I thought this would be a very appropriate story for Valentine’s Day! Back in 2008, I found a forbidden love story, involving one of the most important families in Ouachita Parish history. I did not want to offend the family involved, but I really wanted to share the story since it was so beautiful and tragic. I wrote the story for Louisiana Road Trips, but with names changed. Shortly after, I get a phone call from a local history buff. “Loved your story on Roland and Inez!” How in the world did you know? “Oh, I have known about it for years. The family wants to know all about it and BTW, I have photos of Inez and the kids!” Needless to say, I was blown away! Here is the article I wrote, but with their correct names restored.
It was the late 1890’s in New Orleans. Roland Filhiol, a descendant of one of Monroe’s earliest founders, was seeing the sights in the city. Mardi Gras was in full swing, and the wealthy men and women of Louisiana were here to join the fun. Roland needed a place to stay. He was told of a gentlemen’s boarding house on Bourbon Street, above the shop of one of the most famous carnival costumers in New Orleans and a few doors down from the French Opera. The boarding house was run by Inez Schmidt, the daughter of a Jewish merchant. Richard was enchanted with the dark-eyed, creamy skinned woman as soon as he walked in the door. Over the weeks, the two fell in love. It soon became apparent that Roland wanted to marry Inez. There was only one problem. Inez was an octoroon.
In turn of the century Louisiana, the laws stated that a white person could not marry someone with as little as one-eighth African-American blood. This was known as the “one drop rule”. Having one-eighth black blood (her Great Grandmother was pure African) Inez could never marry Roland. An attempt was made to go to Cincinnati to marry but they found that the marriage would have still been considered null and void in Louisiana. Roland and Inez made the best of the situation. Roland was afraid their relationship would become known, so Inez gave up the boarding house. He bought and furnished for her a home on Second Street near St. Charles Avenue. There Inez lived quietly under the name Mrs. Roland. Roland’s family and Inez’s neighbors never suspected a thing.
Roland and Inez would visit each other over the years. Roland would come to New Orleans on “business” and stay with the fair Inez while he was in town. Occasionally Roland would dismiss his servants from his house in Monroe and Inez would visit Roland for a while. When they were apart, they would write touching love letters to each other swearing devotion and everlasting love. Out of this relationship came two children: Aloysius Roland Filhiol in 1900 and Nancy Ruth Filhiol two years later. The little family was quite happy and no one was the wiser. Everything began to crumble towards the end of the 1910’s.
Roland’s brother Hardy was looking for his brother’s will. His bachelor brother had just died of a heart attack and it was Hardy’s task to divide Roland’s fortune as he would have wanted. The will was found. Money and property was given out to nieces, nephews and siblings, but to the surprise of Hardy, half of the fortune and the administration of the estate were given to a woman named Inez Schmidt of New Orleans. Who was this woman? No one in Ouachita had heard of her and no trace of her could be found in New Orleans. The search was on. An inquisitive reporter tracked her down under the name Mrs. Roland and she soon admitted she was the woman they were searching for. It was thought that there was a secret marriage between the two since there were two young children from the relationship. It was quickly discovered why the two never married.
When Hardy Filhiol’s lawyers came calling to Inez’s mother Laura’s home, the woman denied being Inez’s mother. She declared Inez was the illegitimate daughter of an unmarried white mother. The mother couldn’t take care of Inez, so the quadroon woman and her husband adopted and raised her as their own. This story was not supported by Inez and the truth came out. Stories about the affair appeared in national newspapers.
Hardy took Inez to court over the inheritance. The judge wouldn’t allow evidence showing her mixed heritage. The main legal question was, “Did Roland Filhiol live in open concubinage with Inez Schmidt?” If he did, she would inherit only 10 percent of the estate, but if he did not, then the entire fortune goes to her.
Inez came to Monroe to testify in the trial. She could find no one willing to take her in as a boarder. A local Catholic priest (most likely Father Enaut) took her in and found a place for her. The trial dragged on but Inez eventually won part of the inheritance. She was determined to put Louisiana behind her. Inez, her children Aloyisus and Nancy and mother Laura packed up and moved to San Jose, CA. The family lived under the Filhiol name as a white, middle class family for many years. Laura died there in 1915. Inez lived a quiet life and died in 1950. Aloyisus became an artist. He was a set dresser for Universal Pictures, married and divorced. He died a few days after his mother of lung cancer and is buried with her in a local cemetery. Nancy married a man by the name of Francisco and died in 1969. It is not known if she had any children. Roland and Inez’s life stands today as a bittersweet story of love over prejudice. May their tale not be forgotten.
After the above was written, I found a few more tidbits. It seems Roland wanted his son to inherit Logtown plantation. That did not happen. Inez only got 10% of the inheritance. Aloyisus, known in Hollywood as Al Fields, was nominated three times for an Oscar, due to his set design work. He won an Oscar for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White, category in 1943 for his work on “Blood on the Sun”. You can find Inez and the children’s pictures here, by following the links on their memorials: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/23969914/inez-r_-filhiol