Gonzales — Henry Smith touched the white, cinder-block wall behind him with pride.
“This is my wall,” he said, during the Howard-Johnson American Legion Post 557’s hall rededication ceremony on Saturday in Gonzales.
Smith and other members of the all-African-American post spent more than a year raising money and working to rebuild the structure.
The Tobey Street building, which was constructed in 1980, was damaged during Hurricane Katrina and later vandalized.
The Gonzales City Council started condemnation procedures after the building sat damaged for two years.
Auxiliary President Sonia Mulberry said the group received a grant from the state American Legion organization to get the renovations started and “the rest came from fundraisers and hard work.”
“We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Smith said, adding that the building still needs a few “touch-ups here and there.”
Post 557 was started after World War II and named in honor of veterans Phillip Palmer and Joseph Robinson, legionnaire Feaster Dorsey said.
The post was dissolved several years later, but re-formed in 1975, Dorsey said. The new post was named in honor of veterans Albert Howard and Albert Sidney Johnson, he said.
On May 9, 1975, Amos Favorite was installed as commander during a ceremony in Gonzales. Later that year, Favorite resigned and First Vice Commander Earnest Larks was elected commander of the unit, Dorsey said.
Larks, a longtime member who died last week, was remembered during Saturday’s ceremony with a moment of silence.
A ladies auxiliary was formed in 1976, Dorsey said.
The post purchased land from the then-town of Gonzales in 1979 and a permanent charter was issued in that year, Dorsey said.
Dorsey said 95 percent of the original construction and recent renovations were done by American Legion members.
Smith thanked visiting legionnaires and the ladies auxiliary chapter for their support. He said since the post hall was damaged, the group has met at American Legion Post 81, area businesses and a funeral home.
Rickey Griffin, with Ricard-Stewart Post 505 in Baton Rouge, said there are four African-American posts in the Baton Rouge area.
Smith, 80, a veteran of the Korean War, said the group hopes to expand programs and services “now that we have a home again.”