The 11th marker on the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail was unveiled Thursday, July 6, 2023, at the new Deacons of Defense Park in Jonesboro. Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser, who envisioned the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail, spoke at the presentation ceremony and reception held at the Charles H. Garrett Community Center.
The Louisiana Civil Rights Trail brings together the events of the 1950s and 1960s that placed the state of Louisiana at the center of the National Civil Rights Movement, telling the stories of the people who dedicated themselves to making civil rights real in Louisiana.
The marker commemorates the founding of the Deacons for Defense and Justice in Jonesboro and recognizes when local black citizens overcame the burning of Bethany and Pleasant Grove Baptist Churches and worked diligently for equal rights and freedoms.
“The Freedom Summer of 1964 was a turbulent time in American history. Civil Rights activities were at their peak with challenges to segregation, protests, marches, and voting registration drives. As civil rights activities increased, conflicts amplified as well. The Deacons for Defense and Justice was born during this time,” said Nungesser.
The last living founder of the Deacons, Harvey Barnes, was present and participated in the day along with family members of at least 25 of the original 27 founders. Local resident, Joyce Amos Smith, who remembers well when the Deacons of Defense was started in the back room of her father’s gas station, also shared memories of the Jackson Parish adults and students who demonstrated great courage in the fight for civil rights.
“There were many men who put their lives on the line to protect families and civil rights leaders,” said Jonesboro Mayor James Harris. “Two notable founders of the Deacons are Earnest ‘Chilly Willy’ Thomas and Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick. Most of the Deacons were World War II and Korean War veterans.”
Eventually, there would be 21 Deacons of Defense and Justice organizations founded across Louisiana, southeastern states and as far north as Chicago, IL. becoming the new face of the civil rights movement.
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