By LEIGH GUIDRY, The Daily Advertiser
NEW IBERIA, La. (AP) — In 1985, Elaine Campbell was teaching English at New Iberia Senior Daytime High and going straight to her second job as a store clerk at the North Gate Mall in Lafayette after the last bell. She had a family and an overfull plate, but she added one more thing to her schedule.
“There wasn’t a lot of news in The Daily Iberian for Blacks, and Blacks were doing amazing things,” Campbell said. “But they weren’t made public. So I thought, ‘Let’s see if we can change that a bit.’
Campbell founded The Ebony Journal, the first black-owned newspaper in Iberia Parish since Reconstruction, to fill a gap she saw not only in her hometown newspaper, but across the region.
“I liked reading the newspaper because it gave you a picture of what’s going on,” she says. “I wanted to provide a vision for black communities in Acadiana.”
With the help of a few other reporters, Campbell spent her weekends covering events and interviewing people she knew in Acadiana communities, contacts she had made through her more than six decades. teaching in the parish schools of Iberia and St. Mary. Then she typed the reports at home and dropped them off at the printer on her way to her second job.
She published the paper for 20 years, retiring from journalism in 2005 before retiring from teaching four years later.
“I enjoyed it all, but my hair was turning gray so I had to retire,” the 89-year-old laughed.
Today, the Iberia African American Historical Society works in collaboration with archivists and digitization specialists from the University of Louisiana at the Lafayette Ernest Gaines Center and the UL Center for Louisiana Studies to preserve the Campbell collection of The Ebony Journal .
“I’m grateful,” Campbell said. “It will help the newspaper survive.”
The newspaper was the second of its kind in the parish of Iberia. During Reconstruction, African-American businessmen and political leaders Samuel Wakefield and Louis Snaer were co-publishers and co-owners of the Iberia Banner newspaper.
Campbell was born and raised in New Iberia. Shel graduated from high school in 1950 and moved to the West Coast to study political science at Los Angeles City College and San Francisco City College. Her hope was to eventually go to law school, but her family urged her to return home.
“I wanted to go to UCLA but my mom dragged me home,” she said.
She returned in 1957 to segregated South Louisiana, and her mother feared for her family if Campbell, a young black woman, pursued law school near her home. So she shifted her focus to teaching, earning degrees in education from Southern University and then UL. She then taught English and social studies in middle and high schools in Acadiana for 63 years. She even replaced a few years after her retirement.
Campbell and his camera could often be seen at community events around the parish, covering news from local churches, schools, businesses and organizations and featuring members of the local black community in The Ebony Journal.
Copies of his newspaper were deteriorating, as the printing of the newspaper became brittle and unstable over time. The papers were stored for decades in non-archival containers and exposed to dampness, dust and mold, the Iberia African American Historical Society said in a press release.
The newsprint is now in the custody of UL Archivist and Curator Cheylon Woods. In a slow, multi-step process to preserve the collection, Woods first froze the logs in small batches to stop mold growth, according to the release.
“The next step in the preservation process is to thaw the papers intravenously,” Woods said.
Woods will then attempt to repair the paper as much as possible. She has been an archivist for over a decade, the last six years at the Ernest Gaines Centre.
“I’m always very excited to work with rural black communities in particular to preserve their community and their culture as they define it,” Woods said. “When we preserve The Ebony Journal or similar things that relate to what we call counter-narratives, they fill in the information gaps for a lot of people.”
The archiving of The Ebony Journal will fill the gaps not only for members of the communities it served, but also for those who will come long after.
“Newspapers do a good job of providing insight into the ideology of people connected to them,” Woods said. “A lot of research has been done on New Iberia, but it was missing in the Dark Experience. This will fill that gap and make the information more accessible to future researchers.
Once Woods completes his work, the diaries will then be transferred to the UL Digitization Center with the UL Center for Louisiana Studies under the supervision of Director John Sharpe, who will perform a high-resolution digitization of each page. Finally, the restored journals will be returned to Campbell in appropriate archival boxes along with digital copies from his collection.
The Ebony Journal will be accessible to the public as part of the archives of the future African-American Iberian Historical Society Center at The Shadows, which will be housed on the second floor of The Shadows Visitor Center.
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