Discussion in 'Black People Open Forum' started by Isaiah, Sep 25, 2005.

  1. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Jun 8, 2004
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    ...or how African Americans came to occupy the most vulnerable area of the city of New Orleans...

    History's role in color-coding a city By Lolly Bowean Tribune staff reporter

    The Lower 9th Ward was the first to flood. Again. But this time Jamel Oatis wasn't stuck in her home hoping and praying someone would come and save her.

    She was at the same shelter in Lafayette that gave her refuge after Hurricane Katrina, watching her neighborhood go under water a second time, because of Hurricane Rita.

    "I love my city, but it's not right," she said. "The poorest people are hurting again. Now we really don't have nothing. If there was anything left, it's gone now."

    Flooding destroyed thousands of homes and dozens of neighborhoods, but it also wiped out nearly every historically black community in the city. It has forced out a huge population of the city's black residents from all economic levels.

    From the time the first storm hit, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin had said the hurricane was not discriminatory in its wrath.

    Now Nagin's 16-member reconstruction committee must consider how it will resurrect the city, rethink New Orleans' inequities in housing and ensure that the rebuilding isn't discriminatory. The committee has the difficult task of preserving the unique history and culture of New Orleans that emerged from segregated communities while creating areas where everyone can live on safer land.

    The flooding revealed something about the city's history and geographic landscape: Since its inception, blacks here have always lived on the most vulnerable land, experts say. A combination of segregation, discrimination, economic factors and just plain timing forced blacks to create communities on unstable land easily destroyed by a natural disaster, said Silas Lee, a local political analyst familiar with the city's landscape and history.

    "The question is how can we rebuild, and how can the culture and history be retained and restored as the city is being rebuilt?" Lee said. "We have to bring the people back who maintain and contribute to the culture, and I'm afraid a lot may not return."

    The storm destroyed Gentilly, a New Orleans neighborhood where Creoles--residents with a blended French and African heritage--have opened hair salons, restaurants, cafes, churches and other businesses.

    Most homes in the Lower 9th Ward--a poor, sometimes dangerous community where some of the city's creators of booty-shaking block party jams first became popular--didn't survive the flooding that followed Katrina.

    "When African-Americans settled in the city, they were not concerned about flooding," Lee said. "It had to do with those who were wealthy having access to workers. It just so happened that the black labor force moved to those areas that happened to be flood prone."

    The hurricane destroyed white communities such as St. Bernard Parish too. But it was no geographic accident that historically black communities like Treme went under water while the neighboring French Quarter remained dry, said Karen Huff, head of the Black Historical Society of San Diego, the largest black historical preservation group in the U.S.

    "For a long time, there were land covenants that restricted the sale of property to people of African descent," she said. "Now we're seeing a devastation of African-American culture."

    That culture was part of the beginning of the French Quarter, built in the late 1700s. That portion of town was settled by Europeans who selected it because it was a naturally created levee and higher than the rest of the land near the Mississippi River. As the number of settlers increased, they built on the highest land, today known as the Garden District and parts of Uptown. Those neighborhoods were among the only sections that didn't flood after Katrina, said Michael Desmond, an associate professor of architecture history and urban design at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

    Claiming the leftovers

    By the time Les Gens De Couleur Libre, or the free people of color, arrived in New Orleans, the best land was already gone. A swampy marsh was drained, and blacks began claiming property and building neighborhoods right next to the French Quarter.

    Treme is one of the oldest black neighborhoods in America and the first place blacks were able to buy land and have homes when slavery still existed. It later became the birthplace of jazz and was home to Congo Square, where slaves working on the river would congregate during their off time. The sounds and flavors of this neighborhood spread into the French Quarter, Huff said.

    "We brought jazz, blues and gumbo to the French Quarter," she said. "There was always a fascination with African-American culture, but it was at arm's length. They presented the culture but without an African face."

    Local residents have always known that when people headed west of the French Quarter and crossed Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue, they were entering a black community. But it was long forgotten that those streets also marked a division between the higher, more valuable ground and the lower, less expensive land.

    "People were looking for affordable housing, and unfortunately, whether the area was flood prone . . . didn't matter," Lee said. "Yes, people knew New Orleans was always vulnerable to hurricanes. But we had never seen a situation to this magnitude. When people built their homes, they thought about destruction by wind, not destruction by water."

    As the rest of the city developed, the pattern continued. White residents snatched up land on higher, more secure ground. Their black servants built communities nearby so they could easily get to work. Even the better-off black business owners who catered to whites set up in the lower areas.

    Poorer blacks built in areas like the Lower 9th Ward, where the land was so low it was cheap enough for even poor blacks to own property.

    The settlement pattern made New Orleans literally a checkerboard community where segregated black and white neighborhoods were positioned close together but separated by race and land elevation, Desmond said. The housing pattern made the city vibrant, because it was one of the few places where blacks and whites had communities side by side.

    "It's a mixed palette that didn't occur anywhere else," he said.

    When white residents began to abandon the urban landscape, they moved to Metairie, an area settled by white farmers. Quickly the area turned into a bustling suburb with shopping malls, restaurants and stores just a short distance away from New Orleans' port and main business district.

    By the time black residents were on the same economic footing in the 1960s and able to afford to design their own homes with swimming pools and tennis courts like those in Metairie, the only developable area close to downtown was eastern New Orleans, Desmond said. Metairie and New Orleans East were about the same elevation, he said. But the East was far riskier territory, which made the land cheaper and allowed more blacks to create an upper-class community.

    "The land in New Orleans East was vulnerable because it sticks out like a thumb into Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Bourgne and then marshes. It's surrounded by water on three sides. It's the most vulnerable part of the city," Desmond said.

    Shortly after the water started rising in the city, Huff hurried into New Orleans hoping to save what many had forgotten about--the historical paperwork, portraits and artifacts that documented African-American history in the city. Dozens of homes went under water that could have contained letters of now famous musicians, pictures from decades ago and freedom documents from former slaves who bought their freedom.

    `A loss to the culture'

    "We're facing right now the prospect of the largest loss of African-American history, culture and sites ever in this country," Huff said. "When you start to look at that and then think about the mass exodus of African-Americans out of New Orleans, you can't help but wonder how it's going to devastate the cultural landscape of the city. A lot of the African-Americans provided the service jobs. They worked in the hotels, the restaurants. They were the janitors. They provided the music, the dancing, the artwork. Now a large percentage of those people are gone. That means a loss to the culture."

    At a recent news conference, Nagin said he's eager to get the people of the city back, and he wants New Orleans as diverse as before Katrina. The exodus, he said, won't change the cultural mix of the city.

    "I intend to have a city that is diverse and very unique," he said. Still, he conceded, some polls show that many residents, black and white, don't intend to return. And he doesn't know how to change that.

    "I have mixed emotions," he said. "I can understand. They've gone through a traumatic experience. Some of them are comfortable where they are."


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  2. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

    Feb 28, 2009
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    What To Do With The Negroes?

    By Kalamu ya Salaam

    ....The history of New Orleans is replete with the inexplicable in terms of how black people lived here. In the late 1700’s before the Americans arrived as a governing force in 1804, a nominally-enslaved black man could be seen walking to his home, which he owned, carrying a rifle, which he owned, with money of his own in his pockets—yes, I know it seems impossible but the impossible is one of the roots of New Orleans culture.

    Under the Spanish there were different laws and customs. We had been offered freedom in exchange for joining the Spanish in fighting the English. Join the army and get emancipated—all you had to do was shoot white men . . . and avoid getting shot.

    The Black Codes guaranteed Sundays were ours. All the food, handicrafts, services or whatever we could sell, we could keep all the proceeds. If you study the colonial administrative records you will notice that our economy was so rich that the city merchants petitioned the governor to be able to sell on Sundays (like the slaves did).

    Prior to the Civil War the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that one man had to pay back money he borrowed from a slave. Not to mention, a shocked Mrs. Latrobe, the wife of the architect who designed and built New Orleans waterworks—imagine “. . . how shocked I was to see three Mulatto children and their mother call upon me and say they were the children of Henry.” Henry was the dearly departed son of Mrs. Latrobe. He died of yellow fever and was buried in New Orleans in 1817, three years before his father who also died of yellow fever and was buried next to his son in St. Louis Cemetery. Much like many, many people today, Mrs. Latrobe had no idea about what was really going on in New Orleans.

    You can read the papers all day and sit in front the TV all night and never get the news about a significant and shocking subculture in New Orleans. A subculture that not only is unknown to you but a subculture that really does not care to be known by most of you.

    Our independently produced subculture is responsible for the roux that flavors New Orleans music, New Orleans cuisine, New Orleans speech idioms, New Orleans architecture, the way we walk down here and especially how we celebrate life even in the face of death. From the African retentions of VooDoo spiritual observances to the musical extensions from Congo Square, this subculture has made New Orleans world renown.

    I don’t remember the black sufferers ever receiving a thank you or a blessing. Instead of recognizing our contributions, the black poor and those who identify with them have been demonized. When the waters came, those who were largely affected and eventually washed away were overwhelmingly black. Our saviors gave us one way tickets out of town. Four years later there have been no provisions to bring blacks “back here”—I say back here instead of back home because “back here” is no longer “back home.” Post Katrina New Orleans is not even a ghost of what our beloved city was.

    What is gone is not just houses or pictures on the wall, not just the little neighborhood store we used to frequent, or the tavern where we hung out on warm nights; not just the small church in the middle of the block or even the flower bed alongside the house; not just the old landmarks or some of the schools we used to attend, not just the jumble of overcrowded habitations or the storied stacks of bricks we called the ‘jects (aka projects), housing schemes we knew by name and reputation. No, it is not just brick and wood that is missing from the landscape. What is gone, what we miss most of all is us.

    We the people are not here. What is left is an amputated city ignoring its stumps. Moreover, even if it were possible, our city does not desire to re-grow or replace what was “disappeared.” Good riddance is what many of the new majority says.

    “Good riddance” is sometimes proclaimed using the coded language of “a smaller footprint” (reductively, smaller footprint means fewer black butts). At other times, “good riddance” is spewed forth as the uncut racist cant of “lock all those savages up.”

    What To Do With The Negroes?