Welcome to the Iberia African American Historical Society (IAAHS) website! I assume you have sought out this website because of your interest in the “true and inclusive” history of Iberia Parish. The establishment of an historical society such as the IAAHS is long overdue in Iberia Parish. Since the founding of the IAAHS we have uncovered historical records that document the contributions of African Americans of Iberia Parish in diverse areas as medicine, education, business, public service, the military and more. We have also uncovered evidence of how historically significant events (such as the 19th century yellow fever epidemics, the Union occupation of New Iberia during the Civil War, the 1927 flood) in Iberia impacted the parish’s African American citizens. Our intent is to research, disseminate, preserve, and commemorate the hidden history of Iberia Parish’s African American community.
Except for mention of Felicité, an African slave woman who supposedly nursed Black and White citizens during the 1839 yellow fever epidemic, the official history of Iberia Parish has included very little about the contributions of its Black citizens and institutions. Its focus has been largely on the contributions of the Acadians and Spaniards with an occasional and brief mention of the Indigenous People who were here prior to the other groups. Africans arrived in this region before the Acadians and Spaniards. The earliest documented evidence of Africans arriving in central Acadiana is around 1746 when European pioneer André Masse brought West Africans with him to work his settlement in the Attakapas district (the middle Bayou Teche area). Masse’s cattle ranch is thought to be the earliest European settlement in the Attakapas region. Interestingly, the Acadians didn’t arrive until almost 20 years later, in 1765, and it wasn’t until 1779 that the Spaniards arrived.
The IAAHS was founded in 2017 to research the long and rich history of African Americans in Iberia Parish; to educate the public on that history through community talks and publications (e.g., books and articles); to commemorate that history through the installation of historical markers; and to preserve local sites that mark the history of African Americans in Iberia Parish.
On November 3, 2018, we installed an official state historical marker in honor of New Iberia native, Dr. Emma Wakefield-Paillet, the first woman to graduate from a Louisiana medical school and the first African American woman to earn a medical degree in the state and to establish a medical practice. The marker was installed in the heart of New Iberia’s historic district on Main Street in Bouligny Plaza. Besides Dr. Wakefield-Paillet, there were over 20 other Jim Crow-era, African American physicians associated with Iberia Parish. Of these, four were women.
A year later, on November 16, 2019, IAAHS erected another historical marker in the city, this time to commemorate the service and bravery of four Black doctors: Eddie L. Dorsey, M.D., Howard C. Scoggins, M.D., Luins Williams, M.D., and Ima A. Pierson, D.D.S; and NAACP leaders: J. Leo Hardy, Franzella Volter, & Herman Faulk who were violently expelled from Iberia Parish in 1944. Another marker will be erected soon to commemorate the history of Howe Institute, one of Iberia’s earliest private preparatory schools for African Americans.
IAAHS has already created a database (available online to members) of names and regimental affiliations of Black Civil War veterans with New Iberia connections. Some of the cemeteries included in this survey are the Rose Hill Cemetery, St. Matthew Cemetery, Star Pilgrim Baptist Church Cemetery (all on Fulton Street, New Iberia) and Hope Cemetery (on Old Jeanerette Road, Highway 87).
The historical society launched its first journal in 2019 containing articles about Iberia’s African American history. IAAHS members can access the journal on the society’s website (www.iaahs.org) under the Members Only tab (password required). Hard copies are available to the public at the following libraries: LSU Hill Memorial Library, the Iberia Parish Public Library-St. Peter Street Branch, and the Iberia Parish Public Library-Parkview Branch. Due to restrictions related to the pandemic and technical issues, we have not yet released subsequent issues of the journal. We will announce our plans for future issues as soon as possible.
Thanks to the generosity of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and The Shadows on the Teche, IAAHS will be domiciled on the second floor of The Shadows Visitors’ Center. IAAHS is currently assisting The Trust in the reinterpretation of the history of The Shadows and its sister plantations by telling the full story of the plantation, inclusive of the 360 Black men, women, and children who labored there and at its sister sites (e.g., Grand Cote Weeks Island).
Our joint vision is that the 2nd floor will eventually become a Center for the Study and Learning of Local African American History open to the community at no cost. Historically significant records (e.g., Civil War pension records of African American veterans from Iberia Parish) and images will be archived at the center and made available to the public at no charge. We also enjoy the support of the University of Louisiana Guilbeau Center for Public History which has pledged documents and equipment for the center and the UL Ernest Gaines Center which has pledged archive training and development.
If you are already a member of IAAHS, thank you for your support and we look forward to continuing to share our findings with you as we uncover and claim the hidden history of African Americans in Iberia Parish. If you have not joined yet, it is our hope that you will be inclined to do so after your visit to this website.
Please contact us if you have any questions, concerns, or ideas you might want to share for improving this website or our organization. We wish you the best!
Phebe A. Hayes, Ph.D.
Founder & President