106-Year-Old Louisiana Woman Receives Honorary Diploma

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — Shreveport centenarian Elvira Helaire-Davis, a 106-year-old family matriarch and mother of 14 children, realized a long-held dream when she was presented recently with an honorary State of Louisiana high school diploma.

In a presentation ceremony held Aug. 27 at Mount Moriah Baptist Church, where her youngest son, Rev. Edward Davis is pastor, Helaire-Davis was surrounded by family members, close friends, and local dignitaries who showed up to show their love and support for her.

Paying careful attention to every detail, the ceremony was organized by Helaire-Davis’ granddaughter Sandra Lister. It was yet another special and momentous occasion for her grandmother to shine while being recognized for her long and storied life.

As the celebrated woman of the hour, Helaire-Davis wore a yellow cap and gown to receive her diploma from St. Paul School in Natchitoches Parish, a church school she attended on the Oakland Plantation.

“Back then, I believe they only went up to the eighth grade,” said Yokota Strong, the grandson who shared his grandmother’s historic legacy in a biographical account he wrote that traces her lineage back to her enslaved family members.

Dr. Cade Brumley, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education, presented Helaire-Davis with her high school diploma.

In addition to receiving an honorary diploma, Helaire-Davis received proclamations of honor from City of Natchitoches Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr. and the Office of Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins.

Shreveport City Councilwoman Tabatha Taylor was among the guests. Taylor, Helaire-Davis’s family members said, is someone the family has known for a long time and looks upon fondly.

In addition to the proclamations, Helaire-Davis received an official congratulation from Louisiana State Representatives.

Strong said he could tell his grandmother enjoyed the moment.

THE FAMILY LINEAGE

Helaire-Davis celebrated her 106th birthday on July 21.

“I was inspired to write about my grandmother, aka ’Bigmama’ because she is the matriarch of our family. She once told me of the rich community she came from called ‘Cane River,’ Bermuda, Louisiana,” Strong writes.

Strong describes the Cane River community as a place where relatives could sometimes be heard singing across the neighborhood where everyone knew one another.

His grandmother, he continued, remembers working from sun-up to sun-down in the cotton fields and sugar cane crops.

Helaire-Davis’s heritage begins with her first enslaved ancestor from Mozambique, Africa, and continues through her family’s 200-year survival on Oakland Plantation as enslaved people, sharecroppers.

The Helaire family roots began during the late 1700s, according to Strong who did the research himself.

Those roots were established in Natchitoches Parish, beginning with their first generation of identifiable ancestors: Hilario and Jeanne.

Born July 21, 1915 to sharecropper parents Felix Helaire and Martha Hamilton-Helaire, Elvira ushered in the fifth-generation descendants of this family of formerly enslaved people.

Elvira’s formerly enslaved grandparents, John Helaire and Ann Bobb, welcomed her arrival into the creole village.

Elvira was the 3rd born of 8 siblings raised in one of the tenant cabins along the Cane River, on the same land her parents and grandparents were born and lived as enslaved people.

THE FAMILY TODAY

Elvira’s family is located across the United States and internationally. In addition to her 14 children, she has 30 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren and 36 great-great-grandchildren. She was married to Lawrence Davis.

As of Aug. 3, she is the last surviving child of Felix Helaire and the oldest living descendant of Hilario and the Helaire family lineage, according to information from her biography.

The ancestral home of the Helaire family is located on Oakland “Bermuda” Plantation, on part of the Red River that is now known as the Cane River, in rural Natchitoches Parish, on land that belonged to the Prudhomme family of Natchitoches.

In 2020, the State of Louisiana, by the authority of Gov. John Bel Edwards, recognized Elvira for her 105th birthday along with Shreveport’s official Street Dedication to Elvira Helaire-Davis.