to Take Treme
for the Benefit of Rich People?
An Anonymous Report
Just wanted to give a brief report. As you know, I went
into New Orleans Wed. and I stayed until early yesterday
It is inhabited almost solely by the military, firefighters, and
media. I say almost because there remain pockets of life,
defiant pockets. Maybe I'm just sick in head, but the
arguments given by people determined to stay in New Orleans
started sounding mighty persuasive.
After attending the daily press conference at City Hall
Thursday, I walked over to the Central Fire Station on Decatur
and talked to Dist. Chief Gary Haydel who was overseeing not
only his own folks but people who've come in from everywhere
else to help. And since I was in the French Quarter, I
thought it was only fitting that I walk over to Treme and see
what was up there.
You should know that when the person ostensibly in charge of our
"New Orleans bureau" reached me on the phone he wanted
to know why I was hiking toward Treme, which I interpreted
(rightly or wrongly) as a kind of "Who cares?" kind of
question. I said, "Well, it's the oldest black
neighborhood in the country." It wasn't like I was
paying all that much attention to him anyway (or observing a
chain of command). So I shrugged off his question and
walked into my old neighborhood.
Some things don't change. And I'm glad about that.
That level of concern that sometimes borders on nosiness proved
really helpful to me on my trip. For example, when I turn
off onto St. Claude, I see two men sitting on a stoop directly
across from where poet Kysha Brown Robinson was staying. Kysha
had recently been hosting the NOMMO Literary Society out of her
The man I spoke to—he'd only give Chief Al as
his name—said "Yeah, I know her. And her husband.
Freddy, I think his name is. Nice people, man. Real nice
people." Al is chief of the bone gang, the black
parading organization that wakes up folks Mardi Gras morning,
and he spent a little time telling me why he and Sunpie Barnes
(who used to be in his gang) split ways. To reduce his
tale down to a sentence: If you want to wear stilts and
grass skirts, you might as well join Zulu.
Anyway, Al ain't leaving. Neither is his friend Jim
"Lucky" Osborne or the other man who didn't say a word
the whole time I stood there. When I asked about the
Backstreet Cultural Museum, which houses some suits from big
chiefs of the past, he said that he was keeping watch over it.
"I'm the security for the Backstreet and 'OZ," he
said. He was referring to WWOZ, the public radio station
in adjacent Armstrong Park. There wasn't anybody in Treme
I knew or had heard of that Al didn't.
Kalamu (who used to
work out of there, both with NOMMO and 'OZ), both Lolis Elies
(the civil rights attorney and the columnist for The
Times-Picayune), Father Jerome Ledoux of St. Augustine
Catholic Church and Jerome Smith of Tambourine and Fan. I
knew the Elies were okay because I'd seen Lolis Eric, his mother
and his sister. Chief Al told me that Jerome Smith was
fine and that Father Ledoux was packing up because he'd been
sufficiently frightened by the armed people saying that
everybody had to clear out.
"This not communism," he told me. "I don't
know where in the hell (Mayor) Nagin gets off thinking he can do
that," i.e. make people leave. He believes the
evacuation plan is designed to take Treme for the benefit of
I wanted to see my old house. So I walked down Treme
toward Barracks. Lolis Eric Elies' houses (where we used
to meet for NOMMO) look fine. But during my stay in N.O.
lots of houses looked fine that I know are not. So I can't say
with any certainty. Wendell Pierce had an apartment on the
opposite side of Lolis' and I guess he still does. Like 1110/12
Treme, 1114/16 looked okay.
St. Augustine suffered some wind damage, a portion of the second
floor wall had fallen away exposing the skeleton of the
building, but it didn't look all that bad.
At the corner of Treme and Barracks, I came across another
group. I heard a generator running and I saw a man running
a grill. I talked to Q. I told him I couldn't print
what he told me with just Q, so he gave me Robert Thomas.
At least I think so. Could have been Thomas Robert.
He had had a lot of beer and seemed to be excited just to tell
someone (someone else, at least) why he wasn't leaving.
And here's the part that, to me, made a disturbing amount of
sense: Q has a bed in his own house. The military
has been bringing by food. He's had water to drink, and he'd
clearly had his share of beer. Why would he leave that to go
into a tent? His word, not mine. He'd heard the stories of
children being raped. He'd heard the stories about folks
being trampled to death, murdered and generally exploited.
And perhaps most importantly, he hadn't heard from his family.
If he leaves New Orleans, he said to me, "Where the hell
I'm gon' be after that?!"
While the people I talked to aren't necessarily looking out for
the best interests of the government, they did say repeatedly:
just bring me by food and water, and I'll be fine. They find
that option to be both more cost efficient and less emotionally
rending than the thought of leaving their homes.
My old house at 1310 Barracks looks the same way it looked when
I left. Little People's Place, the bar a few doors down, looks
the same, too. Lolis Edward Elie's place always looked
like a fortress to me, and it looked like it weathered the storm
well. Going back up St. Claude, I stopped in front of the
Backstreet Cultural Museum. The huge metal awning was no
longer attached, but its placement directly in front of the door
looked like it was probably the work of Chief Al and not the
work of Katrina.
At Ursuline and St. Claude I spoke to Carmen Montana, Toby Clark
and her husband William Auchterlonie. They wanted the same
thing Q wanted: food, water, and freedom. Toby and
her husband wanted to be together, and they didn't think that
would necessarily be the case if they agreed to leave.
Some families had been separated, and they weren't gonna risk
that. "That's the worst case scenario," William
said. "That could happen."
"We have so little money," Toby said. "We leave
with that we're gonna come back with nothing."
No one believed they were risking their health by staying.
When I told the first group that the mayor said it was unsafe
and that the water was filthy, Lucky said, "I been drinking
it for days. Just put a little booze on it and it's okay,"
he said. Carmen was especially dismissive. "Jesus
Christ, I know that!" she said when I mentioned the alleged
health risks. "Just make us sign a release form or
something. Don't make us leave our home."
She told me that she had voted for Nagin, despite her being a
Republican, but "I'm disappointed with him."
"Just leave us alone," she said more than once.
I realize that I moved past brief a long time ago, and there's
still much to say, including news of three buildings at Dillard
burning down and a couple trips I made into the lower 9th Ward.
I personally did not make it into the East, but one reporter who
went along Haynes said it was so dry it was dusty. Not
that it hadn't flooded, but it had been so brutally hot since
then that driving past it's not easy to see how high the water
So I'll send more soon. But please know that I am safe and
out of New Orleans. And thanks to everybody who asked
about me. Till then . . . .
* * *
* * *
Civilization: The West and the Rest
By Niall Ferguson
The rise to global predominance of Western civilization is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five hundred years. All over the world, an astonishing proportion of people now work for Western-style companies, study at Western-style universities, vote for Western-style governments, take Western medicines, wear Western clothes, and even work Western hours. Yet six hundred years ago the petty kingdoms of Western Europe seemed unlikely to achieve much more than perpetual internecine warfare. It was Ming China or Ottoman Turkey that had the look of world civilizations. How did the West overtake its Eastern rivals? And has the zenith of Western power now passed? In Civilization: The West and the Rest, bestselling author Niall Ferguson argues that, beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts that the Rest lacked: competition, science, the rule of law, consumerism, modern medicine, and the work ethic. These were the "killer applications" that allowed the West to leap ahead of the Rest, opening global trade routes, exploiting newly discovered scientific laws, evolving a system of representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the Industrial Revolution, and embracing a dynamic work ethic.
Civilization shows just how fewer than a dozen Western empires came to control more than half of humanity and four fifths of the world economy.
* * * * *
Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
* * * * *
What This Cruel War Was Over
Soldiers Slavery and the Civil
By Chandra Manning
For this impressively researched
Civil War social history, Georgetown
assistant history professor Manning
visited more than two dozen states
to comb though archives and
libraries for primary source
material, mostly diaries and letters
of men who fought on both sides in
the Civil War, along with more than
100 regimental newspapers. The
result is an engagingly written,
convincingly argued social history
with a point—that those who did the
fighting in the Union and
Confederate armies "plainly
identified slavery as the root of
the Civil War." Manning backs up her
contention with hundreds of
first-person testimonies written at
the time, rather than
memoirs. While most Civil War
narratives lean heavily on officers,
Easterners and men who fought in
Virginia, Manning casts a much
broader net. She includes
immigrants, African-Americans and
western fighters, in order, she
says, "to approximate cross sections
of the actual Union and Confederate
ranks." Based on the author's
dissertation, the book is free of
academese and appeals to a general
audience, though Manning's harsh
condemnation of white Southerners'
feelings about slavery and her
unstinting praise of Union soldiers'
"commitment to emancipation" take a
step beyond scholarly objectivity.—Publishers
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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