This pastor is one of the most fascinating figures in Ouachita Parish history. He was born into slavery. He became one of the most trusted servants in the home he was forced to serve in. After freedom came, he was one of the very few former slaves who could read and write. He founded schools in Ouachita parish as well as served on the School Board at a time when his people were denied many of their rights. He felt called to the ministry and ended up founding many churches which still exist today. His daughter helped found one of the best colleges in the state and when he died, his funeral was overflowing with people of both races. Let me tell you about the Rev. William G. “Billy” Head.
Louisiana Road Trips Magazine, September, 2015
Rev. William G. Head: Forgotten Educator, Church Planter and Civil Rights Pioneer
Back in June, I was documenting burials in Hasley cemetery for the website Findagrave.com. I like to add as much information as I can find to the memorials I create. I had created a memorial back in 2012 for a little four and a half year old girl named Ada R. Head. I then decided to update this little girl’s memorial. As I began to figure out who her parents were, I was astonished at what I uncovered about her Daddy, who was referred to in his lifetime as “Uncle Billy”. He was a former slave who was self-educated. He founded schools and taught in them. He was a church planter who bridged races and classes at a violent and turbulent time in our history. When a bell was stolen a week later in front of one of the churches he founded, I took it as a sign to tell about this forgotten hero.
William was born into slavery on a plantation owned by the Martha Head family in Mississippi circa September, 1848. The family moved to Ouachita Parish in 1858 and he was sent to serve J.P. Crosley, who was a son-in-law of the Head family. You can see a child that may be him on the 1850 Winston County, MS Slave Schedule and the 1860 Ouachita Parish Slave Schedule under Martha Head and J.P. Crosley respectively. His obituary states he was the personal attendant of Captain J.P. Crosley. It also states that he did not desert Crosley when the Union army came to the area and he actually hid Crosley’s horse in the swamp so the troops wouldn’t take it. He continued to live with the Crosley family after the war and can be seen in their household (1870 Ouachita Parish Census) listed as a household servant.
Rev. Head convinced a white teacher in Trenton to teach him reading and writing. He later attended school to learn arithmetic. Soon after, he felt the calling to go into ministry and was trained at a seminary near Gibsland. When the Negro Baptist Association of Louisiana organized, Rev. Head was the only member who could read and write. Because of this, he was elected President and Secretary of the association. He was a founder and president of the Gum Springs Baptist Association.
Rev. Head served as pastor of Mt. Zion and Zion Traveler churches at Ruston, Mt. Avery church at Spencer and Mt. Pisgah church at Spearsville. He was pastor of Trenton [Missionary] Baptist Church in Trenton, LA (now West Monroe) for 50 years up until his passing. It was this church whose bell was stolen. The bell was most likely installed under the supervision of Rev. Head himself.
Rev. Head was prominent in education as well. He helped found Coleman College at Gibsland and the Ruston Institute. He taught school in Ouachita Parish and he served as Secretary of the Ouachita Parish School Board for several years. When he was elected to the School Board in 1877, it was reported in newspapers all over the state.
Rev. Head married Mary Jennette “Jennie” Amos in Ouachita Parish in 1875. They were the parents of eight children. Seven of them were: Ada R., Octavia Elnora, William H., Daniel T., Isaac N., Lorenzo H. and Etta Lee. Their daughter Octavia took after her Father and went into the education field. She married J.S. Clark and the two were founders of Southern University. A local elementary school bears the name of her husband.
Rev. Head died at home in West Monroe at 2:45 am the morning of July 29, 1930. His obituary was published in the News-Star. His funeral was largely attended by both white and black at the church he pastored for fifty years (Trenton Baptist). The church could not hold them all. His body was taken to Hasley cemetery where he was lovingly buried.
I went out to Hasley cemetery and found the broken little headstone of his daughter Ada who started me on this journey. I noticed that not very far away from her spot under a tree were the graves of her Daddy’s former slave owners, the Heads and the Crosleys. Nearby is the tomb of another educator, Morris Henry Carroll, whose name needs no explanation. It is my firm belief that Rev. Head and his wife Jennie rest there too, near their daughter in unmarked graves. May his memory and legacy live on.