Signs along the highway, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, June 1943, by John Vachon, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
E. Riche/ Read the history of my life I am 65 year old born 1877 June 30th I don’t steal don’t murder don’t lie and never was arrested in my live Sherif Dauterive* gave a handcuff to handcuff me for telling the truth do you think it would be an honor to handcuff me the boat the life saver, is for proof that it crossed Judge Perez†, his two children, his wife, and his brother but Mr. Dauthrievl asked could I prove it, I said yes, and he asked who crossed him. I said a boy he also asked did he pay him I said yes, he gave him $100 [or $1.00] and looked for change back if I am wrong arrest me I am ready for trial I want help from the public eyes on, hands off, keep out, and be happy life saver crosse Peres family over Miss River if you arrest me for telling the truth you should be paralyzed blind or crazy God is my judge
History of depression and starvation these signs were taken up by the grand jury April 6, 1936 for investigation has investigation been made[?] if nothing can be found wrong please return these signs
On the side: Caernarvon levee [?} on April 29 [? . . .] horse [or house] claim ditch claim tree [?] claim. . . spring crop claim summer crop claim [? . . ] how can a poor man have a square deal [? . . .} have a square deal to replace my [?] in the same condition [? . . . .] (emphasis mine)
The drawback of tyme claim of 200 of false claim was made by county agent c.c. Dethloft [or Dethlofi] he was adv[i]sed $1299 [or 1219] tree claim I was offered $275 is this a square deal Mr Perez worked fifty fifty on summer claim every farmer summer claim was 229 [or 289] Mr Perez got 110 and each farmer got $110 [ or 410] paid ten years taxed [?. . .] 1927 where did my mo[?. . .] collected penny on
*Louis Dauterive was sheriff of Plaquemines Parish from 1931 to 1943.
†Parish political boss and segregationist Judge Leander Perez. Here’s a news story about him allegedly strong-arming another family over land in the 1930s. E. Riche’s complaints may go back to the removal of families in the 1920s to built a spillway to protect New Orleans.
6 thoughts on “The signs”
Reading those signs is depressing. I feel quite sad for poor E. Riche. So many years later, the words are powerful although in his time they must have had no effect.
I wish we could better understand his story. I’m interested in why he refers to himself in the first sign as “the boat the lifesaver.” “[D]o you think it would be an honor to handcuff me the boat the life saver[?]” Did he play a role in saving people during a flood, perhaps the Caernarvon levee flood?
He was brave to take on the sheriff and Perez.
Yes, the Three Billboards reference is apt. There is something Biblical about the handcuff/boat/life saver phrase. A really thought-provoking photo, Cindy.
I have to agree with Pat above. And looking at them today it is hard not to also see them as outsider art with a terrible beauty to the.
They are definitely like outside landscape art — and also like poetry.
And they seem to be a 1930s/40s “Three Billboards.”
Lifetimes later I’m feeling this man’s righteous anger. He surely did not see justice in his time. But the truth has a funny way of rising doesn’t it? His act of dissent was beautiful. It’s a damn shame how timeless this tale really is. Marginalized people being systematically screwed by the wicked establishment and the evil doers that seem to flock to positions of power. But to his credit, I’m sure he was a thorn in those old Judge and Sheriff’s sides, not shutting up about it. It’s amazing how we can glean enough of his story through these photos to connect with his plight. His demand for justice reverberates literally through space and time. Let his account of history further tarnish the historical reputations of the people responsible for keeping good, hard working folks like him down.