Edited by Tribune Staff
JONESBORO, La. – The Louisiana Office of Tourism today (Thursday, July 6) unveiled the 11th marker on the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail commemorating the Deacons for Defense and Justice. The marker is located at the Deacons for Defense Park in Jonesboro, Louisiana.
“The Freedom Summer of 1964 was a turbulent time in American history. Civil Rights activities were at its peak with challenges to segregation, protests, marches and voting registration drives. As civil rights activities increased, conflicts amplified as well. The Deacons for Defense and Justice was born during this time,” said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) made Jonesboro its headquarters and planned strategies to move the small mill town toward civil rights. As a result, it became of hotbed of civil rights activities in northeastern Louisiana. In retaliation to the marches, desegregation efforts and voting registration drives, crosses were burned on lawns and two churches were burned down. To protect civil rights workers, their families and the Black community, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, an armed self-defense group, was founded in Jonesboro. According to Joyce Amos Smith, the Deacons for Defense started in the back room of her father’s gas station.
“There were many men who put their lives on the line to protect families and civil rights leaders,” said Jonesboro Mayor James Harris. “Two notable founders of the Deacons are Earnest ‘Chilly Willy’ Thomas and Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick. Most of the Deacons were World War II and Korean War veterans. The Deacons’ work went beyond Jonesboro. The first affiliated group was organized in Bogalusa. But, the Deacons went beyond Louisiana. The Deacons provided security for the 1966 March Against Fear from Memphis, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., and it became a new face of the civil rights movement.”
Eventually, there would be 21 Deacons of Defense and Justice organizations founded across Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.
The Louisiana Civil Rights Trail brings together the events of the 1950s and 1960s that placed the state of Louisiana at the center of the national Civil Rights Movement, telling the stories of the people who dedicated themselves to making civil rights real in Louisiana.
The first series of Louisiana Civil Rights Trail markers were installed in 2021 at Little Union Baptist Church in Shreveport, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans, and the Louisiana Old State Capitol and A.Z. Young Park in Baton Rouge. Last year, additional markers were installed at McDonogh 19 Elementary School in New Orleans, the Louisiana Maneuvers & Military Museum in Pineville, and the Robert Hicks house in Bogalusa. In January 2023, the eighth marker along the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail was installed at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. This year, marker installations also took place at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Pillars of Progress and the Kress Department Store Building in Baton Rouge.
The Civil Rights Markers are life-sized metal figures that are cut from steel, weigh over 200 pounds and stand over six-feet-tall.