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Document of the Month Page

Begun in April of 2012, Document of the Month highlights interesting documents, photographs, and other images from the holdings of the Louisiana State Archives. This page features documents for the current year. To see documents for prior years, click on the links below.

Willie Francis Death Certificate, 1947

(5/1/18) This month's document is the death certificate of Willie Francis, a teenaged African American who is believed to be the first survivor of a failed execution by electrocution in the United States. Francis was convicted of the murder of Andrew Thomas, a pharmacy owner in St. Martinville, and sentenced to death. In the first attempt to electrocute him, the chair failed, and was later found to be improperly set up by a drunken prison guard and inmate. His case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but rejected. Francis was returned to the electric chair on May 9, 1947, and successfully executed. His death certificate (Louisiana State Archives, Statewide Deaths, 1947, vol. 6, #482) indicates that the was born in St. Martinville in 1929, the son of Frederick Francis and Louise Taylor. Two books, a documentary, and a novel are based on the life and death of Willie Francis.

death certificate

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Robert Tallant Death Certificate, 1957

(4/1/18) Robert Tallant was a New Orleans writer noted for his short stories and articles of local interest. He worked as an editor for the Louisiana Writers' Project of the WPA, during which time he completed the writing of Gumbo Ya-Ya, a compilation of Louisiana folklore. His 1951 The Pirate Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans won the Louisiana Library Association award for the best book of that year. In 1952 his revision of the New Orleans City Guide was published by Houghton Mifflin. During the last years of his life, Tallant lectured in English at Newcomb College and worked as a reporter for the New Orleans Item. He died in New Orleans 1 April 1957. His obituary in The Times Picayune described him as "a writer of unique abilities that fit perfectly his unique setting." His death certificate featured here identifies his parents as James Tallant, a native of New Orleans, and Lucy Magruder, a native of Louisiana. The original is on file at the Louisiana State Archives (Orleans Deaths, 1957, vol. 0, #2310). His papers are available at the New Orleans Public Library.

death certificate

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Mose "Toots" Johnson Death Certificate, 1928

(3/1/18) Mose "Toots" Johnson was a well-known Baton Rouge band leader of the early 1900s. While in his 20s, he founded a two-piece orchestra consisting of himself on the banjo and Little William on the harmonica. They played for dances of the lower river country and became much in demand. Eventually, they added a third member on the cornet. References to Toots Johnson's orchestra are found in the Baton Rouge newspaper throughout the 1920s. He fell ill a year before his death, but his orchestra played on. According to his death certificate, featured as this month's document, Mose Johnson died on Liberty Street in Baton Rouge on the 26th of March 1928. He was 54 years old, a bandmaster, and the son of James Johnson of Baton Rouge and Martha Sanford of Clinton. He was buried in Sweet Olive Cemetery. (Louisiana State Archives, Statewide Deaths, 1928, vol. 8, #3355). Upon his death, the Baton Rouge Chief of Police eulogized Toots as a generous contributor to charity, always willing to perform at charitable events. A related document regarding his funeral charges appears as the November 2017 Document of Month.

death certificate

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Old New Orleans

(2/1/18) In recognition of New Orleans' Tricentennial, this month's document is a photograph featuring the Café Du Monde, an historic coffee house on Decatur Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The corner of Jackson Square can be seen to the left. The photo is undated, but appears to be from around the 1930s or 1940s. The photo was taken by John B. Gasquet and can be found in the J. Dawson and Mark Cordes Gasquet Collection: 1920-1970 (Image 21C 1, Accession N1993-28), at the Louisiana State Archives. It is reproduced here with the permission of the Louisiana State Archives.

Jackson Square

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Jack Teagarden Death Certificate, 1964

(1/1/18) Jack Weldon Teagarden was a jazz trombonist and singer. Born in Texas in 1905, he came from a musical family and learned to play many musical instruments at a young age. As a professional musician, he played with Louis Armstrong and many notable band leaders. He also formed his own orchestras and had a successful recording career. Teagarden fell ill during a Christmas Eve performance in New Orleans and died there on January 15, 1964. His remains were flown to Los Angeles for burial in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills. This month's document is his death certificate from the Louisiana State Archives (Orleans Deaths, 1964, vol. 0, #406).

death certificate

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