Shreveport native discovers family and community heritage of upward mobility
Dr. Jolivette Anderson-Douoning’s chance discovery of her grandmother’s ledger spurred her to document the untold story of African-Americans’ upward mobility in Shreveport’s booming – but segregated – economy after World War II.
“My mother passed away in 2013. My sister and I were cleaning out her house and we found not just my mother’s papers but my grandmother’s papers,” she recalled.
“My sister and I were arguing. She wanted to take everything out to the curb. When we’re arguing, something drops out of one of these bags and falls on my foot. It was a composition book. I opened it and the first thing I saw was ‘Keithville Louisiana 1946’. It turned out to be a 64-page ledger my grandmother kept.”.
Fascinated, Dr. Anderson-Douoning pored over the detailed entries, learning about her grandparents’ journey from rural tenant farmers to financially stable property owners in Shreveport.
Her grandmother, Mrs. Goldleana Abraham, documented construction of a home from scratch; music lessons for her children; and every extra job she worked to create a better future for her family alongside her second husband Willie Abraham.
Dr. Anderson-Douoning made Goldleana’s story the basis of her doctoral dissertation, focusing on the lives of African-Americans in north Louisiana during the segregated 1940s and 1950s.
“A lot of people don’t know about that (economic) uplift in the segregated spaces,” Dr. Anderson-Douoning said. “It was that slow, patient, methodical ‘Go to work, pay your bills’ situation. Those are the kind of stories that aren’t told about Black folk in the segregated Hollywood neighborhood and other segregated spaces in Caddo Parish.”
She turned to the Northwest Louisiana Archives at LSU Shreveport to research community history and provide context for the dissertation. In addition to preserving general materials, archivist Dr. Laura McLemore is dedicated to expanding African-American history collections.
“I was pulling legitimate primary sources, reading through old documents on schooling, looking at the maps of Shreveport to see what streets were named in 1950,” Dr. Anderson-Douoning said. “All that information is in the Northwest Louisiana Archives in the Noel Library. You just tell them what you’re trying to do and they pull it and you can go through it. Some days I spent all day at the library.”
She finished her dissertation this summer, but she’s not finished delving into the past. She plans to visit Shreveport again to research how radio station programming influenced African-Americans in the 1940s and 1950s.
“I’m continuing the work of Willie Burton. I’m continuing the work of C.O. Simpkins. That’s how I see it,” Dr. Anderson Douoning said, referring to prominent African-American historians in Shreveport. “I am embracing and continuing the work of Akasha Gloria Hull, educator and architect of Black Women’s Studies and graduate of Booker T. Washington High School, as well as David Dennis Sr, civil rights activist who grew up in the segregated Hollywood neighborhood.”
She and her family plan to donate the ledger and other family papers to the Northwest Louisiana African-American History Collection of the Northwest Louisiana Archives at LSU Shreveport.
Dr. McLemore wants to find other families willing to donate their papers. She says finding materials for the African-American history collections is challenging.
“I hope that by building a collection and making materials available we will build trust and be seen as a resource for the African-American community. We have a lot of African-Americans coming in and looking for their history,” she said. “The history of this region is not complete until we represent everybody in the community.”
Dr. McLemore holds the William B. Wiener, Jr. Endowed Professorship of Archives and Historic Preservation. She used much of the funds generated by the endowment to acquire African-American history materials in the past year.
New acquisitions include papers from the Shreveport chapter of the National Alliance of Postal Employees, an African-American union, and materials related to the activity of women’s organizations at African-American churches. Dr. McLemore is actively seeking records from other businesses, churches and civic groups to expand the collections.
“We have two cities, essentially doing the same things separately,” she said of segregation. “What could we accomplish if we could do things together?”
Besides documenting the history of individuals and movements, the archives contain materials that show how political and social trends like segregation contributed to the challenges facing Shreveport today.
“I think it is important for more of our community to understand more of our history, because it impacts us, not just socially but economically,” Dr. McLemore said.