The small town of Scott, Louisiana, nestles the in suburbs of Lafayette. Here, the environment bears the scars of America’s past, which once dominated the landscape in a variety of ways, from segregated schools and businesses, to death threats levied against any black and Creoles who advanced themselves to higher positions in society. Today, those ghosts are being erased with help of leaders like Purvis J. Morrison. Now in his 2nd term as Mayor of Scott, he recounts how the attitudes of the past never clouded his view of the world. Growing up he kept his head up, worked hard, and sought change through good times, politics, and strong character. Learn about his city and life in this article.
Living in an oppressive and unfair atmosphere might shape the minds and attitudes of people in a very negative way. However, for Mayor Purvis J. Morrison, growing up with his Father, Joseph Willis Morrison and Mother, Mary Grace Morrison, in a family with a rich Creole heritage, left him viewing the world in a colour-blind sort of manner. He recognizes the differences that existed in America, and in his hometown of Scott. That is not to say that he was blind to the colour of people’s skin or what it meant for their place in society. Instead, being colour blind meant he was able to look beyond skin, into the character and the heart of the person. Never one to be held back, Mayor Morrison worked hard for everything he has today, and that includes his political career.
A Brief History of Scott, Louisiana
The city of Scott is located just to the west of Lafayette, Louisiana, USA, in the state’s south-central bayous. This is Creole and Cajun country, not just in the state of Louisiana but in the whole of America. Scott was founded in 1880 by the railroad and named for J.B. Scott, the Superintendent of the Southern Pacific (railroad). This region of Louisiana is known as Lafayette Parish and the neighbouring city of Lafayette was, at the time, known as Vermillionville.
Farming was the primary occupation of the early settlers in the region, with the main crops of the day comprising cotton and sweet potatoes, with some farmers also growing corn for animal feed. Scott was not incorporated until the year 1904. By 1907 it had been granted a charter to provide for a local government, with a Mayor and Board of Aldermen. Dr. L.A. Prejean was the first to fill the vital leadership role as Mayor, but it would be nearly another century before the area was incorporated as a full-fledged city (1990). City of Scott is also known as “Where the West Begins”
Today, Scott, Louisiana, is best-known as the Boudin Capital of the World. For those that don’t know, Boudin has a major role to play in the Acadiana culture in this part of Louisiana. While Boudin dishes in general Creole culture consist largely of meat stuffed into balls or sold in sausage form, in this part of Louisiana the seafood Boudin is also a popular option. Many favoured seafood Boudin dishes include crab, shrimp, and rice.
Mr. Morrison is proud of his city’s status today as the Boudin Capital of the World. Give him a few minutes, and he’ll gladly tell you all about it too!
We became ‘The Boudin Capital of the World in 2012’. It all started with a conversation with our local tourist director. He basically said that I needed to ask our state legislators and the governor to give Scott the honour of becoming the Boudin Capital of the World. It is quite funny now as I can remember how I thought this was going to be easy, CLEARLY NOT!!!.
When the resolution was taken up on the house floor, we started to hear some push back from a few of our neighbouring cities. Why should Scott be named the Boudin Capital of the World, we also have good boudin! It was then that I realised how important it was to get this title for future economic growth for Scott and I was right. Since becoming the Boudin Capital, we have increased boudin sales by 1 million pounds per year and we now sell over 2 million pounds of this unbelievable sausage a year. We started a Boudin Festival in 2013 that has been very successful. We have compiled videos for production groups in New York, Europe and throughout the United States
Purvis J. Morrison was born and raised in the City of Scott. He is the only child from a family with a diverse background. He descends from a family with deep roots in the region, whose languages span the divide between English, French, and Creole tongues. His father and mother spoke both English and French, but his father’s family spoke only French. His mother’s side also spoke French, and he can recall the first time he brought his wife, Mary, home as his girlfriend to meet his family. Many of his older aunts and uncles were unable to communicate with her because they spoke French and knew little or no English.
The Mayor himself has the features of a Creole and has a Creole speaking accent. He tells the story of an interview he gave to some young college students who thought his nationality was Cuban. “I laughed about it and told the young ladies, no I am Creole”.
His family ties throughout the city of Scott was and is still, a history lesson. His father and mother had a grocery store, for 25 years, called Morrison Store. During the 1960s it was one of the areas where Creoles and African-Americans could shop. The store was hooked to the house for many years, so he learned how to wait on customers from a young age, as well as how to deal with money.
I grew up in the store. Growing up in the business, but not really knowing that this would play a big part in my life later, in business. I stayed in Scott all my life, I always loved Scott. I can still remember gravel road streets, blacksmith shops and other changes in the community. As I look at it today, I can see the changes that Scott has made though those years. As I grew into the community, I was definitely not interested in politics. I was just a boy growing up in a very small town never wanting to leave. In fact, I never have left Scott. Being the only child, I felt that it would not be good for me to leave my mother and my father, I felt I needed to stay and help them. For this I must thank my wife, Mary, she made it possible for me to stay and raise the family. Growing up in the store gave me an early lesson on how to communicate with people
The Morrison Store was one of the pivotal points in town. Eventually, everyone would shop and stop by and visit, no matter their race. It is here that Mayor Morrison believes his love for politics began. Around election time, the store became a common place that the candidates running for elected office would stop by and visit his parents and talk about community. “I always remember election day was like Christmas. It was always an exciting time”.
The Mayor’s grandfathers were also very much involved in being trend setters. Robert Morrison, his father’s dad, was the 3rd African American hired by the Lafayette Parish School Board as a bus driver. And his maternal grandfather, Frank Glaude, was the 2nd African American hired by the Lafayette Parish Sheriff Department to become a patrol officer.
I can only remember being very proud of my family. Watching my mother and father work and interact with everyone, no matter the colour or statues. Helping so many that might have been going through some tough times, I learnt a lot from them.
Purvis J. Morrison started his political career in Scott, facing what many told him was a significant uphill climb. He was running in Dist.2, an area with about 5% of the vote being African-Americans. As well as this, his opponent was a gentleman he knew and was a lifelong resident of Scott, just like Mr Morrison.
“A funny thing occurred the day of election. We were out and about trying to get the vote out and in the same process we were inviting people to come out to the victory party. Well, we would tell everyone to come out to the church hall to watch the voting results and have something to eat and of course we had some adult beverages. Then the strangest thing started to happen, people would tell me, Purvis you ran a good race, no matter what happens tonight, you did a great job and they would say, I could run next time. I would say no, I am going to win, come out tonight and help me celebrate, but I kept hearing the same thing like they were preparing me to lose.”
The future Mayor of Scott was optimistic though, and his faith told him something could change. As the results started to come in, people started to congregate and celebrate with him as they were able to see that he was going to win. Mr Morrison had secured himself a seat on the City Council. Even the gentleman who he had ran against called Mr Morrison to congratulate him. Mr Morrison then invited his opponent and his wife to come over and join the celebration, which they accepted. Mayor Morrison sees a town where everyone works together for the betterment of the whole city.
Mayor Morrison’s Creole ancestry sticks with him to this day, influencing his attitude and his behaviour in office, as a leader of the Scott community. He recognizes the hardships that those who came before him experienced, as they helped shape the town they lived in and change it for the better. Although he doesn’t believe those things held him back or coloured his view of things in Scott, he does recognize the changes his family members who came before him went through. As such, he admits that his success is gained only by standing on the shoulders of so many who came before him:
“I stand on so many shoulders, but the hardest part of my job is to make sure I don’t let those people down. They worked so hard to build their reputation up. When they walked into the streets or walked into the store people respected them. It is my duty not to be the one to be shaming them when I walk in the street. I tell it to the young people all the time. I tell it to fathers and mothers, build that legacy for your child to be proud about, so when they go down in the streets, guess what, they continue to be proud to bring their legacy with them. That’s what we have to do and that’s what the Creoles did. Very proud independent people”
Mayor Morrison married the love of his life, Mary Matthews Morrison. They have been married for 37 years and have three children, Shanea, Shelly and Shawn. Also, the Morrison’s have two granddaughters that they are trying very hard to spoil, Mary Grace and Sky Lynn.
Mary Morrison has to be celebrated, in her own right. Mary has accomplished many great things. She became the first African American female to serve on the Lafayette Consolidated Government of council when Mayor Morrison was elected. In 2013, Mary became the first African American female to be elected to the Lafayette Parish School Board, which she still is serving today.
Mary’s upbringing, in the little town of Erath, was very much the same as Mayor Morrison. She, as Purvis, at a young age, learned the process of work and how to communicate with people. Mayor Morrison will tell you that Mary had so much influence on him as they both were teenagers when they married.
“Mary demanded that I be a good father and husband.”
Mary’s Creole background stems from her grandfather’s mother who was a pure Indian. Mary remembers that her mother and grandparents would speak French, particularly when they did not want the children to know what they were speaking about.
Mary recalls, “We are examples for so many as we try to build self-esteem for everyone. Be the person that you are and have confidence in what you are doing and please, do not let people label you, label yourself and move forward”.
Message of Hope for a Brighter Future
Mayor Morrison won the election to become Scott’s Mayor following the retirement of the city’s previous incumbent of 25 years. Already in his third year as a Parish councilman, he debated on running for several days before ultimately deciding to throw in his hat. Today, Mayor Purvis J. Morrison is on his second term in office leading the city, and he is enjoying every minute of it. He can recall with fondness the moments when members of the community approach him on the street, simply to let him know that he’s doing a good job and should, “Keep doing what he’s doing!”
He recollects a similar message from his elders, when he was a young man. The older members of his family would tell him to stay focused, don’t get in trouble, and to just keep doing what he was doing. They encouraged him not to forget who he was and to remember his values. Those values would get him through, just as they had for others before him. Well, now the Mayor of Scott has a message for future generations, when their turn comes to take control of Scott and guide the city, and its Creole culture, forward. The words that come to mind are verbatim from his own father’s advice:
“To everyone. I guess it was something that my father used to tell me. You need to check yourself. Be truthful to yourself. Don’t live in a world of fantasy, of what you want to be. What would you want to be tomorrow? Look at the mirror today to see who you are. No one can guide you, but yourself. My dad used to tell me that when he’d see me getting out of hand. When he’d see me kind of branching off, he’d pull me to the side and tell me that you need to check yourself. Go and really look at what you’re doing, not what your wife’s doing, not what your children are doing, but how you are handling things.”
The influence of Creole culture runs deep in the city of Scott. From the Mayor, on down to everyday citizens in this community, a commitment to strong character and upstanding morals has helped this region of the American South move past its history to create a brighter future.