863, the two black regiments of the Louisiana Native Guards were ordered
to charge Port Hudson, an important Confederate stronghold. One of the units, the
First Louisiana Native Guard, had been formed by Andre Callioux, a free man of color
of New Orleans. Callioux, a wealthy cigar maker, had formed the regiment after the
Union Army occupied New Orleans in 1862. Callioux's "identity with his race could not
be mistaken," for he proudly boasted that he was the blackest man in New Orleans. He
died leading his troops into battle at Port Hudson, and he was given a hero's burial at
New Orleans in July, 1863.
May 28, 1918
John McKeithen, Louisiana’s 49th governor of Louisiana, was born in Grayson, just
south of Columbia, today in 1918. After attending college in High Point, North Carolina,
and law school at LSU, he served in World War II and returned to Columbia to practice
law. After serving as a legislator and as Public Service Commissioner, McKeithen ran
for governor in 1964 and defeated former Governor Robert Kennon, segregationist
Shelby M. Jackson, and the Ku Klux Klan wizard Addison Roswell Thompson. He was a
strong advocate of the Louisiana Superdome, and proposed a constitutional
amendment to allow governors to serve successive terms. After the ratification of the
amendment, he was reelected in 1968.
May 29, 1940
Broadway took a shot at Huey Long when "Louisiana Purchase" premiered in New York
tonight in 1940. With surprisingly forgettable music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, the story
was set in New Orleans and satirized Louisiana politics. The show opened at the
Shubert Brothers' Imperial Theatre on May 28, 1940, and ran for 444 performances. In
1941, the show was adapted for the film Louisiana Purchase, starring Bob Hope and
Vera Zorina. Despite unimpressive reviews, the film would go on to earn $2.7 million at
the box office (a respectable sum at the time) and early Academy Award nominations
for cinematography and Art Direction.
May 30, 1861
The New Orleans Mint, which had been commissioned by Congress in 1835 and had
begun operation in 1838, closed this week in 1861, after the outbreak of the Civil War.
The red-brick Mint building was designed by William Strickland, a student of the
architect Benjamin Latrobe, a disciple of Neoclassicism who had helped design the
United States Capitol building. In 1854, the federal government hired West Point
engineering graduate Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard to fireproof the building,
rebuild the arches supporting the basement ceiling and install masonry flooring. During
this period, the Mint's heavy machinery was converted to steam power and a
smokestack was built to carry away the fumes.
Memorial Day, May 31, 1991
Winnsboro earned its stripes (and stars) as the “Stars and Stripes Capital of
Louisiana” today in 1991. Earlier that year, members of the local Veterans of Foreign
Wars chapter were searching for a way to help people understand the significance of
the American flag from the perspective of a war veteran. They decided to borrow the
flags that had been draped over deceased veterans’ coffins as a theme for a Memorial
Day display. The group received seven flags from local families for that first holiday
and twenty-five for the following July Fourth. Today, six hundred flags line a two-mile
stretch of Highway 15 through Winnsboro.