Historical marker to tell history of Ponchatoula's first Black mayor
Rev. Arthur Tasker's life and work will be honored on Tangipahoa's first historical marker recognizing the contribution of an African American.
It was in early 2023 when Ponchatoula City Councilwoman Roslind Batiste (District B) contacted Antoinette Harrell, president of Untold History Foundation LLC., to see if she would be willing to speak during Black History Month at the city’s upcoming council meeting. After accepting the invitation, Harrell suggested Batiste highlight local African American figures who have contributed significantly to Tangipahoa communities over the course of their lives.
To that, Batiste agreed and showed no hesitation in bringing forth and pledging her support for the Foundation’s proposal to have a national historical marker in honor of Ponchatoula’s first Black Mayor the Rev. Arthur Tasker.
In May, the committee submitted the formal application to the State of Louisiana Office of Tourism requesting the historical marker be placed in Kiwanis Park. Today, the committee and city leaders await final approval.
“This is a historic moment for Ponchatoula, and it signifies a new beginning for the city. Ponchatoula is a city with an extremely rich heritage, and we are proud to pay tribute to it. I am happy for our progress as a city, said Batiste. " It is our commitment to preserving Ponchatoula's rich history that makes the City of Ponchatoula one of the greatest cities in Tangipahoa Parish. I am happy for all the progress the committee has made so far," said Batiste.
According to Harrell this will be the first historical marker to honor the contributions of an African American in Tangipahoa parish. Although the city has a Tasker’s Memorial Park on North Forth Street, the Kiwanis Park sits on property previously owned by the former mayor and it is also his burial site. Mayor Bobby Zabbia expressed his gratitude and support to Harrell and the committee for their efforts to have Tasker’s historical marker.
Tasker was born a slave in the state of Virginia between the years of 1829 and 1835. After the Civil War in 1863, Tasker was freed and Tasker began preaching the Gospel to the newly freed enslaved people during Reconstruction. He was one of the founders of Tasker African Methodist Episcopal Zion Chapel. The church is the oldest AME church in Ponchatoula. It was used as one of the earliest schools to educate Black Americans.
From 1873 to 1874, he served as the first African American mayor of Ponchatoula. During the years following slavery, education was one of the most important components in the progression of African Americans in the United States. Prior to the Civil War, it was illegal for slaves to learn to read or write. Many African Americans sought an education after the Civil War and as a result of the abolition of slavery in an effort to improve their living conditions and opportunities after that period. There was no doubt that Tasker realized the importance of education for the newly freed in order to make advancements in life.
Tasker was a politician who played an essential role in assisting newly freed slaves through his civic and educational duties. In the aftermath of slavery's abolishment, Tasker's works was instrumental to the Reconstruction of Tangipahoa Parish after the Civil War. In the South, slavery was regarded as one of the gravest injustices.
“Preserving our history is not just about the past, it is also about the future. By understanding our history, we can make better decisions in the present and shape a better future. It is through the preservation of our history that we can continue to learn and grow as a society,” said Eddie Ponds, Untold History Foundation board member and founding publisher of The Drum. He championed Harrell’s idea for the marker and assisted in establishing a committee to implement a plan for placement and funding.
Ponchatoula historian James Morris Perrin joined the committee. He is the author of Home Town Ponchatoula Community History of Ponchatoula, Louisiana and his research on Tasker saved countless hours of research time.
“One of the key aspects of historic preservation is conducting thorough research to understand the historical significance of a place. Overall, Perrin's knowledge and expertise in historic preservation made him an excellent choice for this project related to historic preservation,” said Harrell. “James is committed to ensuring that the cultural heritage and historical significance of Ponchatoula are preserved for future generations,” said Harrell.
She said the Untold History Foundation’s board plans to have other historic markers placed through out the parish.