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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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African-American museum opens in Houma

African-American museum opens in Houma

HOUMA, La. (AP) — As a history buff, Alvin Tillman has a habit of quizzing the people he meets about the area's historical figures.

"When I ask someone who was the first black mayor in Terrebonne Parish, a lot people don't know," the former parish councilman said.

With the opening of the Finding Our Roots African American Museum, not only will visitors learn that Terrebonne's first black mayor was Joseph Dupart, who served from 1872-1876, but much more.

Located at 918 Roussell St. in Houma, the Finding Our Roots museum is a repository of knowledge that showcases various periods of black history in Terrebonne, Lafourche and other area parishes including slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, Reconstruction and contemporary times.

The museum also features photos and biographical information of national black figures such as former President Barack Obama and local luminaries and politicians.

Local dignitaries including Parish President Gordy Dove and scores of visitors commemorated the museum's grand opening Saturday with a ribbon-cutting and a host of presentations, poetry readings, book fair and a dance performance by Ty'rean Celestine.

Tillman collaborated with local historian Margie Scoby to make the museum a reality, which was no easy feat. Scoby became the museum's president and Tillman its vice president.

"In 2015 I called a meeting at the public library and placed a few documents, some books and a model of this museum on a table," Scoby said. "I then asked the question, 'What do you think about having an African-American museum in our town?' That question got everyone talking. They started sharing stories and ideas, and by the end of the night everyone agreed to do it."

"All that labor is finally paying off," Tillman said. "This really was a vision I had and that Margie Scoby had. Those two visions connected together last year. From there, we got together and started making things happen."

The museum is fittingly housed in the white wooden schoolhouse formerly known as The Academy, which enrolled black students during segregation.

Tillman said he hopes the museum will serve as an educational tool for future generations so that history never becomes forgotten.

"It's to educate people about the history of this parish, particularly the role that black America played in its past," Tillman said. "We hope the school system will bring young folks in to let them experience black history. When you march through those doors, you're going to find that history will hit you right in the face."

Joyce LaBatt was one of many visitors who attended the museum's grand opening. Although she hadn't lived in Terrebonne for 57 years, LaBatt felt she needed to see the museum for herself to experience the history of her hometown.

"I think this museum is very important to the community," LaBatt said. "I'm so proud to be here today. We just moved back to the area last year, and I think it's really beautiful to learn about all the things that happened in the past. I grew up here, and there are a lot of things I didn't know about. I'm just finding out about all the people who came before us. It's very interesting."

Greg Horne of Laplace said he hoped the newly opened museum will give the community more of an appreciation for black history.

"Not everyone is abreast of heritage or things that happened in the past," Horne said. "It's always good to have something in the community for young people to go to and learn about their heritage. It makes a big difference."

The museum will conduct guided tours, educational opportunities for students and special events and exhibitions.

The museum will be open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Admission will require a pass. Passes will be available for a one-time visit for $7 or via a museum membership, which grants four visits for $40.

Information from: The Courier,