A tribute to the life and legacy of William Riley Sr. and the role he played in the survival of the rural Black familiesin Richland Parish, Louisiana which took place during post-bellum plantation period of the early twentieth century was held on Saturday, Feb. 6 at the St. Joe Missionary Baptist Church in Rhymes.William Riley made the successful transition from a tenant farmer on a large plantation in Richland Parish to an independent landowner. He broke the yokeofneo-plantation oppressionthatkept so many black families in poverty.
At age 90, Riley was quoted in a book chapter entitled “Up from the Plantation: The Survival of Rural Black Families of Northeastern Louisiana 1930s-1970,”authored by Dr. Frances Staten, that “it was through God’s blessings and his own self-determination and motivation that he decided to discontinue share cropping and living on land he did not own.”Eventually, he was able to purchase 120 acres of land.
Riley supported the education of his family. Although he himself had less than a high school education, six of his children were able to attend Grambling State University.
Due to his strong belief in God, education, and hard work, many ofthe children of his clan went on to achievegreat success. As stated by Dr. Frances Staten, professor of sociology at Grambling State University,
“The journey from the plantation… began with religious faith, hard work, familial support and achievements and continued with the education of their children, economic support from their children, and off-farm employment. These were the factors that contributed to the survival of these rural black families in their successful journey ‘up from the plantation’.”
Riley was a member of the Grambling State University Longevity Project and recently participated in the Power Shift energy conservation project. The current generations, the community and the country owe a deep debt of gratitude to William Riley Sr. for his contribution to humanity.
Mr. Riley was an active outstanding member of the community. He received many certificates and awards.
In 1953, he was named Farmer of the Year by Louisiana Chamber of Commerce, shareholder of Richland State Bank. He was also one of the first African American registered voters in Richland Parish, instrumental in registering many others, and participated in a GSU-led research project which studied the longevity and aging.
He received commendations from the city, state and the White House. He was pivotal in assisting African Americans in securing jobs in what were then all White establishments. He was indeed a respected and succesful farmer as well as a great humanitarian.