The Good Darky (also called Uncle Jack) is a 1927 statue of an unnamed, elderly African American man. Originally erected in Natchitoches, Louisiana, it stood there until 1968, but is now on the grounds of the Louisiana State University Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge.
The original plaque read:
In Grateful Recognition of the Arduous and Faithful Service of the Good Darkies of Louisiana.
Some say it was quietly removed by the city of Natchitoches; another theory is that it was torn down and thrown in the river. Whatever the truth, it was recovered and eventually returned to the niece of the man who commissioned it. She donated it to the museum in 1975.
For many years, it stood in a cul-de-sac at the entrance to the museum. This set badly with some people and, in 2009, it was decided to move it onto the grounds of the museum where it could be surrounded with context. At the time, LSU Vice Provost for Equity, Diversity and Community Outreach Katrice Albert said that some, especially African Americans, may have very strong reactions to the statue, “creating nostalgia for the Antebellum South, the Confederacy, and slavery.” It’s now on an out-of-the-way gravel path, near the old African American Baptist church located on the grounds.
The statue has been famously criticized:
Uncle Jack is the quintessential obsequious Negro servant. . . . The droop of his shoulders bears witness not only to his years but more specifically to his own understanding of his place as a poor black in a rich white world — Maya Angelou, Maya Angelou, 1997. Even the Stars Look Lonesome. New York, Random House. p. 92.
[E]very adult who lived in the segregated South knew the terror on which segregation rested… That is why ‘The Good Darky’ bows his head; ultimately, he doesn’t want to be killed. — James W. Loewen, 1999
The statue, obviously, does not and never did epitomize peace and justice (although, at the time, the city was praised for being liberal in erecting a statue to a black man.) It is interesting to study, however, because of the attempts to place it in context and use it for learning. Is this useful? Is it a model that can be used in other places? You decide.
There are several explanatory placards placed near the statue.
Background of the Statue
Jackson Lee Bryan, a successful cotton planter, mill owner and banker, commissioned. noted sculptor Hans Schuler of Baltimore, MD to create this statue. It was erected at the end of Front Street in Natchitoches, LA in 1927, with the stated intention of recognizing the loyalty and friendly relations shown between the segregated Black & White communities of the city
By 1968, most of the social system the statue represented had begun to be dismantled. Under pressure from voices within the Black community, the City of Natchitoches removed the statue from public display. Through the determination of Jo Bryan Doucournau, J.L. Bryan’s niece, the city returned ownership to her, which ultimately led to the donation of the statue to the LSU Rural Life Museum.
Jim Crow and Social Expectations
The statue, the only one of its kind, embodies the Jim Crow culture by reinforcing “model” behavior. In Louisiana and elsewhere in 1927, The practice of African Americans bowing heads and tipping hats was as much a survival tactic as a polite gesture. The presence of the statue in a public space reinforced the Jim Crow era’s rigid social norms and social stratification.
Initial responses to the statue were filled with a nostalgic image of a more tranquil past. Similar sentiments appeared in local papers, proclamations and other public documents.
“The old negro looks as if he has just shuffled into the square and recognized some of his white folks, he has removed his battered hat and is bowing an smiling his joyful greeting.” (New York Times, July 31, 1927)
Despite being cloaked in genteel manners, these customs were a response to an underlying threat of violence to African Americans who stepped outside societal norms.
“But there were times of growing up (under Jim Crow) . . . where you had to use survival psychology . . . That’s the time when I would grin, shuffle, say “yes Sir,” or “No Sir,” look down. All those things that said you were inferior, you know. But, that was a survival tactic. even at a very young age, we understood how to survive in a racist and very violent system.” – Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-Clifford M. Boxley, Natchez, MS
This is the plaque currently on the base of the statue:
And this is the other placard placed near the statue.
(visited January, 2023)