THE AFTERMATH OF HURRICANE KATRINA: "IN WHOSE IMAGE WILL NEW ORLEANS BE RECONSTITUTED" - Oread Daily
thanks to GSN for this information
Yesterday I received an e-mail from Lance Hill. Lance is an old friend and was one of the founders of the original Oread Daily back in 1970. Lance is truly one of the best organizers I have ever known. He is also the author of the book "Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement."
Hill is the Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University; he currently is a resident of New Orleans and he has a story to tell about the aftermath of Katrina and what it means now.
Below is the e-mail, followed by an unpublished op/ed piece Hill wrote back in September. You will also find a bio of Hill published by the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University.
E-mail from Lance
I am sorry about the long delay in response to all of your many queries, but we only now got an email connection so that we can communicate with rest of the world.
Eileen and I are fine. As you may know, we ignored the evacuation order and spent 33 days under martial law inside New Orleans, leaving only to get medical treatment and supplies to bring back inside the Parish. It was quite an experience. On Friday, September 2nd we filled our car with food and water and began runs into the Morial Convention Center, where more than 10,000 people were languishing outside in the heat with little food or water. Police, guardsmen, and the Red Cross refused to enter the convention center to help people because they claimed it was too dangerous.
Their claims of danger were just an excuse to starve people out of the center. The refugees were kind, grateful, and protective of me (I was, though, chased and fired upon by state police on one of my return trips for supplies). On my fourth and final run I was stopped at gunpoint by city and state police and told not return because they were preparing to bring in food and water themselves, which they did. It was the single most emotionally disturbing day of my life. On the way to the center I drove past a bloated body on one of the city's main intersections: it remained there for ten days.
Eileen and I spent the rest of our 33 days inside taking care of people who had also refused to evacuate, mostly elderly people who would not abandon their pets to go to the shelters and who lived on the historically high and dry alluvial ridges. We also spent a great deal of time trying to communicate to the media what was happening inside. Despite endless threats of "forcible extraction" from our house by a number of law enforcement agencies and guard units, we managed to avoid arrest and forced evacuation.
The closest we came was on September 28 when the police kicked in our front door and illegally searched our apartment in response to my refusal to provide identification to a patrolling Oklahoma guard unit. The "police" turned out to be Tulane University security guards loaned out to the militarily to make arrests in the surrounding neighborhoods. No apology from Tulane and they did not even suspend the officer. But that's another story.
Tulane has sealed off the campus and locked us out of the Southern Institute office building for nearly seven weeks now, though our building took on only 18 inches of water on the main floor. So we have had to set up a satellite office and we are now up and running. We can only hope that our irreplaceable collection of interviews with Holocaust survivors and veterans of the civil rights movement has not been destroyed by the heat and mold.
Eileen and I left after 33 days to get some "R & R" and returned last Monday. The martial law and curfew orders are, for the most part, unenforced now and most of our neighbors are back and things are returning to normal. We are in good health, though Eileen has permanently lost her teaching position in Orleans Parish schools-- along with virtually all the other 5,000 teachers. But we fared far better than most: only today Eileen learned that one of her co- workers lost her husband in the flood.
I have attached an op-ed piece I wrote the second week of the hurricane. It was never published, but I still agree with most of what it, though now I think there is little hope that New Orleans will ever reconstitute its black majority community. The locus for the struggle for racial justice is now, and will remain for years to come, in the predominantly white cities to which New Orleanian blacks have been exiled.
Lance Hill, Ph.D.
Southern Institute for Education and Research
M.R. Box 1692
31 McAlister Drive
New Orleans, LA 70118
Unpublished op/ed piece from Lance
September 16. 2005
DAY NINETEEN OF MARTIAL LAW
"The niggers are killing each other over in Lafayette" said the pickup driver, referring to the black New Orleanians who had relocated to a shelter in Cajun country following Hurricane Katrina. The driver, a middle-aged white man employed in disaster clean business, was accompanied by the owner of several gas stations. I sat quietly observing from the back seat of a Texas National Guard humvee on my way to receive a tetanus shot at a military hospital.
(I had refused to evacuate and, thankfully, the Texans had decided to defy city and state authorities who prohibited providing food, water, or medical assistance to "outlaws" such as myself). "Thank God you guys are here," the driver shouted over din of his diesel engine. "Keep the blacks out," he yelled. "Don't let them back in. We're going make this a beautiful city."
New Orleans authorities will soon suspend martial law and permit the reentry of all New Orleanians to their city. This will result in one the most remarkable political transformation of any major city in United States' history. New Orleans will resurrect under a white political majority in a city where African Americans were 70% of the population only a month ago. This seismic shift is the direct result of Katrina's destruction of tens of thousands of black homes that, notwithstanding massive federal aid and flood insurance guarantees, will never be rebuilt, or will be rebuilt at costs far beyond the reach of most blacks.
The question that will face New Orleanians in the coming weeks is "In whose image will New Orleans be reconstituted?" What will become of black New Orleans and its dynamic culture that gave the world Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Mardis Gras Indians, brass bands, and uniquely inflected contemporary musical innovations in rap and hip hop music?
What will become of the endearing culture of celebration that served as an antidote for the numbing boredom of repressed but and colorless Midwestern lives. The spirit and ethnic diversity of New Orleans is worth saving as much as the Italianate mansions along St. Charles Avenue. But as we rebuild this city there will be tremendous pressure to commercialize, package, and deliver the culture without the people who made it. New Orleans, the city of majestic homes and elegant muscular oaks will no doubt be reborn; but possibly without a soul. Such a spiritual death will result in New Orleans becoming the Orlando of the South. That's when I will voluntarily evacuate.
Since Hurricane Katrina came ashore on August 29, I have traveled by bicycle through hundreds of neighborhoods taking care of strangers (mostly pet lovers who would not leave their pets) talking to people from all walks of life. I do not pretend to know what the nation's perception of the events here have been. We "resisters", as the government has dubbed us (odd, I thought I was a "resident") have gone three weeks without newspapers, internet access, postal service, land-line phones, and receive almost all of our news through one officially designated radio/television station. So I do not know the issues in the national policy debate on the rescue and recovery efforts. But I do know what I have seen and heard on the streets, and it is not encouraging.
There is a growing and powerful "racial exclusion movement" among a significant section of the white New Orleanian community that sees Katrina as an opportunity to eliminate poverty and crime by eliminating black people. It is not a new movement, nor is it the sole province of parvenu gas station owners. Proposals of remove the New Orleans black population enjoyed a measure of support as late as the 1950s. I now hear many members of the old moneyed "carnival royalty" families openly arguing that Katrina provides an opening to depose black majority rule in the same way that their confederate forbearers overthrew the bi-racial Reconstruction government in?
I draw a distinction between a disaster and a tragedy. Disasters are something nature inflicts upon humans. Tragedies are something humans inflict upon other humans in their botched efforts to remedy disasters. The rescue efforts were clearly a tragedy; now we are faced with a second tragedy in the recovery processes both material and moral.
The decisions that will set the course for recovery for decades to come are being made today — with only one percent of the city's voters present. It is not a foregone conclusion that the issues of equity and fairness will make it to the table. The table has already been set, and who will be at it is anyone's guess.
The New Orleans African American community finds itself fragmented and living in exile; not only the thousands of poor and unemployed African Americans in shelters, but also the thousands of educated black middle class professionals who comprised the city's political, intellectual, religious, and social justice activist leadership. When these people return things will no doubt heat up, given that the majority of black voters opposed Mayor Ray Nagin's election and his strongest critics, like the rest of the city's residents, have not been allowed back into the city.
There are already ominous signs that the recovery path may end up reproducing privilege inside New Orleans and poverty outside. Economically secure white New Orleanians have, for the most part, returned to secure their homes, yet no return provisions have been made for poor homeowners and renter.
Particularly disturbing is the failure of corporate and institutional leadership in the city to set an example of equity. As thousands of unemployed black New Orleanians sit idle in relocation centers in Texas, many of New Orleans' leading businesses and institutions are rapidly cleaning up with the help of thousands of workers--largely Hispanics imported from Texas. The city is flooded with Latinos who will soon become the new preferred service class. This development does not bode well for the eventual return of the black working poor.
Despite the dearth of outside news, I did listen to President George Bush's speech on the radio when he laid out his recovery plan. His call to build 4,000 new homes for low-income people is a good start; but that will provide housing for less than six percent of the 350,000 blacks who lived in New Orleans before Katrina. What was missing from his speech was a commitment to a specific funding level and the guarantee of equality in outcomes, not simply treatment.
The degrading treatment of black New Orleanians during the rescue phase also raises questions about the recovery process and equity. To this day, the city and state governments refuse to provide water, food, or medical aid to anyone remaining in New Orleans, though virtually all of those people live in the thousands of homes that sit on historically high ground and have never flooded by way of Lake Ponchartrain. Many of these residents are wondering aloud if we should place our confidence in the same people to plan and direct a recovery process that results in a vibrantly diverse city?
The final task is that of moral recovery. My wife, Eileen San Juan and I originally stayed because we have lived through thirty years of hurricanes and floods and have always stayed to care for our homes and help our neighbors. It is the appalling indifference to the suffering of others that I have witnessed as a "resister" inside the city that convinces me that we urgently need a carefully planned and comprehensive program for "moral and ethical" recovery. My own experience was particularly disturbing.
On September 2nd I awoke to radio news that thousands of evacuees were continuing to languish in the sun at the Morial Convention Center because city officials had ordered police and guardsmen not to issue food, water, or medical support. The news account also reported that two corpses were propped by the front door of the convention center.
I frantically loaded our car with supplies, spay-painted "AID" on all the doors and windows and headed for the convention center. On the way I passed a dead bloated body at Magazine and Jackson. She was wearing white socks with large blue stars. The scene at the convention center was one of unspeakable and shameful suffering.
Women begged me to take their babies who were dehydrating. I had to tell them that there were no hospitals: all medical personnel had been forcible evacuated, even on dry land. Contrary to official pronouncements that the convention center was too dangerous for police, let along unarmed relief workers, people at the center greeted me like an angel from the heavens. People orderly distributed my goods as others implored me to bring back baby formula, water, and antibiotics. A man approached my car as I tried to leave. His eyes were dark and hollow. "Please mister," he said in daze. "Tell the world what's going on down here. Tell them that people are killing each other just for a drink of water."
Shaken, I raced back to my home to get more water and supplies. A mile from the center a white pick-up truck fell in behind me with two police officers. The unmarked truck had no siren or lights. I decided not to stop because I was sure they would tell me not to come back. Then suddenly, "Boom! Boom! Boom!" The state patrolman had fired three shots into the air from his handgun to force me to stop. I stopped, though furious that they had nothing better to do then chase relief workers. The policeman demanded to know what I was doing and why did I have "AID" painted on my car. I heatedly explained that I was taking food, water, and medical supplies to babies and elderly people who were dying in the sun at the convention center. Then I asked what were they doing heading away from the problem with an empty truck. They let me go.
The moral recovery in Katrina's wake needs to be approached with the same forethought and resources as the material recovery. I have directed an organization for thirteen years that has the simple mission to teach the moral imperative to speak out against the suffering and persecution of others. We have used the history of the Holocaust and the civil rights movement to teach young people the causes and consequences of racism and moral indifference. Now, we no longer have to reach back decades to find a telling case-study of human failure and redemption.
Hurricanes bring out the best and worst of human behavior. It is heartening that so many communities have opened their schools to the 60,000 black New Orleanian students left homeless by this disaster, but plunging children into strange worlds without preparing and training them, their families, and their host schools for the culture shock is a recipe for a second disaster.
The recovery process is not written in stone — yet. The only guarantee for a recovery that does not exacerbate racism and compound inequality, and one that brings New Orleans back to life in both body and spirit, is a national mobilization of African Americans and all those lovers of "the city that care forgot" to relentlessly pressure the federal government for an inclusive and fair decision-making process.
Lance Hill, Ph.D.
Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University
Author of "Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement" UNC press
Brief biography of Lance
Dr. Lance Hill is the Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. Dr. Hill worked as a community activist and labor organizer for twenty years before embarking on an academic career. From 1989 to 1992, Dr. Hill served as the Executive Director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism (LCARN), the grass roots organization that led the opposition to former Klansman David Duke's Senate and Gubernatorial campaigns. One of the coalition's founders, Hill directed the organization's extensive television, radio and direct mail campaigns. The New York Times and the New Orleans Times-Picayune credited LCARN with playing the leading role in Duke's ultimate political demise.
In 1993, Hill co-founded the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. Over the past ten years the Institute's tolerance education program-the most comprehensive project of its kind in the South-- has provided training to more than 3,600 teachers from 785 schools in the Deep South. The program uses case studies of the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement to teach the causes and consequences of prejudice. With a geographic scope of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle, the Institute prides itself on successful implementing programs in rural and isolated communities that have been traditional strongholds of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups.
Dr. Hill also directs the Southern Institute's cross-cultural communication training and research program which teaches advanced skills to improve communication and collaboration among ethnic groups in the United States.
Hill holds a PhD from Tulane University, where he has taught US History and Intercultural Communication. His scholarly research field is the history of race relations and the radical right. He is the author of The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) and "National Socialist Race Doctrine in the Political Thought of David Duke," in The Emergence of David Duke by Doug Rose (University of North Carolina Press, 1994). He has served as a consultant on several PBS documentaries on the radical right and the civil rights movement and has written extensively on racial politics in the South.
Dr. Hill resides in New Orleans with his wife of thirty years,