Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bye Bye, Blackbird

 We are used to the Big Easy as a destination. Plantation areas of great beauty, if you don't think too hard about the history. The wonderful markets.. and gumbo... No food in New Orleans.. what a shocking statement.. but it was true...for at least four or five days for many....

 New Orleans

 I first knew it as an airport to race through to get Pralines on my way to my brothers home in Houston. I read a lot about the history of New Orleans and knew that there was both the difficulty of being black, and the permission to learn , for some.

 My next door neighbor was from New Orleans and she was a great cook. She worked for a senator in Washington DC. I don't remember his name but I know his favorite foods. Before Martha Stewart, my neighbor was turning the turkey upside down. We laughed.. but it was so succulent. The thing was , all of her food was good. All of it. Even things you thought you did not like. She had a wonderful cauliflower recipe and I hate cauliflower cooked any other way. If you were crying at a funeral, you paused when she walked in because you knew she had delivered some great food, and you went in search of it.


 New Orleans was the motherhouse of the Oblate Sisters of Providence as well. Many a black child going to a catholic school, had nuns from this place. The nuns and the catholic religion seemed to be everywhere sometimes as a part of the landscape.

 Old History

 People told stories of kept women, fair skinned slaves who lived to please their planter lovers. There are a zillion books on this. If another person gives me " Cane River" I am going to barf.
 People told and tell stories about haunts, and pirates, and people who came for a while , and never left. The port of New Orleans was a dazzling place at one time.

 Jean Lafitte was here...  the pirate, aah privateer , whatever.  He has been called "The Corsair," "The Buccaneer," "The King of Barataria," "The Terror of the Gulf," "The Hero of New Orleans". At three separate times, U.S. presidents have condemned, exonerated and again condemned his actions. He is known for his piracy in the Gulf of Mexico, and lauded for his heroism in the Battle of New Orleans. Each personae seems to balance the other. He hated being called "pirate," for, as he saw it, he was a "privateer" serving an economic purpose in an economically frugal time in a new country that needed to economize. New Orleans was a place of interesting twists.

 Young Blacks Seeking Change here....

 W.E. B. DuBois was one of the young men, who wanted to make change here. The South was nothing like the North that he grew up and went to school in..http://www.duboislc.org/html/DuBoisBio.html

 There were the old stories of hurricanes in New Orleans..The lonely planet guide says,

 Enshrouding us in dreams and ancient melodies, its sweet-tasting cocktails are laced with voodoo potions. The unofficial state motto, laissez les bons temps rouler ('let the good times roll'), pretty much says it all.

 Called by some 'The City That Care Forgot,' New Orleans has a well-earned reputation for excess and debauchery. It's a cultural gumbo of African, Indian, Cajun and Creole influences. Whether you're looking for history, drama and intrigue or just a good boogie in the street, New Orleans is it. Did I mention the music? Why should I.. You know about Louie Armstrong , dontcha?

 Bye Bye, Blackbird

 You probably don't know this history. Technology is wonderful to let us tell the stories of previous times. In 1927, the great Mississippi flood rumbled down upon New Orleans. As Barry writes in his account, "Rising Tide," in the New York Times, the disaster ripped the veil off the genteel, feudal relations between whites and blacks, and revealed the festering iniquities. Blacks were rounded up into work camps and held by armed guards. They were prevented from leaving as the waters rose. A steamer, the Capitol, played "Bye Bye Blackbird" as it sailed away. The racist violence that followed the floods helped persuade many blacks to move north.

 Huey Long....there has got to be a song about this....

 Civic leaders intentionally flooded poor and middle-class areas to ease the water's pressure on the city, and then reneged on promises to compensate those whose homes were destroyed. That helped fuel the populist anger that led to Huey Long's success. Across the country people demanded that the federal government get involved in disaster relief, helping to set the stage for the New Deal. The local civic elite turned insular and reactionary, and New Orleans never really recovered its preflood vibrancy."

 There is a train called, " The City of New Orleans". Many stories are told in the verses of that song. If you have the authentic version. Blues also tell the stories of this region. But most people never got a good dose of African American History, except in some romantic novels, that can't really tell it all. No need to write novels.. the history of New Orleans is there for the reading in black and white pun intended, all over the Internet.

 Huey 's History is kind of interesting...

 Over the years, Long had been in constant conflict with Judge Benjamin Pavy of St. Landry Parish. Unable to unseat Pavy in St. Landry Parish, Long decided to gain revenge by having two of the judge's daughters dismissed from their teaching jobs. Long also warned Pavy that if he continued to oppose him he would say that his family had "coffee blood". This was based on the story that Pavy's father-in-law, had a black mistress.
 On 8th September, 1935, Pavy's son-in-law, Carl Weiss
 was told that rumours were circulating that his wife was the daughter of a black man. Weiss was furious when he heard the news and decided to pay Long a visit in the State Capitol Building. Long was in the governor's office, and so he waited by a marble pillar in the corridor. When Long left the office with John Fournet and six bodyguards, Weiss pulled out a .32 automatic and aimed it at Long. Weiss fired and hit Long in the abdomen. The bodyguards opened fire and Weiss died on the spot. A bullets fired by one of the bodyguards ricocheted off the pillar and hit Long in the lower spine.

 At first it was thought that Long was not seriously wounded and an operation was carried out to repair his wounds. However, the surgeons had failed to detect that one of the bullets had hit Long's kidney. By the time this was discovered, Long was to weak to endure another operation and died on 10th September, 1935. According to his sister, Lucille Long, his last words were: "Don't let me die, I have got so much to do." His book, My First Days in the White House, was published posthumously.

 The Here and Now...Katrina

 They're hungry, they're poor and they're mostly black. The people we are seeing on television are not from a third-world country; they're from New Orleans, where those who couldn't afford to evacuate were left to fend for themselves long after the winds abated.

 For those of us who are used to American can do, it was a puzzle that there seemed to be nothing going on in New Orleans. It was also a puzzle, to others that the comments we were hearing were about racial behavior, during a time of disaster. It was quizzical to many, even some of the most
 polarized newsmen.. What was going on? How about nothing.. NADA..

 I know a place in Washington DC where with the best of technology there are maps, and information and ways to look at a disaster, and to solve the problem. But perhaps that place is not being used for
 domestic problems. I watched an overlay of a transportation system to solve a problem in India..
 Perhaps we thought, that can't happen here. I don't know if they were allowed to be a part of this crisis.

 Having a niece in Baton Rouge helped me get the picture, but priceless was the email from a former student. She told of searching for her cat. She had a car, but was looking for that animal and did get out , taking along a few strangers.

 She said.."I drove back to my parish a couple of days ago, with a gun and with a friend of my uncle's daughter (complete stranger) who offered to make the ride with me . That was so nice. Her father is a trucker so I was really bugging him to take me. Worked out.So much devistation on the way, etc i did not flood but have roof damage and areas in the hose that flooded (kitchen & utilitly room) from the fridge and . No power but working to restore and deal with minimal sewage stuff. All parishes are on separate water systems from New Orleasn and some had aleready moved back in but are using generators. We were the lucky ones. There were people who had been on rooftops for the duration of the flooding, until they were picked up by helicopters. As you know there are no bathrooms up on the roof, and no food. Some groups of kids commandered the food, ice, and blankets from stores. I don't know what I would have done , if there was nothing."

 My brother is a doctor, and a friend of his was holed up in a hotel, the Ritz .. great wine list.. and
 good store of food, but of course, being a doctor, the sixteen hour shifts were what he was complaining about. Used to cadavars, wounds, etc.. His friend had email .. so he was occupied the few hours of free time that he had. The wine cellar held out until he left and he was in no danger.

 What's Going On?

 There were some enterprising brothers who holed up with their technology and were able to send messages to those outside their perimeters. They operated to tell the truth about what was going on,

 The events in New Orleans underscore the way in which poor blacks were treated in the allocation of emergency resources. Forgotten in the evacuation crisis, they have since been slow to receive aid or have received sub-standard aid and indifferent police protection.

 The cleavage of race and class was laid bare by pictures of the suffering amid reports of gunshots
 fired at rescue vehicles.. of cars being stolen.. of people taking food..

 New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof says that the largest is that there are bloated corpses on New Orleans streets. Kristof says he saw a similar storm kill 130,000 people in Bangladesh in 1991 but their government showed more urgency in trying to save their citizens. Some corpses were stacked in stairwells, some propped in wheel chair or neatly pushed to the side on ascending stairs. There was no ice for storage of these deceased citizens. There were no spaces in the morgue.

 The Big Picture

 "This is a pretty graphic illustration of who gets left behind in this society—in a literal way," said Christopher Jencks, a sociologist glued to the televised images from his office at Harvard, in a New York Times article. Interestingly, wealthy white people lived on high ground. "Maybe it's just an in-the-face version of something I already knew … All the people who don't get out, or don't have the resources, or don't believe the warning are African-American," Jencks continued.

 Parts of New Orleans were poor (with 27.4 percent below the poverty line in 2000), more than two-thirds black. Once one of the most mixed societies in recent decades, the city has become unusually segregated, and the white middle class is all but gone, according to The New York Times.

 "New Orleans, first of all, is both in reality and in rhetoric an extraordinarily successful multicultural society," said Philip Carter, a developer and retired journalist whose roots in the city extend back more than at least four generations, for The New York Times. "But is also a multicultural society riven by race and class, and all this has been exposed by these stormy days. The people of our community are pitted against each other across the barricades of race and class that six months from now may be last remaining levees in New Orleans … But that sense of extreme division by class and race is going to long survive the physical reconstruction of New Orleans."

 The New York Times says that in the middle of the delayed rescue, the New Orleans mayor, C. Ray Nagin—a local boy made good from a poor, black ward—burst into tears of frustration as he denounced slow-moving federal officials and called for martial law.

 In an essay for Newsweek, Georgia Congressman John Lewis says, "It's very painful for me to watch and read about what is happening. I have a sense of righteous indignation. I think all Americans rise up and speak out. It's not like 9/11 that just happened. We saw this in the making." Lewis said that the media for days said the storm was coming but it took many days to make the full force of the government available afterward. "It's so glaring that the great majority of people crying out for help are poor, they're black. There's a whole segment of society that's being left behind."

 Homeland security? What happened? The truth will be found out. Maybe.

 The funding that could have helped prevent this tragedy? What would it have been?

 In rebuilding New Orleans, Lewis says it is also an opportunity to rebuild urban America. "It becomes very discouraging where you see people dying—children, the elderly, the sick—the lack of food and water. I've cried a lot of tears the past few days as I watched television—to see somebody lying dead outside the convention center.

-Bonnie Bracey