Home News Webster Parish Phillips: ‘When you forget your history, you lose your past’

Phillips: ‘When you forget your history, you lose your past’

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Dr. Roy Phillips, a renowned historian in Webster Parish, has spent much of his retirement tracing his ancestry and the roots of the black community in Webster Parish. He published his research in his book 'Exodus: From the Door of No Return.' Bruce Franklin/Press-Herald

Black History Month is a time of reflection for the African-American community to celebrate their history and culture.

Dr. Roy Phillips, a retired educator and author, says African-Americans should never forget their past.

Born in Minden, his parents left the Webster Parish area in 1947 and he and his family didn’t return until he retired in 2002. During the 1940s, a major migration of blacks moved from the Deep South to the north and west. Phillips’ family headed west, where some of his family members remain in Arizona and California.

In his book, “Exodus From the Door of No Return,” Phillips writes the story of his family history. In his prologue, he talks about what prompted him to publish his ancestry.

“They severed their rural southern roots in search of better opportunities in the urban industrial centers of the west, north and east.” he writes in his book Exodus, From the Door of No Return.

During retirement, he’s done a vast amount of research into his own family history as well as the history of Webster Parish during the Civil Rights Era.

“I’ve collected a lot of data on the people who were prominent here,” he said. “In 1947, the blacks began to form organizations to
demonstrate and try to get rid of the segregation of this parish.”

There was a group called the Webster Better Citizenship League, headed by the Rev. M.M. Coleman. One of the prominent families during that time was the Allums. The purpose of the organization was to get voting rights, he said.

“During 1964, voting Negroes received more voting rights protection,” Phillips said. “The Civil Rights Act in 1960 provided for the appointment for referees to help Negroes register to vote. So this organization (WBCL) was formed to help promote that.”

Before desegregation in Webster Parish, black businesses were prominent and well supported by their patrons, but after desegregation, Phillips said for unknown reasons those businesses began to go by the wayside. In the 1970s, desegregation played a huge role in the economic shift of Minden and Webster Parish, he said.

Cora Allums Leget, author of “The House that Jack Built: Reflections from a Family of the Civil Rights Movement,” was one of the first black students to be integrated into Minden High School.

“Her family played a prominent role in the civil rights movement here,” he said.

Phillips talked more about desegregation in schools, but he also talked about voting rights as well.

The United Christian Freedom Movement was formed in Webster Parish to change the segregation practice, to help men gain their civil rights.

Phillips recalls story after story about the treatment of black men and their families during the Civil Rights Movement. He talked about his ancestry, about men who were fired from their jobs for filing suit to desegregate schools in the parish, about lynchings and many struggles to gain full citizenship in a nation that called itself equal.

He reiterated African-Americans should never forget their past, saying progress has been made since the Civil Rights unrest that changed the nation.

“Back in that day, blacks couldn’t get jobs in banks, in stores, they just couldn’t get any work,” he said. “Significant changes have been made. Blacks now serve on the city council. They are very prominent in the government and on the police jury. Changes have been made. What I think has happened is while integration did a lot of good things for blacks, it didn’t knock all those barriers down.”
He went on to explain remnants of mindset remains.

“One of the things I’m seeing is black children are forgetting their history,” he said. “They don’t know too much about their history. The only prominent black organizations left are the black churches. Blacks have forgotten their history, and when you forget your history, you lose your past.”

Negro History Week began in 1925, conceived by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, according to the Library of Congress’s website.

“As a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, like W.E.B. Du Bois before him, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice,” was posted on the website. “The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.”

In 1976, the celebration was expanded to a month.

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