A couple of years ago, I paid a visit to the Opelousas Museum and Interpretive Center. Since the pandemic, the physical location of the museum has been closed. The stories of some of the people that are highlighted by the museum, offer a glimpse of the past, that has helped shape the future.
The museum was the vision of Mayor John Joseph. He was the first African American mayor of Opelousas. He took office in the late 1980s, and had the museum up and running in 1992. Mayor Joseph said it was one of his biggest accomplishments while he was in office.
The legacy of the museum features exhibits representing not just the African American culture, but also French, Native American, and Cajun.
It highlights Zydeco music. St. Landry parish is considered the birthplace. You'll see everything from the early dance hall days of Clifton Chenier, up to today's festivals that highlight Geno Delafose.
It also tells the story of Olympic Gold Medalist Rodney Milburn. Milburn won the gold medal in Munich in 1972. He also set the world record in the hurdles event. A record that remained unbeaten for nearly five years.
After receiving the gold, the Olympic committee wanted him to claim New Orleans since more people in the world knew where the city was. But Milburn made sure people knew he was from Opelousas!
Rodney Milburn's road to stardom started at J.S. Clark High School. It was the segregated black school back then. Milburn was coached by Claude Paxton, using what he called, the dime philosophy, meaning only have a dime's space between Milburn and the hurdle. Both are also part of the JS Clark Memorial Walkway at the Le Vieux Village Heritage park.
I'll take a look at others featured on the Memorial Walkway next week on GMA Dave Trips!