Thursday, October 15, 2009

Holding the color line in Louisiana

I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten,
Oy veh!
Oy veh!
Oy veh, Dixieland!

OY VEH, indeed:

A justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple last week because of concern for the children who might be born of that relationship.

Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace for Tangipahoa Parish’s 8th Ward, also said it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.

“I’m not a racist,” Bardwell said. “I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children.”

Beth Humphrey, 30, said she and her boyfriend, Terence McKay, 32, both of Hammond, intend to consult the U.S. Justice Department about filing a discrimination complaint.

Humphrey said she called Bardwell Oct. 6 to inquire about getting a marriage license signed. She said Bardwell’s wife told her that Bardwell will not sign marriage licenses for interracial couples.

“I simply can’t believe he can do that. That’s blatant discrimination,” Humphrey said.

The Louisiana American Civil Liberties Union and the Tangipahoa Parish Chapter of the NAACP agree.

Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman said Bardwell’s refusal to sign the license is both “tragic and illegal.”

Pat Morris, NAACP Tangipahoa Parish chapter president, said she was shocked to hear that the choice of a spouse is still an issue in Tangipahoa Parish.
IF THE HEAD of the NAACP in Tangipahoa Parish, La., told the reporter for the Hammond (La.) Daily Star she was shocked by anti-miscegenation justices of the peace, surely she meant it in the same manner that Capt. Renault was "shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on" at Rick's.

If the race-mixing bugaboo still weren't an issue in the Gret Stet, you wouldn't have had politicians trying to trump a "white-woman scandal" last year to torpedo the re-election bid of Baton Rouge's African-American mayor-president.

It didn't work, by the way. But probably because it was just too ridiculous, even by Louisiana standards -- not because there aren't any shortage of people who'd be scandalized.

Again, from the Daily Star article:

Toward the conclusion of her conversation with Bardwell’s wife, Humphrey said she was asked if this was an interracial marriage. Humphrey told her it was.

“I have no idea why she asked me that,” Humphrey said. “I suppose she asks everyone that question.”

Humphrey said the wife told her that Bardwell does not do interracial marriages.

“I don’t understand this because he is an elected official and discrimination is against the law,” Humphrey said.

Bardwell, who is handicapped, said he has been a JP for 34 years and has never had opposition, but this is his last term.

According to the Secretary of State’s elected officials database, his current term will expire Dec. 31, 2014.

Bardwell said from his experience, “99 percent of the time” the interracial couple consists of a black man and white woman.

“I find that rather confusing,” he said.

He said he has discussed the topic with blacks and whites, along with witnessing some interracial marriages. Bardwell said he came to the conclusion that most black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society.

“Yet, the children are innocent. They had nothing to do with that,” he said.

In many cases, he said, the grandparents or a relative ends up with the children.

“I don’t do interracial marriages because I don’t want to put children in a situation they didn’t bring on themselves,” Bardwell said. “In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer.”

He said if he does an interracial marriage for one couple, he must do the same for all.

“I try to treat everyone equally,” he said.
MY UNCLE TEDDY lived in Tangipahoa Parish, near Ponchatoula. And when he died -- this was when I was in high school -- I remember going to the wake at a Ponchatoula funeral home.

My old man and some uncles struck up a conversation with the mortician, during which it was determined that it, indeed, was the "white" funeral home in town. The other funeral home was the "colored" one.

This was in the late 1970s. If race-mixing was a problem for the dead then, you can pretty much bet a lot of folks down there still have a problem with it among the living.

Obviously, there's a justice of the peace in that number.

And -- in Louisiana, at least -- "Barack Obama" probably won't get you that far in arguing that being biracial isn't akin to having a dread disease and an extra arm growing out your butt for good measure.

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