Feb 18, 2014 6:45 PM by Akeam Ashford
St. Martinville residents are petitioning the city to rename a street after William Francis, and they are also also asking for his story to be put into the city's African American museum.
In 1946, 17-year-old William Francis was convicted of murdering a pharmacist and sentenced to death by electric chair. When the first electrocution attempt failed, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to allow the state to try the execution a second time. The second attempt succeeded.
Francis' story resurfaced in 2012 when Lafayette lawyer Alan Durand won an Academy Award for his documentary, "Willie Francis Must Die Again."
Durand's great-uncle was the lawyer who appealed Francis' case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
After his uncle's death, Durand came across records about Francis' case in old court documents. It was those records that inspired him to write the Academy Award winning documentary.
"It is the kind of thing that shouldn't have happened and can never happen again. It's good for us to remember it to make sure it never happens again," Durand said.
Francis' great-nephew, Joseph Davis, says the name change shows his family the city didn't forget about what happened.
"They can't fix what happened, but it's a really nice thing to do in honor of my uncle. It really shows that the city has come a long way where we can all work together," Davis said.
Nary Smith introduced the idea to change Randolph Street to Willie Francis Street at last night's St. Martinville city council meeting.
Like Davis, Smith says the city will never be able to fix what he calls an injustice done to Francis.
Smith, however, hopes by officially changing the street name it'll be able to help the community move forward.
"I made it clear that it wasn't a black thing, but a community thing. Both the black and the white council members that were there took an active part in the conversation to make this possible," Smith said.
Smith, as well as Durand would like to see Francis' story permanently placed into St. Martinville's black history museum.
"I think it's especially unique because all the evidence seems to point to the fact that Willie was probably innocent," Durand said.
Davis says his family talks about what happened from time to time, but they're hopeful for St. Martinville's future.
"It really shows how the city has come a long way. It shows how we can all finally work together and get things done," Davis said.
St. Martinville Mayor Thomas Nelson says he's not sure if, or when the item will appear on a future city council agenda. Nelson said the council will look into the laws about changing road names and then decide how to proceed.
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