On the nine-hundred block of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive sits a cemetery. People pass it daily, and many don’t know that it is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the state of Louisiana. A small plaque notes that it was donated to the Natchitoches Society of Israelites by Sam Hyams in 1847, but that doesn’t even begin to symbolize the rich history that the site holds to the community of Natchitoches.
Candice Richardson has taken it upon herself to uncover the history of the now scarce Jewish community of Natchitoches and make sure that it is preserved to be remembered for as long as possible.
“I’m an avid historian, and I am especially an avid historian for my hometown. We have so much rich culture here, but it seems this piece of our history has been forgotten. Most people I talk to don’t even know we have a Jewish cemetery, much less the oldest one in the state,” Richardson says.
Richardson discovered the cemetery late last year, noticing that it was in poor condition. She says the grass was overgrown, trash littered the lot, and many of the headstones were in disrepair. She wanted to do something about it.
With the support of Agudath Achim synagogue in Shreveport, Candice has set out to organize a preservation and perpetual care project for the cemetery. With that, Candice has also teamed up with congregation member Elliot Goldman to catalog the cemetery.
Elliot Goldman wrote his thesis on the Natchitoches Jewish community in 1965 at Northwestern State University, and it serves as one of the only solid and comprehensive histories on the community in existence. As a team, they are working with the Cammie G. Henry Research Center to digitize Goldman’s thesis and make it into a book that would serve as the definitive resource available to all on the rich history of Jewish culture in Natchitoches.
Members of the Jewish community in not only Natchitoches but all over Northwest Louisiana are excited for the cemetery to be returned to its former glory. Richardson hopes to continue to unveil the history of the cemetery and keep its memory alive.
She says, “I really hope that we can make this happen. Natchitoches is home to two of the oldest cemeteries in the state. It is our responsibility to make it something great and not something that people pass by and say, ‘we have a Jewish cemetery?’”
If anyone has any information on the Jewish cemetery or community of Natchitoches, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org