In an earlier post, we covered the Dejoie family from 1838, when Jules Dejoie acquired an enslaved woman named Célestine, with whom he would ultimately have six sons, up through the 1890s, when Célestine died and her two sons, Aristide and Jules, emerged as the brothers whose children would perpetuate the family name.
Aristide Dejoie (1847-1917) married Ellen Chambers (ca. 1852-1920) on 9 May 1872. Their marriage of forty-five years produced seven children: Paul Hypolite Vital Dejoie (1872-1921); Aristide Romas Stamps Dejoie (1874-1947); Florence Frances Dejoie (Mrs. Leonidas T. Burbridge) (1875-1916); Nellie Dejoie (Mrs. John A. Palfrey) (1877-1922); Paul Prudhomme Dejoie (1879-1964); Constant Charles Dejoie, Sr. (1881-1970); and Bernardine Dejoie (Mrs. Lawrence E. Webb) (1885-1956).
Jules Dejoie married Octavie Segue on 15 December 1870. Their union produced four children: Frederick Dejoie, Sr. (ca. 1873-1937); Edmond Dejoie (1874-1924); Mary Arnocieal Dejoie (Mrs. Ernest T. Bauduit, Jr.) (1876-1903); and Joseph John Dejoie, Sr. (1881-1929).
Frederick Dejoie (who married Aurelie Estelle Armant) and Edmond Dejoie (who married Augustine Dutrey) both engaged in the skilled work of slaters for the length of their careers, leaving their brother, Joseph, to continue the family’s entrepreneurial spirit. Frederick’s children were: Joseph Adolph Blaine Dejoie, Sr.; Stephen John Dejoie; Aurelia Dejoie Brewer; Frederick John “Fred” Dejoie; Beatrice Dejoie; Leona Dejoie; and Marie Dejoie Gordon. Edmond’s children were: Earl Anthony Dejoie; Christine Dejoie; Jules Dejoie; Zellah Dejoie; and Ivernia Dejoie.
The Dejoie brothers expanded their professional interests in the 1880s, establishing a restaurant and confectionary at 236 Canal Street, which was later renumbered 1316 Canal Street. Prudhomme initially ran the business and was later joined by Aristide’s older sons, Paul H. V. and Aristide, Jr. In 1895, Aristide’s oldest son, Paul Hypolite Vital Dejoie, graduated from the Medical College of New Orleans University. In 1896, Aristide’s oldest daughter, Florence Frances Dejoie, married Leonidas Tullius Burbridge, a successful young physician. The addition of two doctors to the family opened the path to a new business venture – pharmacies. Initially located on Canal Street, the Dejoie & Burbridge Pharmacy, later known as Dejoie’s Cut Rate Pharmacy was located at 1832 Dryades Street. It was managed by Dr. Burbridge and Aristide Dejoie, Jr. It contained the medical offices of both Dr. Burbridge and his brother-in-law, Dr. Paul H. V. Dejoie.
At the same time, Jules and Octavie Segue Dejoie’s youngest son, Joseph John Dejoie, Sr. (1881-1929), who followed the example of his first cousins, when he established Joseph Dejoie’s Cut Rate Pharmacy at the corner of South Rampart and Seventh streets, which was later designated as Danneel and Seventh streets. This business along with his second drug store in the office of the Louisiana Life Insurance Company (of which he was an officer and shareholder), enabled him to provide a secure upbringing for his ten children: Alvin Dejoie, Joseph John Dejoie, Jr., Lucille Dejoie Tureaud, Marie Dejoie Prudeau, Leonidas B. Dejoie, Myrtle Dejoie Williams, Byron Anthony Dejoie, Anna Tureaud Daniels, Burel Francis Dejoie, and Wellington A. Dejoie. Joseph and Louise sent many of their children to Talladega College for their educations, including Joseph, Jr. and Lucille, who furthered their studies at Howard University in pharmacy.
While his sons engaged in the fields of medicine and pharmacy and his daughters in teaching, Aristide Dejoie sought to improve the business life of black New Orleanians. He was the founder and first president of the New Orleans chapter of the National Negro Business League, which had been founded by Booker T. Washington in 1900. Until his death in 1917, Dejoie was the recognized leader of the city’s black businessmen. In 1907, he helped to orchestrate the merger of several black mutual aid and beneficial societies into the Unity Industrial Life Insurance Company, which was the first company of that sort organized among blacks in Louisiana. The other principal figures in the company were undertaker George D. Geddes and contractor William E. Roberson. Aristide served on the company’s board, as did his son, Dr. Paul H. V. Dejoie, who served as its longtime president. After Dr. Dejoie’s death in 1921, his brother, Constant C. Dejoie, Sr., became president of Unity.
Under the leadership of C. C. Dejoie, Unity grew by leaps and bounds. Branch offices extended across the state of Louisiana and a subsidiary company was organized in the ever-growing metropolis of Chicago. During the same era, in 1925, C. C. Dejoie founded a weekly newspaper which he initially named The New Orleans Herald. With Dejoie’s leadership and the skilled editorial oversight of O.C.W. Taylor, the paper soon gained a statewide and national readership and was renamed The Louisiana Weekly. C. C. Dejoie invested in a variety of business interests including at one point, a black-owned oil company in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. C. C. Dejoie was joined in marriage in 1914 to the former Miss Vivian Baxter, with whom he had three children: Constant Charles, Jr., Vivian (Mrs. John V. Roussell), and Henry Baxter Dejoie.
The Great Depression took its toll on life insurance companies as it did all other businesses. The assets of Unity Industrial were greatly reduced. Under C. C. Dejoie, Sr.’s leadership, the company ceased issuing sick and accident policies and began writing only whole life policies. In the late 1930s, differences within the Dejoie family over the management of Unity reached a boiling point. In August 1939, in a scandal widely reported by the black press as the “Dejoie Affair,” C. C. Dejoie stood accused of conspiring to have his nephew, Prudhomme John Earl Dejoie, murdered. While Dejoie was cleared of any connection to the incident, his friend and company employee, Henry Wilcox, an employee of the company and close friend of C. C. Dejoie was found guilty of shooting Prudhomme Dejoie with the intent to kill. Ultimately, C. C. Dejoie who led the majority faction in the dispute sold the majority interest in the company to First National Insurance Company, a white firm. C. C. Dejoie survived the negative publicity, including a scathing editorial in competitor paper, The Sepia Socialite, which labeled him a traitor to his race.
Prudhomme Dejoie also survived the incident and focused his interests on the Louisiana Life Insurance Company and Louisiana Undertaking Company. Louisiana Life (founded in March 1920) and subsequently Louisiana Undertaking, owed much of their existence to Dr. Rivers Frederick, a noted surgeon and Prudhomme Dejoie’s father-in-law. The Dejoies had significant interests in Louisiana Life, including the children of Joseph J. Dejoie, who was an officer of the company. Prudhomme J. E. Dejoie served as treasurer of the company beginning in 1929, succeeding his mother, Ella Brown Dejoie. In 1954, Prudhomme John Frederick Dejoie, was elected president of Louisiana Life and Louisiana Undertaking, succeeding his grandfather, Dr. Frederick. In 1960, he negotiated the sale of Louisiana Life to Universal Life Insurance Company of Memphis, one of the nation’s largest black insurance companies.
Other business concerns of the Dejoie family in the twentieth century included the Hub Shoe Store, in which Aristide Dejoie had an interest. Ella Brown Dejoie oversaw the Broadmoor Laundry, Cleaning, and Dying Company prior to her death, and was succeeded by her son, Prudhomme J. E. Dejoie. Leonidas Dejoie continued his father’s pharmacy business, and with his brother, Wellington, oversaw the Dejoie Cab Company beginning in the 1940s. Thelma Epps Dejoie, wife of Paul H. V. Dejoie, Jr., ran the well-known Dejoie Flower Shoppe for many years. C. C. Dejoie, Sr. was one of only two black businessmen to be initial investors in the New Orleans Saints franchise.
The many Dejoies through successive generations and the many Dejoie business interests make for an impressive legacy. It is especially noteworthy when one considers that the clan was begun less than two centuries by a formerly enslaved woman and a French immigrant grocer. It is hoped that this meager attempt at outlining this family will inspire greater interest in researching the history even more of Louisiana’s families of color.
Sources: Soard’s City Directories, New Orleans, (1886-1920); Woods Directory (1912); The Pittsburgh Courier, Nov 2, 1929, pg. 4; The Chicago Defender, Feb 15, 1941, pg. 1; Nov 2, 1929, pg. 1; May 11, 1918, pg. 7; The Louisiana Weekly, October 15, 1955, p. 2.