Without a doubt, the most evil person I ever came into contact with was Judge Leander Perez. I was raised a Catholic, and while in grade school my family lived in Belle Chasse, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. During the winter of 1954/55, I was attending Saturday confirmation classes at our small church. The confirmation photo has 48 of us in it, 47 white and one black. Our parish was considered a missionary parish I guess, because we always had foreign priests show up to say mass and attend to all the church business. We had lots of eastern Europeans as I recall…Czechoslovakians, Hungarians, and others with very heavy accents, even the occasional Mary knoll priest fresh from some tropical jungle in their white attire.
There were two black children from somewhere down toward Jesuit Bend or beyond that attended classes. They always sat in the back and never spoke to anyone and eventually were completely ignored, which in hind sight, was remarkable since south Louisiana in 1955 was completely segregated…COMPLETELY, and unless you grew up with this you can’t possibly understand how unique this situation was.
Anyway, on a very cold and rainy winter day, after class, the priest loaded all of us that didn’t have a ride home onto the small bus and we started down the highway. I know we couldn’t have gone more than a mile or so when a state trooper pulled us over to the side of the highway. A large black sedan stopped in front of the State Police vehicle and Judge Perez got out in the rain accompanied by yet another State Trooper, walked back to the bus and beat on the door with his cane and screamed at the priest to open the door. The priest, who I recall as Hungarian, was terrified and opened the door. Judge Perez climbed on the bus, hollering and yelling at the priest to get those, in his words, ‘negroes’ off the bus immediately. The poor priest tried to talk to Perez, who only got louder and started slamming his cane against the floor and the top of the back of the driver’s seat.
Sadly, the two black children were removed from the bus by a Louisiana State Trooper and Perez gave the order that they were to be made to walk home and the State Police were to follow them and make sure they didn’t get a ride. It was many miles to where they lived.
My heart sunk looking out via the window and watching their sad faces, and then the distance increased more and more, and they were reduced to dots in the horizon.
I don’t recall seeing them again and am surprised every time I look at that graduation photo to see that lone black face. I am sure one of our missionary priests made an arrangement for her to be confirmed.
That was 58 years ago and I still remember it like it was yesterday. I even dream about this incident several times a year and wake up feeling as sorry for those two children now as I did then. This was the only truly traumatic event in my life as far as impact on my life is concerned and to this day I am unable to pass judgment on any person unless and until they give me a reason to do so. I may not approve of how you act, or speak, or look, but that is your burden to bear and as long as you leave me and mine alone, you are good to go.