Among the blighted properties and dilapidated storefronts through old South Baton Rouge is a house on Terrace with a storied history.
“This house was more than the big house on Terrace Street that has seemingly anchored the survival of this community” said Hedi Butler. “At least I’d like to think so” she said.
At a time when it was difficult for black physicians to practice medicine and even harder for black people to seek medical treatment, Dr. Leo S. Butler- a two time graduate of Howard University- built the house in 1927; using it not only as his family’s home, but a community hospital and a place for healing and promise.
“Where the master bedroom is now was his treatment area, his waiting area, a whole set up” explained Hedi. “People looked at it and saw a symbol of black achievement, but black achievement from very humble beginnings” she said.
Two of Dr. Butler’s daughters, Hedi and Jean, know the humble beginnings from which their family came; poor, yet determined to succeed, and they had their parents home as the perfect example of what could be.
“They hosted a lot of politicians, prominent people who would come into the city… it was always not just a family home but a place that was made in service to the community” Hedi said.
As time and history would have it, the neighborhood started to change. Gentrification and white flight led to a shift in the neighborhood’s makeup. As the Butler’s watched things around them change, Dr. Butler had one simple ask- more like a demand- for his family.
“‘Now listen kid, we’re going to stay in this neighborhood and stay in this house’ remembers Dr. Butler’s eldest daughter, Jean Smith. “As long as I’m living, I can never go anywhere else” she laughed.
Fairleigh Jackson is the executive director of Preserve Louisiana and she’s worked with the Butler family and other community partners to help keep the family’s story alive.
“I think the bigger picture here is that we’re telling a story, a legacy here of a family that is multigenerational” Jackson said.
Just last month, 93 years after Dr. Butler built the big house on Terrace, the home became a local landmark preserving it’s space and history in Baton Rouge for generations to come.
“We’re trying to do what has to be done to let everyone know the stories and to let people know that the pride is still here” said Brittany Zeno with the Old South Baton Rouge Economic Redevelopment Group. “Doing what needs to be done so that we are able to push forward knowing what our community once was and what we know that it can be” she said.
A future that’s rooted in a strong and resilient past.
“The blighted properties, the storefronts gone and everything… look at them as a symbol of the past and what could be” said Hedi Butler. “Phoenix like inspiration for development” she said.
For more information on designating spaces as local landmarks, visit Preserve Louisiana here.