Retired oncologist, former U.S. representative and honorary New Orleanian Parker Griffith wants more people to know about his heroes and sheroes on the walls and in the stacks at Amistad Research Center. So he gives.
“When you go through that archive there, you’re looking at people who were not afraid. And it took tremendous intellectual and physical courage to do what they were doing. They were at risk of losing not only their lives - not only their jobs or their livelihood - but also they physically were courageous. I admire ’em, and I love to read about ’em,” Griffith says from his Huntsville, Ala., office. “It’s a part of America’s history. And, in particular, Southern history. We don’t really get enough of it.”
Griffith,76, knows that of which he speaks. Born in Shreveport and raised in Baton Rouge, he graduated from the LSU School of Medicine downtown. Racism was overt and virulent during the Earl Long era of his youth, prompting Griffith to join the Civil Rights Movement while working as an emergency room doctor at Charity Hospital, from 1968 to 1970.
“The people on the walls at Amistad are heroes. I think that’s lost on people who look like me,” Griffith says. “They don’t understand it because stereotypes are so prevalent in the South that no one gets past the stereotype. It’s unfortunate.”
In the two years since becoming a sustaining donor, the Griffith Family Foundation has helped fund Amistad’s annual operating budget and events like last year’s 52nd anniversary soirée at the Orpheum Theatre, according to Amistad board member Byron Stewart. Stewart introduced Griffith to the board after meeting him at a local hotel. He describes the 2014 Alabama gubernatorial candidate as kind, big-hearted and really wanting to help.
“I think Amistad has a major role to play in featuring the very, very capable and smart and active, involved African-Americans who historically ... have never been not involved. Their families were involved. They handed it down from family to family,” Griffith says.
“New Orleans has always had a - what I consider to be a - very, very intellectual African-American community. Some overtly active; some behind-the-scenes active.” Griffith references meeting former Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial at the barber and tellingly refers to Mayor LaToya Cantrell as “our new mayor.”
“I’ve had so many positive experiences in New Orleans. Amistad Research Center definitely deserves a lot of support,” he says. “I know a lot about New Orleans and its history.”
From obvious cases of police brutality in the former St. Thomas housing development to the influx of heroin in its streets; the first African-American mayor to the first female African-American chief executive, Griffith has had a front-row seat.
“The research center needs more exposure. I wish that it had a larger space,” he says. “It’s a diamond. It’s a jewel for us, and there should be some major corporate donors there.”
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