Kristen Boyd is currently an ACE EPIC Cultural Research and Education Fellow with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe, Louisiana.

Hey everyone! I’m Kristen Boyd, currently an ACE EPIC Cultural Research and Education Fellow with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe, Louisiana. My fondness for my station grew during my time under the Directorate Fellowship Program (DFP) over the summer. I was captivated by the work, mesmerized by the refuge’s beauty, and felt at home with the people and rich culture of Monroe. As summer drew to a close, I was eager to continue working on the project. Collaborating with my fantastic boss, Erin Bellavia, we explored ways to extend my stay through a different program. This is where ACE goes from being a possibility to a reality. I joined ACE in October last year while completing my B.S. in Elementary Education at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. The Friends Group of Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge (FoBB) was gracious enough to fund this project and work around my intense student-teaching and class schedule.

The Project: “Then”

During the DFP, my project involved researching the two mostly unmarked African-American cemeteries on the refuge land – St. Timothy Cemetery and Bufferin Cemetery. My task was to delve into the cemeteries, the history of the land once known as Richland Plantation (also formerly known as Parker Plantation), and the individuals who formerly lived and worked the land— and not just one side of history, every side. Researching African-American history from 50-100 years ago reinforced just how important the preservation of history is. It is imperative that we ensure no one is forgotten. I encountered a plethora of challenges during my research due to the vast lack of resources African American people had during those times. For every rock I turned over, seven more would appear. I found myself going down several rabbit holes, following every lead I could. Amidst my investigation, one name stood out – Coach Mackie Freeze, Sr. Coach Freeze, a legend in Ouachita Parish, became the central focus. With the help of locals, courthouse records, and social media, I uncovered Coach Freeze deep ties to the former Richland Plantation, his childhood home. Tracking him down was a challenge, but with perseverance, I finally connected with one of his family members— his granddaughter, Jaryn Freeze. This marked a turning point in my research journey. I may have shed a few tears that day, and after weeks of tracking Coach Freeze down, I made a breakthrough.

Fast forward to my first meet with Coach Freeze, and I was truly in awe. Coach Freeze was the oldest living member to ever be inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of fame at the age of 94 (2020), mentor to many, educator, motivator, and genuinely one of the best people I have met in my lifetime. I had the opportunity to interview Coach Freeze and spend a great deal of time with him discussing his childhood on the Richland Plantation and what his extraordinary life was like. Recording his oral history of life on the Refuge during his childhood shed light on his profound connections to St. Timothy and Bufferin Cemeteries. Spending time with Coach Freeze was not only enlightening but life-changing.

The Project: “Now”

Compiling Coach Freeze’s oral histories, categorizing them, and conducting further research has been one of my main focus as of now. With Coach Freeze’s guidance, I uncovered the names of two buried in unmarked graves at St. Timothy— Johnnie Freeze, Coach Freeze’s father, and Albert Nation, a child who drowned tragically in the nearby bayou. Our aim is to create a memorial for all the deceased, document the St. Timothy Baptist Church and School’s history, and continue unearthing more names. Their untold stories deserve recognition and remembrance. Creating educational programs based on the refuge’s history and the lives of those who resided there is another focus of this project. Education, historical preservation, and conservation intertwine to narrate the land’s true story. I had the privilege of producing the Untold Stories: Black Bayou podcast with volunteer audio engineer Zachary Miller, delving into the refuge’s extensive history.

While I could share countless details about the history, I invite you to listen and immerse yourself in the rich narrative. Sadly, Coach Mackie Freeze, Sr. passed away on January 19, 2024. Despite our unfinished plans, his legacy lives on through the project.It was an incredible honor getting to know Coach Freeze and his incredible family. With the copious amount of people he inspired and motivated, he left this world a better place. Rest in peace, Coach.

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