Who’s That?: The Names Behind Lafayette’s Schools, Part 1
L. Leo Judice. J. Wallace James. Charles Burke.
These are just three of the names that are uttered on a day-to-day basis in Lafayette Parish because they are the namesakes of local schools.
But who exactly are they? What are their claims to fame? Why do we remember them, and why are their names on public schools?
Over the next few days, we'll examine who these people are and why their legacies to Acadiana are so important.
We start today with the names on some of Lafayette Parish's elementary schools.
Alice Neyland Boucher was a native of St. Landry Parish. She graduated from Washington High School and began her 45-year education career immediately thereafter. She took time off from teaching after getting married and having children. When her husband died, she returned to education. In 1924, she received her education degree from the Southwestern Louisiana Institute. One year later, she became a member of SLI's faculty, working as a supervising critic for elementary grade teachers. In addition, Boucher received her master's degree from LSU and completed post-graduate work at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Boucher was also known around Lafayette for her work with the Catholic church and charities.
Boucher died in 1949 at the age of 59. Three years later, the Lafayette Parish School Board voted to name a new school in the northern part of the city after Boucher "in recognition of (her) selfless devotion and service to the children of our city."
Dr. Raphael Baranco
Dr. Raphael Baranco was a pioneer in the city of Lafayette. In 1968, he opened his dental practice on Louisiana Avenue. In the process, he became Lafayette's first Black dentist. In 1972, Baranco became Lafayette Parish's first Black elected official when he won a seat on the Lafayette Parish School Board, a position he held for 18 years. The U. S. Army veteran also found time for civic activities, working with SMILE Community Action Agency, the Lafayette NAACP, and a host of other organizations.
Dr. Baranco died in 2018. One year later, the Lafayette Parish School Board voted to rename the old N. P. Moss campus after Baranco.
Born in 1836, Martial Billeaud emigrated with his family to the United States from France when he was four years old. In 1855, Billeaud leased land in what is now Broussard and began planting cotton. By 1872, Billeaud had purchased his own land and had begun planting sugar cane. He then opened the Billeaud Sugar Factory. At its peak, the factory produced about 400 tons of sugar cane daily. Billeaud sold the business to his children in 1914, two years before his death. The sugar mill closed in 1979. It was the last sugar mill in Lafayette Parish and, at the time of its closing, was the oldest business in the parish.
The sugar mill's legacy remains. What was once Billeaud Sugar Factory, Inc., is now Billeaud Companies, the Lafayette-based real estate company. The painted gears that sit along U. S. 90 near St. Nezaire Road in Broussard are from that plant. In fact, those gears sit on the old sugar mill property.
Martial Billeaud Elementary School sits on old farmland that was once owned by Martial Billeaud and his family.
Charles M. Burke
Charles M. Burke was a German immigrant to the United States. He came to Louisiana in 1867. He initially settled in St. Mary Parish, but he later moved north to Lafayette Parish. He founded the first school in the Ridge area in the 1880s, donating land along the main road in the community for a one-room school serving the first through ninth grades. A farmer by trade, Burke also served as a justice of the peace. He died in 1939 at the age of 90.
Ernest Gallet was a former teacher at Youngsville Middle School and was a member of the original faculty at Comeaux High School. He served as mayor of Youngsville from 1966 until his death in 1987.
Green T. Lindon
Green T. Lindon Elementary School is not named for one person. In fact, it's named for three different families. The school was originally built in 1959 as Youngsville Negro Elementary School. When the Lafayette Parish School System desegregated its schools, they left the task to rename the campus to its principal, Ed Sam (we'll learn more about him in Part 2). Sam decided to name the school after the Green, Thibeaux, and Lindon families to pay tribute to their dedication and their significant contributions to the education of Black children in the Youngsville area. To this day, the pictures of members of all three families hang in the school's office.
J. W. Faulk
John Wesley Faulk was born in Vermilion Parish in 1879. He launched his education career after receiving his bachelors degree from the Southwestern Louisiana Institute and his master's degree from LSU. He eventually became the principal of Broussard High School, Rayne High School, and the Ridge School. He became the Superintendent of Lafayette Parish schools in 1922. During his time as superintendent, the Lafayette school district built new schools in Scott, Judice, Youngsville, and Milton. Faulk's administration also oversaw the construction of the N. P. Moss School on Lafayette's northside. Faulk remained superintendent until his death at the age of 63 in 1942.
In 1958, the Lafayette Parish School Board renamed the Northeast Elementary School as J. W. Faulk Elementary in honor of the late superintendent. The school opened one year later.
J. Wallace James
Joseph Wallace James played a major role in Black history in Acadiana. James and his son, J. Carlton James, were the first two Black men to register to vote in Lafayette Parish since Reconstruction. They later worked to help other Black Lafayette Parish residents register to vote.
In addition to his work building the Black vote in Lafayette Parish, James was involved in other civic activities. He was the president of the Good Hope Society. He was a member of the Lafayette Parish Chapter of Mental Health, the Lafayette City Recreation Board of Directors, and the Negro Business League. James was also involved with Catholic activities. He was a 4th-degree member of the Knights of Peter Claver and was a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
J. Wallace James died on October 4, 1961, at the age of 72. James has had two schools named after him. The original J. W. James School was located on Poydras Street and was closed in 2000 as part of a federal desegregation order. The current J. W. James Elementary School on West Willow Street was opened in 2002.
In the early 1920s, Mother Katharine Drexel, an heiress and philanthropist who became a nun in the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, used her time, influence, and money to build a mission school to serve the Black children of the Broussard area. The school was originally called the St. Joseph School and was located on the grounds of the Sacred Heart Church. In 1953, the school moved to land donated by Louis Billeaud. About a decade later and a few years after Drexel's death, the St. Joseph School was replaced by a public school, the Broussard Negro School, on that same property.
A few years after the school was built, a teacher at the school who taught under Drexel successfully petitioned the school board to name the school after the nun. In 1970, the newly-named Katharine Drexel Elementary was desegregated.
Drexel also founded Xavier University of New Orleans and a host of other schools across the United States. In 1988, Pope John Paul II canonized Drexel, making her the second person born in the United States to become a saint.
L. Leo Judice
Louis Leo Judice was born in 1872. A businessman by trade, Judice was elected to office in 1912, winning a spot on the Lafayette Parish School Board. In 1923, he became school board president. Simultaneously, he served in the Scott village government. He became an alderman when Scott was incorporated as a village in 1907, and in 1930, he was elected mayor. He served as mayor before resigning in 1940. He held his school board post until his death in 1941.
In 1950, the school board approved the construction of a new primary school in Scott on land donated to the school board by his sister, Bella Judice Nickerson. As a condition of that donation, the school board named the new school after Judice. If ever the school board were to rename the school, the property would revert back to Nickerson's heirs.
Corporal Michael Middlebrook
In 2018, the Lafayette Parish School Board renamed Plantation Elementary School for Lafayette police Cpl. Michael Middlebrook. Middlebrook, a nine-year veteran of the Lafayette Police Department, was shot and killed in the line of duty on October 1, 2017.
The school's previous name was derived from its location on the old Long Plantation property.
S. J. Montgomery
Samuel James Montgomery was born in 1829 in Kentucky. He came to Louisiana during the Civil War and married Anastasia Breaux of Lafayette. In 1867, Montgomery purchased the Louden Plantation southwest of Lafayette. He died there in 1909. In the 1950s, Montgomery's heirs donated the plantation property to the Lafayette Parish School Board to build two new schools. One was Lafayette High School. The other is the elementary school that bears Montgomery's name.
This last entry is proving to be a difficult case for us to crack. We know Truman Elementary School was named for the Truman Addition. The question is: For whom was the Truman Addition named?
We spoke with former Lafayette Parish Councilman Louis Benjamin. He told us the Truman Addition was developed in the early 1950s as a segregated neighborhood for Black families. Most of the families who moved there, Benjamin said, were from the rural areas of the parish near Carencro. Benjamin said considering the time and era, he believes the neighborhood was named for President Harry S Truman, who desegregated the United States Armed Forces and worked to secure housing for World War II veterans. However, Benjamin was quick to note he wasn't sure that was the correct answer to our question.
However, several other people we spoke to said they weren't sure that was the case. In fact, a couple people we spoke to, Lafayette Parish School Board member Elroy Broussard and historian Rick Swanson, said they think the area may have been named for a previous landowner or the neighborhood's developer. Still, they weren't sure what the answer is. We're still working to find the definitive answer to this question. Once we have it, we'll update this post. If you know the answer, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Part 2, we will examine the names behind six of Lafayette Parish's middle and high schools.