Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ponchatoula, Louisiana First Black Mayor

Rev. Arthur Tasker, Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana
Submitted to the USGenWeb Archives by Sandra McLellan, Jan. 2006
Special thanks to Jim Perrin for donating it to the archives.

Copyright.  All rights reserved.



BY JIM PERRIN, Local Historian

Four years of bitter fighting during the War Between the States ended in 1865 with the defeat of the southern Confederacy and the subsequent emancipation of former slaves now called "Freedmen."  The years following the end of the war were difficult ones for Southerners.  A new relationship between the Freedman and the 
more numerous white population had to be established during a period of economic 
distress, military occupation, and turbulent political upheavals.

Fortunately for Ponchatoula men of good judgment and character came forward to make 
this period of transition less traumatic than in many other areas of the Deep South. 
The most prominent of Ponchatoula's Freedmen during the Reconstruction period was 
Rev. Arthur Tasker.

Arthur Tasker was born ca. 1829-1835 in Virginia or Maryland.  Prior to the War 
Between the States, he was a slave of the Widow McCarroll and lived about three 
miles from Ponchatoula.  As a slave he was hired out and worked for different 
people including frequently working for William Akers, who lived at the edge of the 
new town of Ponchatoula.  With the defeat of the Confederacy, Tasker and the other 
slaves were now freemen, although they entered their new life of freedom with 
little or no education and possessed of no property to call their own.

Freedom also meant freedom of religion, and Tasker began to preach the Gospel to 
the freedmen in and around Ponchatoula.  Under his leadership like minded 
Christians held services and organized a church on 12 October 1867.  Tasker's 
congregation was part of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion.

As Rev. Tasker's church family slowly grew in size so did his personal family.  He 
had married Sarah ________ (b. ca. 1840 in Virginia) perhaps during the war as 
their oldest child Mary was born about 1863.  The 1870 lists their other children 
as David, age 5, Clinton, age 2, and little Harriet, who was born in Jan. 1870.  By 
1880, Arthur and Sarah Tasker had been blessed with the addition of three more 

Sometime after the war Rev. Tasker and his congregation built a small church, that 
was also used as a school on the public square that is now called Kiwanis Park.  
The church was already in existence there in August 1873, when Rev. Tasker and his 
church members petitioned for and received permission from the town leaders to 
purchase half the public square for $25.  A Ponchatoula council meeting two months 
later in Oct. 1873 confirmed that the town had some years previously donated the 
square for the use of the church; and a church building, school, and cemetery were 
then present.  The papers donating the square were said to be lost by Oct. 1873 so 
the exact date of the donation of the square to the church is uncertain.

In September 1873, Rev. Tasker became mayor of Ponchatoula succeeding Eldred J. 
White, Sr.  He served as mayor for the rest of 1873 and through the spring of 1874, 
and probably even longer.  There is a gap of about three years in the town's minute 
books from May 1874 until June 1877, so it is not known who was mayor during this 
period.  Reconstruction formally ended in Louisiana in the spring of 1877 as 
Federal troops were withdrawn from the state.  William Akers was the mayor of 
Ponchatoula in June 1877 when the extant town records resumed and Rev. Tasker was 
serving on the town council.  Rev. Tasker resigned from the council at the 
beginning of 1878.

When the census was conducted in 1880, Rev. Tasker, Sarah, and the family were 
living in Ponchatoula.  Parish land records indicate that Rev. Tasker's family 
lived just north of Pine Street near Duncan's Branch which is west of the present 
Gabriel's store site.  Included on the 1880 census report with the family was their 
son William Clinton Tasker, and daughters Levina, Amma, Lois, and Augusta.  William 
Clinton Tasker continued in his father's footsteps, serving on the Ponchatoula town 
council in 1888, and also being a leader of his church.  Clinton was one of nine 
trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion, in Ponchatoula who 
negotiated the purchase of a square block of land in town for the establishment of 
a new and enlarged church in 1895.  Clinton Tasker married about 1888 to Martha 
______, and started his own family.  They moved to New Orleans by 1900, and among 
their four children at that time was their first born son, appropriately named 
Arthur Tasker.

It is not known if Rev. Arthur Tasker lived to see the birth of his grandson and 
namesake in April 1889.  Rev. Tasker was alive in August 1887 when he assisted his 
wife in the sale of some property in Ponchatoula, but his exact death date is not 
known to this writer.  At his death, Rev. Tasker was buried in the cemetery next to 
the church he had founded in the square. 

Rev. Arthur Tasker, a man whose faith led his congregation through difficult times, 
and advanced the goal of having a united Ponchatoula, is today memorized by a 
marker near his grave site in the park, the naming of a playground for him, and 
most importantly a living memorial in the Tasker Chapel Memorial Church which 
carries forth his good works.

Anyone with comments, questions, or additional information about Ponchatoula's 
rich heritage may call Jim Perrin at 386-4476.