Gilbert Martin, the greatest Militant Creole of the USA
It was with very much grief and sadness that I learned from my dear friend Marion that Gilbert Martin passed away on 19th November 2005. While many would say that the Creole community have seen many militants among its ranks, among whom your obedient servant, I would, without reserve and hesitation admit that that I am a baby as compared to the way Gilbert Martin fought to position the Creole culture in the USA and on the world stage.
While many would associate Louisiana with the birth and development of Creolism in the USA , the history of Creolism cannot be written without a special mention to Gilbert Martin. Gil was born and grew up in the seventh ward of New Orleans and spent most of his adulthood there. He saw the city grew up and even participated in its development having been in the construction industry. Even though he was a black man, he always assert himself as a French Creole and maintain that black, white or colored Creoles have always been a free and much a l’avant garde of the other communities. He advocated that the USA government should recognize the identity and uniqueness of the Creole people and that the Louisiana Purchase Treaty was fraud and illegal as it did not respect some of its clauses when it relates to the people. If the Treaty was to be enforceable it should have compensated for the lost of all privileges that the Creoles enjoyed prior to the American taking over the state of Louisiana. (Please see his article on LPT).
Gilbert has, throughout his life, and until his death, defied the USA establishment that Creoles should still feel free and not abide to the USA laws as they are still an independent nation. He set the example by going as far suing the USA government for breach of the LPT contract and asking for compensation.
Well before any structure was set up in Louisiana, Gilbert created the International French Creole society. When I asked him why “international” he explained that he knew that Creoles did not only exist in the USA only, but that there were creoles in Haiti and in the West Indies. He was expecting to connect with them one day. His wishes and dream started to materialize when I met Mario for the first time at the 2004 Creole convention organized by the CHC of Natchitoches in Las Vegas. Marion who saw my sincerity and dedication said that I should meet her friend Gilbert Martin, a Creole pioneer who is unfortunately old and living in a nursing home in California. I was overwhelmed but as I was already scheduled to go to New Orleans, I postponed that appointment for later. As soon as I got back to Australia , Gilbert and I started to communicate via e-mail. I was surprised how he so skillfully mastered the communication technology and how his mind was still very alert; I discovered a man of high intellect and sincerity. There was no doubt for me that that I had to meet that man and wanted more people to know about him and hear what he had to say. This was to be realized with the Symposium of Las Vegas. It was on 18th May 2005 at Tuscany Hotel that we met for the first time and I could not describe how I was pleased to dinner with him and we talked and talked. Gilbert was indeed an old and frail man but he still spoke with much conviction and told me that we creoles should never give in and that we have to keep our culture alive. I was never tired of listening to all these anecdotes and how he always rocked the boat and always told them an African American but a French Creole. He was not happy to see that the Cajuns had highjacked the Creole cuisine and music. He always talked about the LPT and the book of Grace King or how he dragged, nurtured and educated Terrell Delphin into Creolism. He had great dream for a Creole institute which was to be set up in California. He drew a parallel with the fight of the Red Indians and that Creoles should also have the land and a big casino. He had a dream for the Creoles of the USA and the world to be a great nation where the other civilizations and culture would recognize us as well.
These words are just a few as there could be enough to say about his life which could be a best seller, but as he has always been humble and fought alone most of the time against all odds, even against the critics of Creoles like him who might have misinterpreted his action or again did not give him much consideration because he was black, but all I can assure Creoles al over the world that I have been close enough to him to know that he was never a racist and has always thought of Creole as a Cultural entity and a people regardless of colour or class.
May he rest in peace but let his legacy lives on.
Louis G de Lamare Lamvohee