- Leander Perez
Leander Henry Perez, Sr., (
July 16, 1891- March 19, 1969) was the Democratic "political boss" of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, Louisiana, in the first half of the twentieth century. Officially, he served as a district judge, later as district attorney, and as president of the Plaquemines Parish Commission Council.
Perez was born in tiny Dalcour near New Orleans to Roselius E. "Fice" Perez (died 1939) and the former Gertrude Solis (died 1944). He was educated in New Orleans schools,
Louisiana State Universityat Baton Rouge, and the Tulane UniversityLaw School in New Orleans. Perez opened a law practice in New Orleans and Plaquemines Parish.
Perez enters Plaquemines Parish politics
In 1916, Perez was defeated as a candidate for state representative. In 1919, he was appointed judge of the 25th Judicial District to fill an unexpired term. In 1920, he won a full term as judge by defeating a local machine run by his intraparty rival John Dymond. He was elected district attorney in 1924 and became involved in a dispute over trapping lands which ended in a shootout known as the "Trappers' War."
In 1928, Perez allied with Huey Pierce Long, Jr., who was elected governor. In 1929, he successfully defended Long in the latter's impeachment trial before the Louisiana state Senate. This was more than a bit odd, as Long found the racial rabble-rousing for which Perez would later be famous distracting, and since Perez later became a fierce critic from the right of the Long family.
Perez became wealthy by subleasing state mineral lands. In 1940, the state Crime Commission investigated Perez at the request of then Governor Sam Houston Jones. In 1943, Jones sent state troopers to Plaquemines Parish to enforce his appointment of an anti-Perez sheriff.
Perez and Jones both came out of the conservative wing of the Democratic Party, but whereas Perez had been a Huey Long backer, Jones was staunchly anti-Long. The two later joined forces to support Republican
Barry M. Goldwaterfor president in 1964. Perez in fact headed "Democrats for Goldwater" in Louisiana.
A political machine on the Gulf of Mexico
In 1919, Judge Perez launched a reign of bought elections and strict segregation. Laws were enacted on Perez's fiat and were rubber-stamped by the parish governing councils. Elections under Perez's reign were sometimes blatantly falsified, with voting records appearing in alphabetical order and names of national celebrities such as
Babe Ruth, Charlie Chaplin, and Herbert Hooverappearing on the rolls. Perez-endorsed candidates often won with 90 percent or more of the ballots. Those who did appear to vote were intimidated by Perez's enforcers. He sent large tough men into the voting booths to "help" people vote. Many voters were bribed. Perez testified that he bribed voters $2, $5, and $10 to vote his way depending on who they are. Perez took action to suppress African Americans from voting within his domain. Perez said "Negroes are just not equipped to vote. If the Negroes took over the government, we would have a repetition here of what's going on in the Congo." "
Starting in 1936, Perez also diverted millions from government funds through illegal land deals. When he was a district attorney, he was the legal adviser to the Plaquemines levee boards. He used this position to negotiate payoffs between corporations he set up and big oil companies that leased the levee board lands for drilling. After Perez's death, the parish government sued his heirs seeking restitution of $82 million in government funds. In 1987, the lawsuit was settled for $12 million.
His militant defense of segregation
In the 1950s and 1960s, Perez became a nationally prominent opponent of
desegregation, taking a leadership role in the opposition to desegregation, along with nationally recognized figures such as Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, and Ross Barnett. He was a member of the White Citizens Counciland an organizer of the white supremacist Citizens Council of Greater New Orleans.
In 1948, Perez had headed the successful Thurmond presidential campaign in Louisiana. In 1952, he convinced
Lucille May Grace, the register of state lands, to question the patriotism of Congressman Thomas Hale Boggs, Sr. "Miss Grace" and Boggs were among ten Democratic gubernatorial candidates that year. She claimed that Boggs had past affiliation with communist-front organizations. The allegations, never proved, worked to sink both of their candidacies.
Thereafter, Perez wrote and researched much of the legislation sponsored by Louisiana's Joint Legislative Committee on Segregation. He supported Rainach for governor in the 1959 Democratic primary and then switched his backing to James Houston "Jimmie" Davis in the party runoff, which Davis won over New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison, Sr.
In defending segregation, Perez said:
"Do you know what the Negro is? Animal right out of the jungle. Passion. Welfare. Easy life. That's the Negro."
The American Civil Rights Movement, according to Perez, was the work of "all those Jews who were supposed to have been cremated at Buchenwald and Dachau but weren't, and Roosevelt allowed 2 million of them
illegal entryinto our country."
Perez controlled the activities of civil rights workers by prohibiting outsiders from entering Plaquemines Parish through his direction of the bayou ferries that were the only way to enter the jurisdiction.
In 1960, while opposing desegregation of local public schools at a New Orleans rally, Perez said:
"Don't wait for your daughter to be raped by these Congolese. Don't wait until the burrheads are forced into your schools. Do something about it now."
Perez's speech inspired an assault on the school administration building by 2,000 segregationists, who were fought off by police and fire hoses. The mob then went loose in the city, attacking blacks in the streets. When the schools were opened, Perez organized a boycott by white residents, which included threats to whites who allowed their children to attend the desegregated schools. Perez arranged for poor whites to attend a segregated private school for free and helped found a whites-only private school in New Orleans.
In the 1960 presidential election, Perez was the state finance chairman and a presidential elector for a third-party, the Louisiana States' Rights Party. On the ticket with him was future Governor
David C. Treenand the flamboyant anticommunist Kent Howard Courtney. Treen left the party, denounced its national organization as "anti-semitic," and joined the Republican Party in 1962, when he first ran for Congress.
Perez and the Catholic Church
In the spring of 1962, the Archdiocese of New Orleans announced its plan to desegregate the New Orleans parochial school system for the 1962-1963 school year. Perez led a movement to pressure businesses into firing any whites who allowed their children to attend the newly desegregated Catholic schools. Catholics in St. Bernard Parish boycotted one school, which the Archdiocese kept open without students for four months until it was burned down. In response, Archbishop
Joseph Rummelexcommunicated Perez on April 16, 1962. Perez responded by saying the Catholic Church was "being used as a front for clever Jews" and announced that he would form his own church, the "Perezbyterians."
He eventually reconciled with the church before his death and received a requiem mass at Holy Name of Jesus Christ Church at Loyola University in New Orleans. He is interred at his home in Plaquemines Parish. Smestad, John Jr. Loyola University, New Orleans. " [http://www.loyno.edu/history/journal/1993-4/Smestad.html The Role of Archbishop Joseph F. Rummel in the Desegregation of Catholic Schools in New Orleans.] " 1994. ]
Later political activities
Perez had once chaired the powerful Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee, in which capacity he threatened to remove senatorial candidate
Russell B. Longfrom the rooster emblem. Perez toyed with designating the official Democratic mantle to the Republican Senate candidate Clem S. Clarke, a Shreveport oilman. Only a deal with Governor Earl Kemp Longkept Long's nephew, Russell Long, on the regular Democratic ticket in Louisiana. The result was that Russell Long began a 38-year tenure in the U.S. Senate.
In his last campaign, Perez supported Wallace's American Independent Party. When asked in the summer of 1968 what he and a group of associates had been discussing, he replied: "Richard M. Nixon and other traitors." Though he had supported Goldwater, Perez grew disillusioned with the Republican presidential nominees and flatly drew the line against supporting Nixon in 1968. Perez's former ally Treen, however, supported Nixon's successful presidential campaign.
Judge Perez Drive, a major thoroughfare in St. Bernard Parish, was named after him until 1999, when officials of that parish decided to distance themselves from Leander Perez's legacy. Judge Perez Drive is now named in honor of the late Melvyn Perez, a long-time judge in St. Bernard Parish.
It should also be noted that in the 1970s, several years after Leander Perez's death, St. Bernard Parish was placed in its own judicial district by the Louisiana legislature.
In 1917, Perez married the former Agnes Chalin. Their two sons, Leander H. Perez, Jr. (1920-1988) and Chalin O. Perez (1923-2003), were unable to continue their father's stern reign over the two lower river parishes due to their own personal differences and meddling from the FBI. Still, Leander, Jr., followed his father as district attorney in 1960, and Chalin succeeded his father as president of the Plaquemines council in 1967. Perez himself had written the charter for the parish commission in 1961. His two daughters, Joyce Perez Eustis and Elizabeth Perez Carrere, reside in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, respectively. Perez had ten brothers and sisters.
Perez was posthumously inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield in 1996.
* Jeansonne, Glen. "Leander Perez: Boss of the Delta"; Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1977
* Loewen, James W. "Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong" New York:The New Press, 1999): Chapter 47: "Let Us Now Praise Famous Thieves."
*http://www.cityofwinnfield.com/museum.html"Leander Henry Perez", "A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography", Vol. 2 (1988), p. 641"The Canary Islanders in Louisiana" (Film of Manuel Mora Morales, 2006)
* [http://foia.fbi.gov/foiaindex/perez_leander.htm FBI FOIA file]
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