Reolan “Ray” Anderson lives and works in Scott, Louisiana and comes from a long line of hard-working men. He is a Master Craftsman extraordinaire and is still building and renovating property in the Scott locality and beyond, as well as designing and making unique furnishings and installing appliances. Kreol sat down with Ray who related his take on Creoles in Southern USA.
The Anderson family of Scott, LA, can be traced back to Peter Anderson, who was a retired and freed slave. Peter had several children, one of them was Louis Anderson Sr.
Brief History of the Anderson Family
The full story of Louis “Deh Deh” Anderson Sr will be told another time as it is a fascinating one. He was known as a man of integrity, but equally as a man you didn’t want to cross. Allegedly, even the whites in the community were somewhat in fear of him, which contributed to his success. Louis Anderson Sr. was a prominent landowner and was dedicated to improving and educating black children. He started his first school for black children at the end of 1800s and famously brought in two teachers from out of state, probably New York. He built his second school in the beginning of 1900s in Scott, LA. that became known as Anderson School. “Deh Deh” also built a Catholic church but it was later burnt to the ground.
The Family continued with Louis Anderson Jr, who had 9 children with his wife, Bernadette. Louis Anderson Jr was considered “A prince of a man”. He purportedly had striking blue eyes, stunningly blue, and it was inexplicable. Louis had an eccentric personality; he bought several Cadillacs and drove them only with white gloves.
One of Louis Anderson Jr’s sons, Clifton Anderson, married Ezola Anderson (Glaude) with whom he had 13 children. Clifton was a Master Carpenter. He built Churches, houses and commercial buildings, not forgetting, he also farmed. Clifton passed many of his skills to his children. Reol “Ray” Anderson, who was the middle of his siblings, inherited many of Clifton’s qualities.
Reolan Anderson – a true Master Craftsman
Reolan, or Ray as his friends call him, is now the senior member of his extensive family and is a direct descendant of a retired slave who was set free by his master. His great, great-grandfather was Peter Anderson and his father, Clifton, was a Master Carpenter, working in the same locality.
Ray has followed in his father’s footsteps. Today, Ray Anderson is a 71-year-old retiree. Well, semi-retired if you ask him:
“I do very little, I’m semi-retired but I’m a builder and I’m a very good builder. There were things I do that you would not think a mortal man do. I do a lot of things by myself. I’ve got two other men working for me. I lay bricks, I do concrete, I do carpentry, electrical, plumbing, glass work, and I weld. There’s nothing you can name that I don’t do except fly an aeroplane, I can’t fly an aeroplane, I don’t know how, but anything else I can do it, and do it well.”
Ray can literally turn his magical hands to any task and create something wonderful from virtually nothing. He has a well-deserved reputation within the Scott area for coming up with the solutions that people need, whether it’s extending or building new homes or buildings, or fabricating one-off furniture to suit the specifications and needs of his clients.
Indeed, Ray can create such magic with his original visions and designs (not forgetting those craftsman’s hands) that locals say that everything he touches turns to gold. He’s truly a one-off in Scott and it’s not difficult to understand why he just cannot take retirement. Life is too exciting for him at present and there are so many exclusive jobs he’s invited to do that he finds it difficult to turn them down and take time out for himself.
It’s easy to see why he has such a good reputation locally because clients know that he will tackle all aspects of jobs and will never leave his projects unfinished. If he doesn’t know how to do a task he will figure out a way using his own ingenuity and the knowledge gained from a lifetime of learning and working in the building and construction trade.
Ray is quite reticent and won’t boast about the work he does, but examples in the locality prove just how fantastic he is at working with his hands. Although he is 71 years, he recently completely built a house from the ground up. But this was not just a shell property, he also fabricated all of the furniture inside the home, including fitted kitchen units, walk-in wardrobes and a luxurious bathroom.
Growing up in Southern Louisiana
Ray grew up working the farms with his family in Louisiana, and then 24 years of his life working on appliances for General Electric, making a good living for himself.
Growing up in southern Louisiana, the Anderson family made a living as farmers. Peter Anderson eventually acquired land for farming from a white man, which he passed on to his son, Louis Anderson Sr., (Ray’s great-grandfather). In a warm, low voice, Ray recalls: “My great grandfather, I learnt from him, he taught me how to live. There’s a way to live and my great grandfather made money back when there were no blacks making money. He made money. He taught me, ‘When you wake up in the morning you learn something new as many times a day as you possibly can. Learn how to do it, learn how to do it right and keep doing it right’.”
For much of his childhood, Ray spent time working hard on the land, learning from his great-grandfather and his grandfather, Louis Anderson Jr.
Ray may be 71, but he recalls those early days as if it was yesterday:
“I stayed with my great-grandfather in the last three years of his life. I was the one that was selected to spend a night with him because he was ill, and he was kind of mean, actually he was very mean. I got to spend a lot of time with this old character. I’d come home, do my chores, do my work, in the fields and around the yard and then I had to go to see Pipa, that’s what we called him, Pipa. I would stay the night and the next morning go to school. It was the same routine every day of the week.
It was unusual, to say the least, for a black family in America to run their own farm and control their own destiny in 19th century America. The Anderson family owned modest lands in the area and raised cattle and various other animals. As Ray recalls, “The family raised hogs, chickens, ducks, and turkeys in addition to cattle”. His job on the family farm was to move the cattle from one grazing ground to the next. He notes that it was no easy job.
Louis Anderson Sr. may have been a mean man, but he was a tough guy. Ray’s great-grandfather died in possession of more than 3,000 acres of land. When he passed on, his kids received that land divided evenly amongst them. Hard work and routine were the backbone of the Anderson family and their farming. Those routines taught Ray the value of application to work that would help him succeed in his own right in the future.
Recognizing the Differences
Creole cultures are found throughout the Caribbean Sea off the coasts of North and South America, from Trinidad and Tobago in the south to St. Lucia, Dominica, Martinique, and Haiti as you move northward along the Leeward Island chain. Even on mainland North America, you’ll find Creole people whose heritage features Native American, Italian, Irish, Spanish, Caribbean, and French backgrounds.
In America, the most famous Creole societies are those found in the southern state of Louisiana. Here, Creole and Cajun people have lived for decades. Often the popular culture of America confuses Cajun with Creole, using the terms interchangeably, when really Cajuns and Creoles are different people. As some people see it, Creoles in America exist in a state of limbo. Not entirely white, but not entirely black. Their acceptance by white and black Americans often differs in strange ways.
According to Ray, the Creole people of his day were slightly misunderstood by modern individuals:
“At that time, the Creole culture was misunderstood. We were more accepted by the whites than we were by the blacks, because there were as many prejudiced blacks as there were whites. Even today there’s still a lot of prejudiced blacks that don’t consider you part of the heritage or part of their culture. It’s hard, it is as if we have no identity, we don’t belong anywhere, that’s so true and I lived that.”
America in the 1960s and 1970s was a place of cultural upheaval. After more than a century of freedom, Americans of darker skin tones were still left to lead segregated lives from white Americans. They couldn’t use the same restroom facilities, drink from the same fountains, or eat in the same sections of the restaurant as white Americans.
Ray offers a perfect example from his own childhood, one he shares frequently with his children and grandchildren:
“We wanted a hamburger, we had to go around the back. If you wanted a cold drink from a bar or something, you had to go around the back. In a black club, we couldn’t even walk in there. We could go to only few white clubs.
Back in the early sixties when integration finally started coming out, my younger sister and brothers were some of the first ones to go to white schools. They had to be guarded every day of the week. Oh yeah, they had to be guarded going to school and had to be guarded coming out and through the day in school.”
Ray recalls one difference between Creoles and Cajuns in Louisiana when he was growing up. While Creole cultures in other parts of the world represent the fishermen of communities, in Louisiana the Cajuns ruled the bayous and backwaters of the state.
Ray recalls: “Back when I was a little boy, we got to go fishing on the banks, the only person who had a boat or did any real fishing was white. They wouldn’t invite you to go fishing with them, but they would easily come and ask you, ‘Would you clean that fish?’.”
Reolan Anderson has persevered over the years. He and his wife, “Verna Lee (Olivier) Anderson, who sadly passed away in 2006, raised two boys, Reolan Patrick Anderson Jr and Shannon Paul Anderson Sr who have blessed them with five grandkids. Grandkids, Reolan notes, are the key to his heart. He raised his children to live life in this society in the same way he was raised. Keep working and trying and get that routine down.
We asked Ray is he had a wish, what would it be? He replied: “To see my kids and grandkids to be happy, healthy and wise”
As for Ray’s message to Kreol readers, it is quite clear: “Learn, try to learn as much as you possibly can, learn it well and know it, so when somebody ask you something about it, you can tell them exactly what it takes to make it go.”