John E. Rousseau Collection, 1950-1967: The Plight of Edgar Labat and Clifton Alton Poret

“The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept. Death for thirteen years has kept close tab on Edgar Labat and Clifton Poret.” -Judge John Minor Wisdom.

Cover of Rousseau's report titled, "In Louisiana Only Negroes Die for Rape."

Cover of Rousseau’s report titled, “In Louisiana Only Negroes Die for Rape.”

The John E. Rousseau Collection highlights the legal systems of Louisiana in the case of Angola State Penitentiary inmates, Edgar Labat and Clifton Poret. Labat and Poret were two African American men wrongfully convicted by an all white jury for the 1950 rape of a white woman in New Orleans. Both men were sentenced to the death penalty in 1953 and suffered through nine stays of execution. They ultimately won their release in 1967 but not without the distinction of being the longest serving death row inmates in modern U.S. history at the time. Rousseau, an editor of the Louisiana edition of the Pittsburgh Courier, collected materials related to the case. He spent years writing about the case of Labat and Poret, even going so far as to find witnesses who would attest to the innocence of both men.

John E. Rousseau was a journalist and active member of the New Orleans chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Rousseau was promoted from reporter to editor at the Louisiana Weekly and won awards in editorial writing from the National Newspaper Publishers Association. He also worked for the Houston Informer and the New Orleans Sentinel, which he co-founded. Rousseau was a graduate of Xavier Preparatory School and attended Xavier University and the YMCA School of Commerce.

A petition used to garner support for the clemency of Labat and Poret.

A petition used to garner
support for the clemency
of Labat and Poret.

Press releases and notes at various stages of appeal and litigation demonstrate the near-certainty of execution faced by Labat and Poret. These materials also reflect the police abuse and intimidation of witnesses into withholding evidence portending to the innocence of the two wrongfully accused men. The collection also contains hundreds of signed petitions supporting clemency for Poret and Labat to Governor McKeithen printed from The Louisiana Weekly.

Posted by Chianta Dorsey

(Images from the John E. Rousseau Collection. May not be reproduced without permission.)

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