First black Concordia voters led the way for others

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2006

FERRIDAY &8212; Everyone needs role models, people to shine the light down the path for them to follow, and Ferriday Mayor Gene Allen thinks his community has more than a few.

Allen cited the seven men who braved the consequences and registered to vote &8212; the first black men in Concordia Parish &8212; in 1951 as some of its finest.

Henry Montgomery, Fred Brown, Alexander Washington, Felix Jones, Claiborne Barksdale, Winder Houston and General Lee; all played a pivotal role in the freedom people share today, Allen said.

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&8220;These people paved the way for us,&8221; he said.

Personally, Allen considers himself lucky to have his uncle and grandfather, Ernest and Joe Hagan, to show him the way.

&8220;Uncle Ernest had a barber shop, a cleaners and a saloon,&8221; he said. &8220;He was a successful business man and taught me how to work and save. I still look up to him.&8221;

Allen credited Fred. T. Butcher with bringing discipline into Ferriday High School during his tenure as principal, long-time FHS Band Director Carl Dangerfield and James Lee, the first black superintendent of schools, and Sammy Davis Sr., the first black mayor of Ferriday.

&8220;These people made history, and I feel like we should talk about it and celebrate it,&8221; Allen said.

Butcher, currently the director of academics for the parish school board, pointed to Dangerfield, coach Robert Cade and other educators as people working with children to help them take advantage of their opportunities.

&8220;Carl Dangerfield was a strict disciplinarian and very influential,&8221; he said. &8220;A number of his students went on to Grambling (State University) on scholarships.&8221;

Discipline, Butcher said, is one of two building blocks of success for a child. The other, he said, is religion.

&8220;If they are raised with religion and discipline, it makes it a lot easier for them to become educated,&8221; he said.

Once educated, you&8217;ve got &8220;a good foundation for a child to be competitive,&8221; Butcher said.

One person who helped provide blacks with a place to further hone that competitive educational edge, Butcher said, was President Norman Francis of Xavier University of Louisiana.

Under Francis&8217; guidance, Xavier was one of the few universities where blacks could enter and study mathematics and sciences with an eye toward the medical field.

Francis is a piece of living history, however, because he still serves as the university&8217;s president.

Today, Xavier awards more pharmacy degrees to blacks, places more blacks in medical school and graduates more black students with degrees in biology and life sciences than anyone else, according to its Web site.

&8220;He was the one who started the ball rolling to get into the medical industry,&8221; Butcher said.

No matter where they got it rolling, there are a lot of people to talk about, whether it&8217;s black history month or not, Allen said.

&8220;A lot of people made history here and we should all study it and learn from it.&8221;