As Alfred Jourdain’s body was being prepared for burial, his grieving friends gathered together and began to question as to what could have caused him to take his own life. His business was prosperous, and on that score this could not have been his reason for feeling despondent. As part proprietor of the barber shop at #14 Royal Street, Alfred and his partner, Edouard LeBourgeois, were experiencing great financial success.
They spoke of their friend, Alfred, who was educated in France and now president of the Economy Hall Society, a very prominent New Orleans benevolent association. But, as they continued to talk, they realized that Alfred, who had never before been known to be a tippler (drinker), had begun to consume alcohol quite heavily recently. As a matter of fact, Alfred was drunk when he committed suicide.
They all knew Alfred had been married for twenty years, but had not lived with his wife for the past six or seven years. They also knew that his wife and his daughter Alice, a grown young woman, resided at # 36 Roman Street, near Customhouse and that he still took good care of them financially and visited often.
The conversation soon turned to Adele Coco, a young woman with whom Jourdain had been living for some years and who was considered to be the cause of the dissension in his family affairs. Jourdain had maintained a resident for her on St. Philip, between Claiborne and North Robertson. There he lived with Adele and her children from a previous relationship.
After a few minutes, Bernard Cohen, who resided at # 206 Toulouse Street, spoke up. He recalled a conversation that he and Jourdain had last Saturday when both were empanelled on the United States jury. Jourdain told Cohen of a dispute he had had at home with Adele. He then asked Cohen the following question: “If a man goes to kill himself, would he have the strength to fire a second time?” Cohen told him he ought not to speak that way. Jourdain then assured his friend that he had no intentions of doing any harm to himself. Finally, he said “Cohen, you have proved to be a friend to me. Go home, as I don’t know when I will see you again.” They separated and nothing further was said.
The next to speak was A. Domingue who recalled how Jourdain showed up at his residence at # 180 Orleans Street and invited him to go to Congo Square. Domingue refused, so Jourdain requested that he take a drink with him for the last time. He disclosed to his friend of his separation from Adele and that he was now renting a room on Villere near Common Street. He also said it was his wife who had encouraged him to leave Adele and wanted him to come back home to her and their daughter. His last words to Domingue were “I have a daughter residing on the corner of Columbus and Johnson and you will see her tonight at Economy Hall. I have written a letter to Joseph Mansion, the undertaker, of the arrangements he should make about my funeral.”
The last one to speak was his business partner, Edouard LeBourgeois, who recalled Jourdain telling him just yesterday, “Life is a burden and I’m getting tired of living.”
They all realized now that their friend had been contemplating suicide for several days. Of course, none of them thought at the time that anything bad would happen. They now were sorry that they had not done more to prevent their friend from taking his own life.
It is my belief that Jourdain’s suicide was not only caused by his personal marital problems but also the political climate in which he lived. Gains made by people of color during Reconstruction were now being dismantled throughout the south. By 1890, just one year before Alfred’s death, Louisiana passed a law requiring blacks to ride in separate railroad cars. Racial segregation was taking over as the South was beginning to re-establish white supremacy. This may have been an important factor that added to his depressive state of mind. Within the next few years the U.S.Supreme Court would legitimize “separate but equal” accommodations that would come to be known as “Jim Crow”.
Research: I am presently searching for more information on Alfred Jourdain’s daughter, Alice Jourdain. She was born on October 26, 1873 to Alfred Jourdain and Victorine Jean. I am very interested in finding out if she had children and, if possibly, Alfred would have any living descendants out there among us. If you have any information, please let me know.
Finally, all information contained in this article was taken also from the two newspaper articles listed below.
Sources: The Times Democrat 14 April 1891 p.2 c.3; The Daily Picayune 14 April, 1891 p.3 c.3
Lolita V. Cherrie