By Paul Y. Burns, August 14, 2008
Bienville House Center for Peace and Justice traces its origin to the summer of 1978, when the Center for Disarmament Education was formed in Baton Rouge to foster peace and justice by supporting world nuclear disarmament. Two years later, because of its close ties with churches, CDE decided to affiliate with Clergy and Laity Concerned, a national network of local peace and justice groups. In 1981 CDE was awarded 501© 3 status by the IRS. The first of eight successive Executive Directors was employed.
Projects in the early years involved working with area churches on peace issues and sponsorship of public meets on the arms race. Connections between world hunger and militarism were stressed. Clothing, food, and medicine for Nicaraguan flood relief were collected, and literature was distributed at the Post Office. CDE provided leadership for the Louisiana Nuclear Freeze Campaign and cooperated with other peace and justice groups. Resolutions were adopted deploring the death penalty and asking for removal of nuclear weapons from South Korea and U.S. troops from Lebanon. Extensive media coverage was obtained. A newsletter to members and others interested in peace and justice was sent out periodically.
In 1983 a series of meetings were held on a number of peace and justice topics, including the Sanctuary Movement. An annual ecumenical worship service was begun commemorating the atomic bombs dropped on Japan by the U.S. during WW II. The invasion by the U.S. of Grenada was opposed. A nonviolent Alternatives Lending Library was established in CDE’s office in 1984. Alternative Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations were encouraged. Brochures were distributed at post offices in honor of Dr. M.L. King, Jr. Workshops were held on nonviolence, militarism, and Central America.
In 1985 CDE merged with a new group forming at CDE’s office, located in a house at 546 Bienville St., and in February 1986 the new group became “Bienville House Center for Peace and Justice: a Member of the Clergy and Laity Concerned Network.”
Hiroshima Day worship services were continued in the late 1980s. Aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, apartheid, Star Wars, the bombing of Libya, nuclear arms, and reduction of human services in Louisiana were opposed in meetings and in news media. The group studied the psychology of peacemaking. A professional play about Harriet Tubman was sponsored at LSU. Alternative Christmas gifts were sold. Concern for the environment was expressed, particularly as pollution affected low-income persons in Louisiana. Peacemaking Awards (named for the late Wade Mackie) were presented annually. Tax Day protests were initiated. Voter registration reform was advocated. Support was given to Central Americans by hosting Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees. Caravans of Pastors for Peace vehicles headed for Cuba were hosted in Baton Rouge, and continuing until the present.
In the 1990s peace essay contests for high-school students were sponsored. Programs were held on a variety of peace and justice issues, including women’s and human rights, the homeless, the environment, peacemaking in families and communities, racism, Native Americans, Central America, Cuba, Russia, Japan, and Bosnia. Hiroshima/Nagasaki services, Alternative Gift Sales, and annual peacemaking awards were continued. Vigils for Peace were held to protest the Persian Gulf War. Periodic mailings of newsletters were continued. Holiday Open Houses in December were begun in 1984, with speakers on timely topics, and Silent Auctions as fundraisers. Bienville House dropped its affiliation with CALC in 1996. In 1999 the group’s focus was on the campaign to ban land-mines. It sent eight persons to a Peace March in Washington protesting NATO bombings in Kosovo. In 2000 Bienville House cosponsored the Fast for Tax Justice, helped finance students who protested the School of the Americas and the International Monetary Fund’s human rights record, cosponsored the Million Mom March in Washington demanding tighter gun control laws, cosponsored an intern to assist rural Nicaraguan health clinics, held social justice meetings and public forums, and protested in letters to newspaper editors the death penalty and landmines. In the period 2001-2007 Bienville House held candlelight vigils for those killed in the Iraq War, hosted speakers, and met jointly with the Coalition Against War and Injustice. A cosponsored forum at LSU on the Iraq War was attended by more than 1,000 persons.
Executive directors of CDE and later Bienville House in order of service include Victor Sachse, Steve Friesen, Tom Smith, Jim Stovall, Judy Pennington, Marion Selbin, Luther “Skip” Gladney, and Jann Briesacher, who resigned in October 1996. Presidents in order have been Herbert Rothschild, Jr., Ann Coco, Brenda Broussard, Randy Nichols, Diana Dorroh, Eleanor Canon, J. Robert “Bob” Dorroh. Beryl Hebert, Mary Sloan Baugh, Tom Gess, and Paula Henderson. Peacemaking awards have been made to Lilith Quinlan, Hoyt Oliver, Herbert Rothschild, Margaret St. Amant, Joel Selbin, Paul Y. & Kathleen Burns, Sisters of St. Joseph, Richard & Holley Haymaker, Hilda Arndt, Sr. Helen Prejean, Gertrude Meyers, J.D. DeBlieux, Tom & Kathy Gess, Roberta Madden., Paula Henderson & Robert Reich, Wm. P. “Bill” Quigley, Malik Rahim, and J .Philip Woodland.