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Thomy Lafon was born on this date in 1810. He was a Black businessman, abolitionist, and philanthropist.
Lafon was born a free Creole person of color in New Orleans. His mother was Modest Foucher Lafon, a free woman of color born in Louisiana of a slave mother. His father was Pierre Larralde Lafon, a white Frenchman who deserted the family when his son was still a boy. Pierre Lafon remained a bachelor sharing his home with his widowed sister, Alice Bodin. Young Lafon was self-educated and frugal with money from necessity.
It was rumored that he was well educated and taught for a while. In 1842, however, he was listed in the New Orleans City Directory as a merchant, on 387 Rampart Street. He established the Lafon Orphan Boys' Asylum and the Home for Aged Colored Men and Women. He gave generously to other charitable and religious organizations and to many poor people.
During his lifetime, he earned nearly half a million dollars. He was a merchant and a real estate broker. He used his money to make large contributions to the American Anti-Slavery Society, the Underground Railroad, the Catholic Institute for the Care of Orphans, the Louisiana Asylum, the Eye/Ear/Nose/and Throat Hospital, New Orleans University, Southern University, Straight University, the Shakespeare Alms Home, the Societe des Jeunes Amis, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Lafon Old Folks Home.
Lafon also lent his funds and influence to the establishment of the Institution Catholique des Orphelins Indigents, the school for poor African American children, that grew from Marie Couvent's legacy. He bequeathed large sums to Charity Hospital for the benefit of the ambulance service, to the Society of the Holy Family, and to the Shakespeare Alms House.
Fifteen months before Lafon died, a local newspaper wrote the following: “To the glory of his memory and the enrichment of society the ‘wealthy old colored man’ gave with love and affection several major gifts and numerous minor ones to care for the poor of all races.”
From 1868 until his death in 1893, he was a highly regarded, successful real estate broker who lived in a very unpretentious house at 242 Ursulines Street. Thomy Lafon died on December 22, 1893. He was buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3. Right after his death, the Louisiana State Legislature voted to honor him in a memorial despite the racial discrimination that was so virulent at the time. He was the first Black person to be so honored by any State in the Union.
Odyssey House Louisiana, Inc.,
125 North Tonti St.
New Orleans, LA 70119.
Robert R. Macdonald et als, eds.
Louisiana's Black Heritage