Department of Louisiana Membership Chairman Larry Abshire, left, congratulates Legionnaire Carl Moore following the activation of American Legion Post 450 in Shreveport, La.

Giving back to their community

There was a time when American Legion Jones Hollingsworth Post 525 in the Cooper Road area of Shreveport, La., was a thriving part of the community, as well as a strong force within the Department of Louisiana.

Chartered in 1966 and named for two black Shreveport servicemembers killed in World Wars I and II, the post “in its prime supported every function of The American Legion,” according to Louisiana Alternate National Executive Committeeman Harold D. Burson.

But for various reasons, the post closed its doors in 2002, taking that strong presence with it. Now, a group of current and former Cooper Road residents are reviving it.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Cooper Road Post 450 – once a dream of former Cooper Road resident and U.S. Army veteran Carl Moore – became a reality. During a ceremony on the campus of Southern University-Shreveport, the post signed up or transferred enough new or current members to apply for a charter.

Moore, an ROTC student while attending Southern University-Baton Rouge, is from a military family. His father served in the Air Force, as did one of his brothers; another brother is a U.S. Marine.

But while Moore’s inspiration to join the military came from his family, his desire to bring The American Legion back to Cooper Road came from growing up in the area. Shreveport has a majority-black population, and its streets are named after George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Joe Louis and other famous black Americans.

“We have a community where there’s nearly a veteran on every street,” Moore said. “When 525 was active, it had more than 500 members. To have a predominantly black American Legion post in an area that’s as old, historical and rich as this one, we should have had a post a long time ago.”

A schoolteacher for the past 20 years, Moore wants the post to mean something to everyone in the Cooper Road area.

“We’re fighting two wars right now,” he said. “A lot of kids coming home need help. They don’t have anywhere to go to get assistance. I want to have a place where they can go when they do come home.

“But I want to have something that will help all of the community. I want to do something special for a whole lot of people. I know it’s a process, but I do know I’ve got a lot of help.”

That help comes from friends like retired U.S. Army Sgt. Danny Gilliam, retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Carl Harris, and retired U.S. Army Col. Anthony Williams. All of them have ties to Cooper Road and were contacted by the resilient Moore about getting the post started.

It was Williams who put Moore in touch with American Legion National Membership Director Billy Johnson. Williams and Johnson served together in Germany more than 20 years ago.

Like Moore, Williams feels a sense of obligation to the post’s community.

“Cooper Road has been good to us,” he said. “Most of us grew up not knowing what we had. People in our past taught us some important things. They taught us discipline. That discipline allowed us to go where we needed to go.”

And like Moore, Williams has big plans for Post 450’s future.

“Purpose always creates vision,” he said. “As you can see, we have a vision for the future, and I think the vision always creates passion to really do what we’re called to do. At the end of the day, we really want to make a difference in the lives of people.

“We’re not going to try. We are going to establish Post 450. We are going to build a 21st century building somewhere in the city. We are going to help our veterans. We’re going to make a difference in their lives. We are going to do programs, scholarships, things The American Legion is all about. We’re not going to sit around and talk about how we got the post established, and then a year from now not be doing anything. We’re going to do something.”

That why’s Lisa Simmons, a U.S. Air Force retiree, was at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day meeting. It’s also why she joined immediately following it.

“I know Anthony Williams. He and I grew up together,” Simmons said. “He told me what they were trying to do. I have a drive to serve and help out, and when he told me they wanted to start up this post ... I came out. I see a lot of energized people. I’m going to do my part.”

Simmons was one of 15 new members who signed up following the meeting, which impressed Johnson.

“Typically we do a lot of work up front, making lists and calling people and going out, trying to gather that 15 to 20 members needed to form a post,” Johnson said. “This is unusual, to have everyone come here the first night and make the work a lot simpler. You are already interested in bringing the Legion and what it has to offer to this community.

“You have all the elements in place. You have a history in place. You are trying to recognize what others have done for you, that there was someone who came before us who made a difference in our lives. It’s those little things you want to give back to those who are coming up behind you.”

Moore said the birth of Post 450 couldn’t have happened on a better day. “Every year when we celebrate our anniversary, that means we are going to celebrate on the same day as the Martin Luther King holiday,” he said. “You can’t get any better than that.”