DONALDSONVILLE, La. (WAFB) - If you’ve ever driven through the historic district of Donaldsonville, you’ve probably passed by the old True Friends Hall.
There’s no doubt this building has seen better days, in fact, it used to be the hub, safe haven, and community gathering place for Donaldsonville’s African American community.
Lifelong resident of Donaldsonville, Roy Quezaire Jr., was a member of the True Friends Mutual Benevolent Association. He remembers standing on crates to see dances when the stage was still in use. He’s now helping to preserve the special place.
“It was that helping hand here in this community. If a family needed assistance with getting their prescriptions filled, they needed any other type of medications, if they needed assistance with going to pay for their doctors visits, the True Friends stepped up," Quezaire recalled.
Benevolent societies were self-help groups created during a time when African Americans couldn’t get insurance or mutual aid, so they mobilized and helped themselves.
The True Friends Hall was also a hub for up-and-coming artists including Fats Domino.
Darryl Hambrick, interim director and co-founder of the River Road African American Museum, said members of the True Friends had to apply and were held to a strict standard.
“If you were a musician and you were making your way into New Orleans or into the world of music that would be a good place for you to start and get your performances down," Hambrick said.
“The meetings were conducted to parliamentary procedure and the whole nine yards. It was just awesome as a youth to experience this and become part of it because they dotted the 'I’s, crossed the 'T’s,” Quezaire said.
The space has deteriorated over time and isn't currently being used.
“The history here is the same history that you would find on the other side of the river and up and down the river," Hambrick said. "Those families were connected. They came to Donaldsonville to shop. There were movie theaters, there was a cultural Mecca for that time and period. After the interstate was built across the river and traffic began to move to the east bank, Donaldsonville began to slowly decline, but leaving remnants of a wonderful existence from the past.”
It’s a past they’re now working to preserve. They hope to raise money at the 25-year Anniversary River Road African American Museum Gala to help restore multiple historical buildings in the community.