Saturday, January 14, 2012

Father Jack Broussard - Part II - The Jim Crow South in Texas

This post is the 2nd part of a series on Father Jack Broussard, a very unusual priest who worked in southeast Texas during the last half of the 20th century.  The series not only talks about his life, but the society in which he lived.  Click here for part 1.

JB with my brother Jojo, 1963
The Jim Crow South in Texas

My son and I once talked about JB's desire to do the right thing and his relationship to his plantation owning ancestors.  Perhaps JB's background of privilege provided the security and drive to make things better for other people.  I'm sure his mother would have said it was his religious faith.

One of the slaves belonging to the Broussard family stayed for decades after emancipation.  The family land was located near New Iberia, LA.  The man lived there until he died.  Its a complex story to tell -  some scholars say that there is never a "good" slave owner.  Why didn't the family free their slaves before the Civil War?  Unfortunately I never asked JB about that.  I wish I would have.

He arrived in Rosenberg (Fort Bend County - near the famous Sugar Land) in the late 1940s - things were still in the 19th century.  Jim Crow laws were strong and some people in town didn't have indoor toilets.  The Jim Crow laws had been in effect since 1889 when the Jaybird Party won a shoot out in front of the court house in neighboring Richmond.  There had been a number of African American politicians in office in the county, but they were run out of town.  The Jaybirds wrote up their own constitution (they called it their "Magna Carta") that set up a rigidly segregated community and controlled the politics making votes caste by people of color invalid.  This went on until 1954 when African Americans from the county filed suit.  They took the case to the Supreme Court and won.  It is still taught in law schools - and is called "the last the white primary cases." I knew and lived through the segregation in Fort Bend County.  But I didn't learn the extent of the problem until I researched my book Cemeteries of Ambivalent Desire.

Most people of color in the county were share croppers.  I cannot say what the rules were for Blacks, but Mexican Americans who visited downtown Rosenberg on Saturdays could not walk past the 2-3 main blocks of the city or they would be arrested.  My mother remembers in the early 1950s having to pick something up at the pharmacy and having to go to a little window to the outside to make her purchase. People of color could not enter the store.  It was owned by a Jewish man named Schaeffer.  Eventually my Dad was able to get that changed.  

JB was bothered by the segregation and at one point tried to get the swimming pool in Richmond integrated.  Instead of integrating, Richmond city officials had the pool drained.  It was later was opened to all, but that took a few years.

The town was divided by the railroad tracks.  The city was originally established in the late 1880s.  It was named Rosenberg after General Rosenberg of Galveston.  Someone told me once that it was originally meant to be a "Jewish community" - but I am not sure this is true, even thought there were a number of Jewish owned businesses in town - as there were in many small communities throughout the south.  The Basilian fathers arrived in the late 1930s and were able to purchase a roomy two story home on the "other" side of the tracks.  The price was good because even though the area had been originally "white" - it was now considered a Black neighborhood.  I remember the house well.  It was dark inside, but had lots of rooms.  My Dad and I used to visit very often.  We would sit in the living room with JB and talk for hours.  Sometimes we would sit in the large dining room - especially after church bazaars where my Dad would count the money they made from the different booths (including the Bingo that he ran).  JB was always there, telling stories or listening to my Dad.  He had a wry sense of humor.  

JB was not considered one of the leaders - at least according to the Basilian documents.  There were other priests who were constantly making changes in the Mexican American community.  One of them was Father John Collins.  Yet, JB outlived them all.  He was not only special to our family, but to thousands of other families over the six decades that he was a Basilian priest in southeast Texas.

If you knew him and have a story about Father Broussard, please contact me at  We can post your story on this blog.

1 comment:

Mandy said...

Thanks for the interesting article. It is an interesting idea to explore when one thinks of a slave owner as being potentially "benevolent," when the premise of owning slaves is removing the freedom from one's life at the core.