Lafayette man desegregated movie theater in 1968 and paid a horrible price

Black History Month

LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — Hidden history has a way of bringing out the unsung heroes of our past, and tonight we are doing just that.

We introduce you to a Lafayette man who, during the civil rights era, single-handedly integrated movie theaters so Black people could go to the movies.

In 2012, Mr. Joseph Lawrence received recognition with the Distinguished Citizen’s Award for taking a stand against civil rights injustices and racism.

Former Lafayette City councilman Kenneth Boudreaux knows the man he calls a hero — a World War II Navy vet, a father who worked at a whites-only theatre in 1968.

“He decided on a Sunday to take it upon himself to desegregate the facility,” said Boudreaux.

Lawrence brought some Black USL students to the theatre who sat and watched a movie with white people — a first for Lafayette.

The bold move would come at a great price for Lawrence.

“He moonlighted as a mail carrier and a bomb was placed in his mail truck,” said Boudreaux. “It exploded. He had burns over 50% of his body and left him severely injured.”

But about three years later, Lawrence would recover to work again, this time as security at the popular Bayou Shadows Apartments, where decades later, he would retire.

He’ll be 92 in march.

“People have paid some major dues for us to get where we are,” said Boudreaux. “Somebody paved the way.”

We reached out to Lawrence and his family to talk to them and get more pictures to share with you, but they were unavailable.

Mr. Lawrence is fighting a health battle and his family asks that we keep them all in our prayers.

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