Wilbert Richard left his family farm to join the Marines when he was 17 and narrowly missed tours in Vietnam and Okinawa. His recollections of his grandfather and great-grandfather give a great picture of history, with particular regard to the experiences of black people at that time.
Kreol investigated Wilbert Richard’s lineage on his paternal side with particular focus on the origins of the Richard and Chevis families of St Landry Parish, Louisiana. Initial checks revealed that the Chevis names were also recorded as Cheves, Chenis and Chevish.
Joseph Herbert Richard – father
Wilbert Richard was born on September 27th, 1952, the eldest child of Joseph Herbert Richard (February 1931) and Theresa Lillian Dugar (August 29th, 1933). Joseph and Theresa had four other children, boys named Herbert, Jerome and Carl and a girl named Janice.
Bertrand Richard – paternal grandfather
Wilbert’s paternal grandfather (Joseph’s father) was Bertrand Richard who was born in 1902. On the 1910 census, Bertrand is recorded as a ‘mulatto, age 9’ residing in Plaquemine Louisiana. Bertrand’s parents (Wilbert’s great-grandparents) were Adolph and Emma Richard.
Lizamia Chevis – paternal great-great-grandmother
Records of the birth of Adolph’s mother, Wilbert’s great-great-grandmother (recorded under different names as Lizemae Cheves, Lagima Chenis, Lagima Chevis and Lizzama Chevis) no longer exist due to the fire that destroyed the 1890 census, but in the 1910 ‘Ward 2 of St Landry Parish’ census we found her listed as a 40-year-old black female with five children. At this time she was already widowed and living with her son Adolph and his wife. She was recorded in 1920 and 1930 as remaining a part of Adolph’s household, with records showing her race as ‘Negro’ and ‘Mulatto’. We found Lizamia Richard’s certificate of death to show that she was 89 when she died of pneumonia in 1945. This would have meant her birth date was 1856. On this death certificate, her father is recorded as John Chevis but her mother’s name is unknown.
Whilst records of Rodolph Richard, Wilbert Richard’s great-great-grandfather, were also lost in the 1890 fire, a Churchpoint Church record shows that he died at the age of 36 in 1890. Lizimae and Rodolph were married in December 1876. The licence was issued at the St Landry Parish Courthouse and the wedding took place in the Catholic Church in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. In the 1870 census, we found Rodolph recorded as 16 years old, of ‘White’ race and living with his parents in Grand Coteau, Lousiana. Marriage records for Rodolph are confusing with a certificate that shows him marrying Aureline Lumpkins in 1879 and Lesima Chevis in 1876. Wilbert’s considerations suggest that Rodolph married Aureline (a white woman) at a time when mixed-race marriages had been declared illegal (this would have rendered his marriage to Lesima void) and went on to have more children with both women: ‘I think he might have had a couple of kids with her, but he continued to have kids with Lesima.’
Lizamia Chevis and Rodolph Richard – Issue
Together, Lizimia Chevis and Rodolph Richard parented six children: Carmalita Richard, Adolph Richard (Wilbert Richard’s great-grandfather), Emma Richard, Cornillia Richard, Rodolph Richard, Ella Richard.
Sosthene V. Richard
We found records of Rodolph’s father Sosthene in the 1880 census. He is listed as having an age of 62 and being married to Emilie who was 46 at the time. Sosthene was a ‘farmer/planter’ but in the 1870 census, Sosthene’s occupation is recorded as ‘waggoner’. We could not find evidence that conclusively proved Sosthene V. to be Rodolph’s father but indicators are strong. Sosthene was born on July 10th 1835 in St Martinville, Louisiana. His parents were Rosemond (also named Saunier) Richard (born 1775) and Anastasie Poirrier (born 1790).
Sosthene V. Richard and Emilie – Issue
Sosthene and Emilie parented Rodolph, Ravile, Sydnie, Eugene and Clotilde.
Rosemond (Saunier) Richard
Sosthene V.’s father was Rosemond (also named Saunier) Richard. Rosemond married Anastasie Poirrier and they had six children: Valerien Richard, Marie Caramelite Richard, Emilien Richard, Marie Cleoraine Richard, Cleonise Richard, Azelie Richard, Sosthene Richard. Rosemond was Wilbert Richard’s great-great-great-great-grandfather.
Wilbert Richard’s paternal line can be traced back to his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Jean Andre Richard, who was born in 1615 and lived in France. We have listed the genealogy between Sosthene Richard and Jean Andre Richard below:
- Sixth great-grandfather, Joseph Richard (1767), Louisiana
- Seventh great-grandfather, Amand Aime Richard (1744), Nova Scotia
- Eighth great-grandfather, Paul Richard (1714), Nova Scotia
- Ninth great-grandfather, Pierre Richard (1662), Nova Scotia
- Tenth great-grandfather, Michael (dit Sancouci) Richard (1640), France
- Jean Andre Richard (1615), France
Wilbert Joseph Richard is a native of the city of Opelousas in south-west Louisiana. He recalls his father Joseph Richard as a hardworking and authoritative figure. As well as being a successful farmer, Joseph owned his own trucking company.
Wilbert can remember his great-grandfather Rodolph and Rodolph’s brothers. He also recalls his great-grandmother Lesima. ‘She had long, long hair down the back and she would always give us an Indian head nickel.’ Rodolph and Lesima lived across the street from where Wilbert lived next to his grandfather Bertrand. He used to ask his great-grandfather questions and learnt that Rodolph lived during a time when only white people were allowed to vote. However, Wilbert recalls that ‘He (Rodolph) looked white, he was really light skinned.’ Rodolph’s youngest son Herbert (Wilbert’s great-uncle) was the first black person in that area to be allowed to vote – ‘He was in the papers and everything.’
Prohibition, whisky and Prison
Wilbert can recall his grandparents telling him that only the white children were allowed on the school bus. ‘The blacks would all pile up in someone’s truck and then go round picking up the kids to bring them to school.’ They were all farmers and eventually their campaigns led to school buses being provided for the black community.
Initially, the family didn’t own their own farms. ‘They started off sharecropping but then my grandfather, him and his brothers, they all bought their own property… My Daddy worked with them and then he got a little truck and started hauling sweet potatoes.’
Rodolph took risks with the prohibition laws and ended up in prison twice. ‘It was back in the time of prohibition so my grandfather, they had no way of making any money, so he would make whisky’. Apparently, Rodolph’s whisky was popular even with the sheriff and he suspects that his brother eventually turned him in because he made better whisky than him. Rodolph ‘Went to prison twice for making whisky.’
When he was 17 Wilbert decided that he had had enough of helping his father with the trucks and the farm and sought alternatives. ‘I was the one who was rebellious… I was 17 years old and I joined the Marines.’ His parents were reluctant to let him go but because he was so young, ‘My mum and my dad had to sign for me to go.’ In the end, Wilbert’s dad said, ‘Give me that piece of paper, maybe you can do something with him because I can’t.’
Because Joseph needed his son to work the fields over the summer, Wilbert had to wait until October and missed the Vietnam War. ‘I had orders to Vietnam and the day I was leaving to go to Vietnam, they started pulling the Marines out.’ He wasn’t pleased about this at the time but after nine months of mess and guard duty, he avoided direct conflict again when he was sent to Washington and then to work as a Presidential guard instead of going to Okinawa with his comrades. They let him do one last parade in Washington so that his mother could come and watch.
After the marines
Wilbert’s later careers include a spell working for Mobil in the oil fields where he crashed a helicopter that he didn’t have a licence to fly. ‘When I went back to work they fired me on the spot.’ Luckily Wilbert had also trained as a hairdresser so after that, he went to work in a beauty shop. This didn’t bring in enough money to keep his six children so he worked on the plants for another company for about 31 years until his retirement.
Wilbert never went back to trucking and although his brother still runs a successful business, his sister inherited his father’s firm. He remarks, ‘It didn’t take her long to mess that up so it went downhill from there.’