The American Destiny and the Dudley Leblanc Exhibit at the Acadian Museum

THE CURRET POSITION IS THAT THIS EVENT SCHEDULED FOR AUGUST 20 WILL BE POSTPONED UNTIL AUGUST 27 DUE TO FLOODS.

July 28 is the day set aside in the Queen’s Apology as a memorial day for the expulsion of the Acadians from their ancestral homeland in Acadie/Nova Scotia.  The person who on the Acadian side of these negotiations was most responsible for bringing about this date is Warren Perrin. He has recently set out his thoughts about this holiday in a letter to the editors at the Daily Iberian. You can see that letter here. But in part it says the following:

In 1990, I filed a petition seeking an apology for the Acadian Deportation. On Dec. 9, 2003, Queen Elizabeth II signed the Royal Proclamation acknowledging the wrongs committed against the Acadian people in the name of the Crown and establishing a Day of Commemoration on July 28 of each year.

Without in any way wanting to trivialize the weightier aspects of recognizing this annual commemoration for some of us I cannot help but think that the one of the most difficult things to admit in all of this is that it has already been more than a quarter of a century since Warren Perrin filed that lawsuit or petition. It has already been more than a decade since the Queen’s Apology was issued. Perrin is still involved in preserving and working to enhance the Acadian people, culture and legacy throughout the world. He concludes his letter to the editor as follows after the gallery of Acadian related images below:

The queen established July 28 as an annual Day of Commemoration of the “deaths and suffering of the Acadians” as a result of the Crown’s actions. On July 28, let us pause to remember our Acadian ancestors. Vivre l’Acadie!

 

In fact Vivre l’Acadie is a sentiment which still commands quite a bit of attention and in the Museum Warren Perrin is much involved in operating and has been much involved in founding that  legacy goes on with the  celebration, commemoration and examination of the life of Dudley Leblanc. This exhibit has also been part of my own daily activity for quite some time. This post is partly repetitive and partly contextual in that it seeks to take a closer look at an event which has been discussed on this blog before. On August 20, the Acadian Museum of Erath will celebrate its 25th anniversary by hosting its annual fundraiser and several special events, according to Andy Perrin chairman of the museum’s executive committee. This has been posted in this blog before.  At 5:00 PM at the museum, 203 South Broadway Street, Michèle Le Blanc, Sen. Dudley J. LeBlanc’s granddaughter, will sponsor the re-release of LeBlanc’s historic books The Acadian Miracle (1966) on its 50th anniversary of publication and The True Story of the Acadians (1926) on its 90th anniversary. Both of these books will be available for purchase, with part of the sales being donated to the museum. Both the museum and Dudley Leblanc have long been among my significant interests. But those interests have only recent led to a greater degree of  actual involvement directly with the institution. Trent Angers, whom I know fairly well and who has written on subjects related to the Acadians for many years is only one of the knowledgeable people who has been consulted in producing this project.

 

 

I had intended to be, or at least hoped to be enrolling at Louisiana State University Graduate School in a few weeks, I cannot say that the financial crises, legislature crises, police crises and civic crises which have wracked the State Capital this year have affected my plans or not. I tend to think they have not been a major factor compared to other things, I simply did not get off the waiting list to the active list.  Whatever the case may be as regards why I am not enrolling there it seems quite clear that my efforts to enroll there caused me to more or less bring my academic book Emerging Views to the near completion which is reasonable in a book not under publisher or agent contract. I have quite a few nearly complete books and have yet to publish one and probably never will.The last true  chapter after then end of  the numbered chapters and before the appendices opens with a picture of an oiled pelican from the current century but it could start with a picture of Zachary Richard. Perhaps that would be a more positive tone than I really wanted  to set in the draft or will ever set should the book come to press.  Trent Angers wrote a book about Dudley Lebalnc in which he sets the tone of his biography by describing the pattern of highs and lows which defined the man’s life and career. That is certainly accurate as far as it goes. But it is not how I define Dudley Leblanc. I think of his legacy in the Evangeline State Park and the State Park system itself in the pilgrimages that in many ways laid the foundation for the reunions that endure in the form of the Congres Mondial des Acadiens. I see his legacy in the cleaning up and modernization of the rice milling industry in Louisiana, in the tombstones marked with his emblem of TBA for his burial insurance firm. Film and photography are a particularly important part of the struggle for preserving the culture, language and identity of the Cajun people and Dudley Leblanc’s pictures of the Evangeline girls with various US presidents over various pilgrimages clearly set  a tone along with his participation in the design of the Evangeline State Park, his HADACOL images of such variety, they set a tone for this use of images in the cause of a culture. That has never stopped, in 2016, as I was on the waiting list for admission to  Louisiana State University’s Doctoral Program in History, Zachary Richard was named Humanist of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. And his work as a musician, poet and songwriter have been enormously impressive. However, he has always been connected with and aware of the camera and its role in communication, in communicating environmental concerns and  making people aware of any aspect of cultural development and structure. He has said that reading Dudley Leblanc’s book The Acadian Miracle had a real impact on his early coming to be the Zachary Richard we all know. That is true for quite a few people, less successful and acclaimed –like myself for example. The spirit of Dudley Leblanc is both humorous and very much a combative or fighting spirit. Yet he is also a man typified by steady hard work all his life. Work within a context of being misunderstoodby the larger society.

 

Film and photography form a set of focal points in many of our lives. Zachary Richard, Warren Perrin, Barry Ancelet, Trent Angers and Carl Brasseaux to name a few all know that the images tell much of our story and they are not without some debt to Dudley Leblanc in making that connection. One of the things that has come about in this exhibit being put together at the Acadian museum is the donation of the Corinne Broussard collection of memorabilia.  She was the Evangeline Girl who represented Baton Rouge Acadians on Dudley Leblanc’s first pilgrimage. She was part of his striking campaign of visual imagery and she has preserved a great deal of information from the journey donated to the museum by her heirs and enriching all aspects of the exhibit as well as achieving other goods. She connects us to what the memorial we celebrate or observe today meant to people of her time.  She frames for me the breadth of this exhibit and highlights this day ina unique way and that is recent and makes this year special.

The book  I was working on for my enrollment this fall seeks to set out to say something about the Acadian and Cajun experience which is particularly American.  It is neither boosterism nor anti-American but by contrast and comparison illuminates  number of communities which are not equal or similar in their treatment in the book in every way and in fact are dissimilar in many ways. Those communites interacted during the life and work of Dudley Leblanc and he is part of the story in the book and at the center of at least one chapter. The groups or communities highlighted are: the Acadians of Louisiana also known as Cajuns are  the most important to the text; The Documentarians also known as documentarists are a second community; The crew  and cast of the great Robert Flaherty and his exceptional wife Frances who made so much of a difference to the development of documentary film ( these people also overlap into all other communities and are a more intense community within this community of documentarians); another key group is the Standard-Humble Oil people form another community and that exists with the nebulous but very real oil and gas industry or Oilpatch or Oilfield as sometimes referred to when those words are capitalized and the last distinct group in my story is the McIlhenny family under various names and guises and with various annexes is another community in the text.

My own work on this project began in 1991 and I was not the only person in the area thinking about these topics at that time. Here is an excerpt of other work being done more or less at the same time. Almost no real coordination or communication occurred regarding these things. But the notice following this paragraph appeared in the Abbeville paper when I was researching and writing early drafts of this topic at LSU while earning my Masters degree. In Abbeville the memory of Louisiana Story has endured. It also is featured prominently inAngels of the Basin which is a film which deals with such current  crises and coastal erosion and such a recent event as Hurricane Katrina. So there are many reasons why not only film and photography but this film and these photographs have remained highly relevant to current discussions of film and photography.  The struggle for a full understanding of Cajun life and identity today must address these images. There is no way to ignore the role in shaping the image and identity of a people and a place without greatly limiting the understanding of how that place and people moved into the world of mass communications through film and photography. This seems to be an easier association than the connection with Dudley Leblanc for some people for Leblanc was flashy and a showman and took risks and his distant Kinsman Lionel Leblanc who plays the trapper La Tour in the Louisiana Story was a quiet man who had been a fur trapper all his life although he had become a kind of manger for the McIlhenny family fur operations. Dudley is somehow easy for people to want to minimize but I do not. He had his connections to the marshes and in fact was involved in a lawsuit with Aristide Broussard for the rights to trap lands which both the sate and Broussard —  a Cajun cattle baron claimed. Aristide Broussard is Warren Perrin’s ancestor.

When I was at LSU earning my masters and starting Emerging Views it was 1991, the year when  Abbeville added a new feature to its local architecture as the Abbey Players acquired their current theater building and set it up for business. It was also the year that I began graduate study in history. It was not long after that  Louisiana Story found its way into my research and their theater in different ways.

 

The cohesion of the community goes back to the way the film was dealt with by the paper and others at the time and does not seem to have diminished.  The names in this list are left in place partly so that the reader can remember seeing some family names earlier in the text and also be fairly sure of not having seen others. The original production in 1992 was about as big a dramatic and musical experience as Abbeville has ever seen. Few can equal or surpass it in a town that does have a good bit of music and drama. The ties of LeBlanc to the Louisiana Story are somewhat tenuous although I try to bring them out a bit I also point out how limited they were. That lack of connection is in a sense at the heart of my book. And the movie remains a great source of  inspiration for the

Eight years later after the rather extensive support that the original production of the Wade Russo work had received Abbeville celebrated the sesquicentennial of its founding ( that’s right 1850 after saying it is rooted in the 1840’s but the founding was based on act act late in the total process of founding — its incorporation — most of the work was done in the 1840s). Mayor Brady Broussard chose Russo’s musical revue as the centerpiece of the celebration and it was largely billed as a celebration of life in Abbeville in the 1940s. That may be fair enough but I think we have seen that the premiere was by no means a typical day and the issues and interests it brought to the fore were by no mens limited to Abbeville.  Louisiana Story has remained however part of the consciousness of this city and a mayor named broussard could appreciate that reality.

But however important the Standard Oil projects may have been they were not coming primarily out of this place. One of the most important image makers for receiving broad recognition from this area was George Rodrigue who with his Blue Dog phase crreated an international sensation for the latter part of his life. But there are those of us who remember his earlier Saga of the Acadians series as the work which really defined him. The Rodrigue family realizes that in cultural terms these images are important  the last link goes to his wife’s communication on the subject and they have lent the museum a digital image transfer on canvas of the piece Rodrigue did depicting Leblanc and companions in association with their return to Acadie in the historic pilgrimage. Rodriguehas left a great Acadian legacy and it deserves to be linked to both today’s date and the Leblanc exhibit. The legacy of both men and both families will be enhanced.

The years go on piling on new images and new perspectives that come into the world because of or merely at the same time as other images. The films being shown to the audiences that either do or do not go to theaters and movie houses to see these feature films  change. Many of them hardly have any life as true film and some none at all. Mostly they are streams and patterns of digital information created in processes which imitate the film-making processes and ventures of previous decades. The result is also intentionally filmic. But whatever their function they owe little to cellulose many may still come to be printed on this medium in the end but they are not crafted in the old rituals of silver, sweat, light and cellulose which defined this art and expression so intensely for a   few generations. Each artist and filmmaker and documentarian telling a story works in a new set of circumstances. The exhibit at the museum has real resource and space limits and the holiday today sets out a contrast with the historic Feast of the Assumption.  There are for those like me who see so much to preserve a very pressing set of limits on every effort to preserve what is being remembered. One of my goals in Emerging Views was to capture the moment of the technology as it was then and to show how it did and did not offer a bridge of communication to various parties in the process. How it allows us to see what was happening. The time invloved was in the time of Dudley Leblanc and the chapters of that book were the occasion of me becoming more involved with Warren Perrin, I sent him copies of each chapter and he was kind enough to associate me with this Leblanc exhibit. Like F. Wade Russo moving beyond his roots, the film industry has left film and the demands it made on men like Flaherty and Leacock and Webb somewhere in the past. It may be a past that is respected and valued but it is not the present. For me the use of film was a large part of my daily life for many years and now has been entirely replaced by the manipulation of the digital component of images. Dudley Leblanc was a historian and preservationist who lived and worked in the very most modern communications technology and systems he could possibly achieve. Things changed a lot all around him and to a remarkable degree he kept abreast of the changes — but he did suffer terrible challenges and many setbacks as well.

When I went to China I had a film camera which my sister Mary had given me and it saw a lot of use there. Some of the pictures I took and others I composed but had executed by third persons appeared in the second most popular periodical reporting mostly on Vermilion Parish. Bonnes Nouvelles, where I had written quite a bit, carried this article about my experience there and photographs connected readers and neighbors back home to those days spent in a far away land. It was not the first time I had appeared in the local newspaper.

I took a lot of pictures and yet not as many as I probably should have. The camera required a special film to allow it to take pictures in three various formats including a broad panoramic view. One can compare that to the increasing universality of the digital experience. I relied mostly on my chief contact and handler in the Board of Foreign Experts, Special Exchanges Office at the Shandong Institute of Business and Technology to procure the rare film. So even in the recent past film made it mark on lives such as mine and the experience of Flaherty and the documentarians in Acadiana was also shaped by any number of experiences based directly on real and tangible facts about film. Some film was ruined, some was delivered late, some was defective. These instances were kept at a minimum. Film management was the reason why. Daily rushes are one thing but today one can see the image on replay right away. There is less need for the kind of structure in community and functional team which existed in the lives of those photographers and filmmakers.

Today the kind of work they did could be done with less obtrusive organization because of the  ability to avoid the problems associated with film itself. This may allow all sort of records to be kept edited and erased which would be nice to have on a research project such as this has been. But it also lessens the chance of organizations which can be kept accountable in the same way. These people expected to be judged by history and while I applaud much of the work they did I also criticize it and find fault. That sense of doing work that endures in a group that is committed and documented is likely changing. Media companies abound in entertainment but the cohesion of the old studios is largely gone. That trend is likely to be more pronounced in work such as this.  Nothing stays the same and what lessons may be gained here are not lessons for those doing exactly this work because this exact work will never be done again. That perspective of struggling within the rigors of a set of resources and opportunities is so much at the heart of Leblanc’s life, at the heart of the Acadian Museum and at the heart of my own work.

The Leblanc family is releasing Leblanc’s works on this occasion and I salute that effort. Like the Rodrigue’s lending the painting it is an act of faith. Faith we must all affirm. Faith that members of the human species remain literate, curious, prosperous and sympathetic enough to give a damn about a narrative that does not immediately determine their own survival. Of course one may hope that either social pressure from the popularity of the book among a reader’s friends or real pressures on students assigned to read the text may help its popularity and boost its readership. Nonetheless most writers realize that the odds are long against their  book achieving either of those two particularly desirable benefits.  Sometimes that faith seems misplaced,  when one examines the circumstances in which one is writing and all the urgencies of any year including 2016 it may seem unlikely that one’s words will find their way to the last (or at least the current) descendants of Thucydides, the latter votives of Clio who will really find in themselves the energy to address a vision of the past and find in it some direction and insight as regards the present and the future.  Anyone who has read this up to now can see that in part it is a family history in any number of  ways, it is thereby equally prone to deeper insight and also more likely to be subject to  accumulating misinformation.   For me this exhibit, this memorial day and the book I was writing are all connected in a tying together of the past and the present and a hope for the future. For me the book was an effort to set forth a history one would hope would endure. Acadian history as I have known it, petroleum history and film history as subjects similar enough to my topic to matter may one or the other or all three  well be over within a generation or two. That is not mere baseless conjecture but in all three cases one can readily enough see signs that could portend the end of Cajuns and Acadians, the end of the oil and gas industry and the end of anything that could be called the film industry. I personally hope that none of these cessations will transpire and most of all that Acadians and Cajuns will be around for a long time to come. But perhaps history is most itself when it is written to preserve a story with as much depth, reality and fullness as possible  in every way that the historian can  preserve it. What is true of readers of a history text is also true of those who thoughtfully view and exhibit.

If this  relationship with readers is one in which a great deal is invested in an uncertain outcome then that is perhaps as it should be. The winners and losers of actual wars often will both read the histories of those wars but in all the small cultural struggles which occur across a society and across lifetime’s and generations there is involved in these times a struggle for relevance and readership.  In the minds of many writers there is a sense that simply in being read at all there is a dimension of victory, just knowing that people are aware of the exhibit and even more when they view it  — that does mean something. For those in an intense and broad struggle of ideas that are not very compatible being read seems to indicate that the writers side has won through, because the writer feels, his or her opponents are by and large through with  reading the sort of things the writer is producing.

 

Cajuns and other people in Acadiana were not extremely and broadly concerned about the SONJ documentary projects. Many people are not going to observe today or the Feast of the Assumption even with a mental note.  The thing about my book is that it remebers a moment when resources for preserving images of what was a cultural moment were abundant. They are not usually that abundant. But even in that moment most Cajuns were not interacting with those viewing and documenting there culture. That is one of the most definitive  realities that cannot be escaped as one researches the response to the documentarians and to Flaherty’s somewhat autonomous film crew within the Stryker SONJ organization. These creative and observant outsiders were the objects of gossip and newsgathering but they were not major objects of either. Largely, this is a story of a people caught up in a period defined by the end of a war they did not believe was going to lead to any certain and enduring peace.  As a whole the regional press was very concerned with rebuilding Germany and Japan, with the threat of Communism and with what would happen to the economy, The press also reported on the progress of the oil and gas industry in the region and the country, Movies also commanded some attention. But reporting on the SONJ projects as such was limited. Dudley Leblanc however, was very Cajun and very committed to preservation and he did get a lot of media attention at every level over his lifetime. I am proud of what he achieved.  He made a mark for himself and his people and never at the expense of his state or the United States. He was a great man and deserves to be remembered and studied as such.   He  lived through two Wold Wars and a Great Depression but then Dudley Leblanc kept on living. His time in the Cold War is no less significant to the arc of his life.    Historians and other scholars as well as journalists and just well informed people have commented on the anxieties of the Cold War. The fear of nuclear annihilation was certainly a feature of daily life for Americans and people across the world. However other anxieties were clearly abundant. In America, the Soviet Union, Britain, France, China and many other places lives were affected by the new and emerging world order after World War II through the lens of the nation states in which these people lived. The major powers in the world and certainly the United States were under significant pressure to change and conform to a new set of demands. The Cajuns in many ways had fully entered into an identity as an American community for the first time since the Civil War in the huge changes, trials and opportunities of the Second  World War and now there were to be many questions about what kind of America was emerging from that same experience. Clearly it was not to be an instance of joining the same society that had existed in 1940. In many ways the changes that had occurred had more risk and more opportunity for the Cajuns than for almost any other of their anxious Cold War fellow American citizens. One of the voices that assured the Cajuns in the journey into American identity was that of the French radio programs by Dudley Leblanc.  He was an optimistic voice in theses times. I once worked as a DJ at KASC which was the sister station to KROF where Dudley Leblanc finished his broadcast career. He could not solve all the problems the community he loved faced — but did he make a difference?

I think he was a big part of what made a difference. He saw a people moving into a period of anxiety but he did not exacerbate it nor did he flee into escapist nonsense. Yes, it remained for the Cajuns as for many Americans a period of anxiety. But it is nonetheless wrong to see this as a period primarily of anxiety and resentment. Cajuns were in general optimistic about the future of America. There was an increasing transition between calling those outside the community Americans and calling themselves Americans. This was a hugely significant transition and can be traced to more or less this very time in the history of the community for many rural families. So this was a complex time.

 

The complexity is hidden in the lack of significant events that marked the lives of most Cajuns who did not serve in the Korean War. Acadian history is not uneventful and this period contrasts with many others as not being so starkly distinguished by conflict and upheaval as many other periods in history.  There is no Grand Derangement, no War of American Independence, no War of  1812, no Civil War, no Reconstruction and the great turmoil of the Civil Rights Era  in the Deep South had not yet begun. It is pardonable and perhaps even  reasonable that many people would look at this era and see it as a peaceful, prosperous and optimistic time. Many people both within and outside the Cajun community more or less take that view of the 1950s as a happy, prosperous and optimistic time.Just after our period of 1953, in 1957 came the turmoil of hurricane Audrey, a terror to great to describe here. J.C. Boudreaux lost his first house to a hurricane in that storm and would lose another in hurricane Rita which came the same season as the more famous Katrina which was featured in Angels of the Basin. Robert Leblanc the Brigadier General whose life is a part of the framework of this story was at the forefront in fighting the horrors and devastation of the storm with the largely Cajun units he commanded in the National Guard.  But aside from hurricane Audrey in 1857 which comes after the close of my nearly finished book there were choices optimists led by Leblanc really helped to create. It is not simply delusion that many Cajuns take a positive view of the fifties and among those who take that view there is usually a fairly positive view of the oil and gas industry. It is not the intention of this text to see the region as merely an oil producing region. Many other forms of economic activity and employment survived. But for many Cajuns oil and gas related activity provided the main chance for a good future and survival in the present era.
I was not born until 1964. Therefore for me all of this period is in fact history outside of my personal set of recollections. But anyone my age cannot help but feel that this is a world much closer after Dudley Leblanc’s career was much  to the one we all know today than the one he came of age in was — he helped a people make the transition.   This story of Dudley Leblanc, like the story of my book or the story of the exhibit  ends not with some great conflict or transformation. It simply stops as the world is going on for a people still caught up in change, still living between the past and the future. In recent months, realted to the book as I said and now to the exhibit I have become much more involved in the Acadian Museum.  I am by no means as engaged as some and yet am quite involved in this worthy project and ongoing institution of the Acadian and Cajun people and culture. The museum and its work are by no means entirely new to me.

That's me with docent Casa Vice at the Acadian Museum several years ago

That’s me with docent Casa Vice at the Acadian Museum several years ago

However in recent months that latent involvement has increased. This means that instead of simply having some vague influence and being an avid observer there is now something that I can really say that  I am officially attached to going on there.

On the date  mentioned –August 20th — the museum will also induct Morgan LeBlanc, as representative of the LeBlanc family, into the Order of Living Legends and he will officially open the new Sen. Dudley J. LeBlanc Sr. permanent exhibit at the museum. The exhibition will contain over 100 historical photographs, articles, and objects—many displayed publicly for the first time—including the diary and scrapbook of Corinne Broussard, who in 1930 traveled by train to Grand Pré in Nova Scotia, Canada, with 22 other “Evangeline Girls,” to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Acadian Deportation. Some mention of this book and some images of it have appeared in this blog already but the quality of this material will be greatly superior in the exhibit.

This exhibit is supposed to then introduce the wonderful Corinne Broussard scrapbook which records in impressive detail what was the first of three trips by Cajuns to visit their ancestral homeland—all organized by LeBlanc in his life-long efforts to re-unite Acadians of Louisiana, Canada and France. LeBlanc, who lived in Erath until age 14, and much of his life in Abbeville was born on August 16, 1894.The primary contributors to the exhibit, which is  jointly curated by museum director Warren Perrin and a local historian known as Frank W.  Summers III, Sponsors and parner early on  were Robert Vincent, Winn Murphy and members of the LeBlanc family but donors and lenders of items and money have continued to emerge. That includes the largess of B.I. Moody – a prominent business leader in the region. These events will not be the end of the festivities but the start of them. there will be another ceremony in the great tradition of living legends. The total event will be one that will have meaning in memory for years to come.

At 6:30 PM in the Erath Community Center in City Park, the newly-appointed La. Commissioner of Conservation—and former La. Attorney General—Richard Ieyoub will be inducted into the Order of Living Legends. “I am really pleased to be honored by the Acadian Museum and look forward to again visiting my friends in Vermilion Parish,” Ieyoub said. Marilyn Melancon Trahan will have her student chorus sing French songs and several authors will be present to sell their books–Tom Angers, Josh Caffery, Michèle Le Blanc, Mary Perrin, Sheila Hebert Collins, and Nelwyn Hebert.

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2 responses to “The American Destiny and the Dudley Leblanc Exhibit at the Acadian Museum

  1. Pingback: A General Post Aware of the Election | Franksummers3ba's Blog

  2. Pingback: Shooting the Leblanc Exhibit with Dave McNamara | Franksummers3ba's Blog

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