T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History
Josh Rigmaiden as an effective, gentle leader who garnered unity
Edward "Butch" Lemelle Jr. by Jennifer A. Cramer, 2015.
EDWARD “BUTCH” LEMELLE JR: Mr. Josh Rigmaiden would go and say, "I got a young man here in Mossville. He need a job because he got a family. He got four kids. Y'all try to help him." [1:09:31] So eventually . . . And the old saying, “You scratch my back I'll scratch yours.” But a lot of people won't admit a lot of things happened simply because of leadership that you followed. When politicians saw that you were on one accord, that was power. You had power when you were all together. And they used to tell us if we stick together . . . They used to demonstrate.

I'm serious. If you were a kid here, a young man or woman or whoever from this community, and something happened . . . if you got in a wreck, got in a brawl, or got whatever, got into trouble that they had to say, "We going to arrest you and bring you to jail," you called Josh Rigmaiden. Josh Rigmaiden would call Ham Reed and say, "That's one of my boys. Don't you lock him up no further than where he's at. I'll be there to get him." That was a done deal.

CRAMER: Who's Ham Reed?

LEMELLE: He used to be the . . . That's right, you not from here. Ham Reed was the sheriff of Calcasieu Parish for years. And Mr. Frank Salter was at that time back in the day was the . . . What was Frank Salter? District attorney. But people respected Josh Rigmaiden.

And they saw a community that was together. Simple as that. And everybody went. They would talk it over. Who's going to be your next sheriff? Who's going to be the district attorney? And at that time you had, in the parish, if you had extra 2,000 votes, that was a lot for you. Five hundred votes, man I want those five hundred votes.


LEMELLE: So that's the way I can remember things for the community.

CRAMER: Voting is power.

LEMELLE: Voting is power.

CRAMER: So Josh Rigmaiden, what made him so effective?

LEMELLE: What made him so effective? Unity.

CRAMER: And his ability to get everybody . . .?

LEMELLE: His ability to get everybody together and the unity. And I don't know, I'm just saying they didn't fear him, but he was a man that had the right words. He had a way of having people to follow him. He was business. He had a little business, a little store and this, that and the other. Mr. Josh was, to us, a powerful man. A lot of things happened with unions . . . changeover in government. So this made Mossville not as effective as they were in the '40s and '50s . . . or in the '50s, so somewhere in the early '60s it began to change because of government change was one thing.

But some things you can’t get from being radical. I'm going to use that word. You had more people that wanted to just take things over in a radical way than a way of words and wisdom and understanding.

CRAMER: Like a gentle . . .

LEMELLE: A gentleness. Even the Bible speak that a soft answer turns away wrath.
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This project is a collaboration between the Imperial Calcasieu Museum and LSU Libraries to document the history of Mossville, a historic African American community in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana.
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