Receives posthumous honor as civil rights trailblazer in parish

By RAYMOND L. DAYE, (From: Avoyelles Journal: January, 2019)

It was a well-deserved honor to a worthy recipient at an appropriate event when the late Howard Desselle Jr. was named Avoyellean of the Year for 1965 at this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Marksville.

When District Attorney Charles Riddle read the name on the plaque, those in attendance rose to their feet with a standing ovation in honor of one of the parish’s first and foremost fighters for civil rights.

The annual award has been given by the Avoyelles Journal since 1976. Periodically, the Avoyellean Committee reaches back through history to name citizens as Avoyelleans of the Year in years prior to the start of the award program.

Desselle passed away this past Nov. 3 at the age of 93. He was a farmer, businessman, educator, civic leader and civil rights advocate during his life. Rev. Allen Holmes spoke at the Martin Luther King Day ceremonies at St. John Community Church-Baptist in Marksville on Jan. 21., 2019

He said Desselle had done so much to improve the quality of life in Avoyelles Parish, especially in the areas of education and voting rights.
Pointing to the Desselle family members in attendance, Holmes said the entire Desselle household watched civil rights evolve in Avoyelles Parish through the actions of Howard Desselle.


Desselle cleared the path for voting rights for African-Americans in Avoyelles Parish in 1947, when he and Frank Gallerson of Bunkie and Emeric Barbin of Marksville were refused the right to register to vote by the registrar of voters.

A year later, the three men had agreed to pursue a federal suit to secure the right of African-Americans to register.

The registrar of voters resigned rather than allow the men to register. The next registrar, Willie Thevenot, removed the racial barriers and allowed Avoyelles’ black citizens to register.

Desselle once proudly noted that Avoyelles Parish was almost 20 years ahead of other parishes in this state in securing voting rights for black citizens. Desselle gave a lot of credit for that civil rights breakthrough to a young Louisiana State Police trooper who encouraged blacks to register. That trooper was F.O.“Potch” Didier, who was later elected sheriff.

Didier painted over the “whites only” signs in public buildings when he was elected in 1956, Desselle noted in a 2007 interview.

“This was done without one march or protest in the parish,” he said. “We in Avoyelles Parish have enjoyed a great relationship with the white Democrats over the years. Unlike other places, relationships between whites and blacks have been overwhelming.”

In accepting the posthumous award, Joyce Desselle -- Howard’s wife for 61 years -- said she had no idea the honor would be presented and thanked everyone for recognizing her husband in such a way.

Desselle’s son Trent said his father “inspired us” at home and inspired others with his actions in the community.