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 Blacks in Iberia Parish in the areas of medicine, education, business, public service, and the military. It is our mission to educate the community about this forgotten history.
Except for mention of Felicité, an African slave woman who reportedly 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 Native American tribes who were here prior to the Europeans. Africans, however, arrived in this area long 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. 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 historic places that mark the history of African Americans in Iberia Parish.
On November 3rd this year we will commemorate the achievements of Louisiana’s first Black female physician, New Iberia native Dr. Emma Wakefield-Paillet, with an official state historical marker. The marker will be installed in the heart of the New Iberia historic district on Main Street in Bouligny Plaza. Besides Dr. Wakefield-Paillet, there were over 20 other Black physicians who were either from or served Iberia Parish. Of these physicians, four were women.
Future plans are to submit applications to the Louisiana Office of Tourism for two more historical markers in 2019 to commemorate the service and bravery of four Black physicians — Drs. Dorsey, Scoggins, Williams, and Pierson — who were violently expelled from Iberia Parish in 1944; and to commemorate the history of Howe Institute, one of New Iberia’s early preparatory schools for Black children.
The 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 St. Paul Congregational Church Cemetery, Mount Calvary Baptist Church Cemetery, St. Matthew Cemetery, Star Pilgrim Baptist Church Cemetery (all “On the Hill” on Fulton Street, New Iberia) and Hope Cemetery (on Old Jeanerette Road, Highway 87). Other plans involve creating a database of the names (and tomb GPS coordinates) of everyone buried in the parish’s historic Black cemeteries.
Furthermore, a fundraiser gala is planned for 2019 in honor of the history of New Iberia’s Queen Brown Sugar parade and pageant. Former queens and their courts will be invited as honored guests.
If you are already a member of the IAAHS, thank you for your support and we look forward to sharing our findings with you as we reclaim the hidden history of Blacks 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 me if you have any questions, concerns, or ideas you might want to share for improving this website or our organization. I wish you the best!
Dr. Phebe A. Hayes
Founder & President