* * *
Wednesday, May 31, 2006: REBIRTH: PEOPLE, PLACES,
AND CULTURE IN NEW ORLEANS
The three-day conference sponsored
by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and
Tulane University (Dillard, Xavier, Loyola and the
Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans are
co-sponsors) began yesterday with pre-conference field
sessions. One session involved dinner, drinks, and music
at selected restaurants, bars, and clubs. In the
official letter, dated May 3, 2006, I received from
President Scott Cowan of Tulane and President Richard
Moe of the Trust, the gentlemen mentioned the purpose
was "[t]o energize and elevate the discussion about the
important role arts and culture play in the
reconstruction effort." I volunteered to serve on a
panel because I wanted to be sure that the "people"
component of "culture" did not get short shrift.
This morning, President Scott Cowen
opened the day's meetings very effectively; his speech
was crisp, concise, and economic. . There was special
warmth in his introduction of Irvin Mayfield. Irvin,
accompanied by Ronald Markham (a mechanical engineer who
is also a musician), set a very polished tone for the
conference with his discussion of the blues and jazz,
his playing of a blues, followed by his version of
"Yesterday" by the Beatles, followed by a musical
demonstration of "the first line" (march to the
cemetery, the dirge) and "the second line" (every
expanding celebratory return from the cemetery).
The last selection underscored his
mentioning that his father, who drowned in the flooding
of the city, had given him the means to deal with such a
tragedy: jazz. Irvin was at his elegant and eloquent
best as he prepared the ears of the invitation only
audience. Irvin was very careful in placing his
explanations and his playing within the context of
American democracy. After his performance, President
Cowan introduced Oliver Thomas, councilman-at-large, who
filled in for Mayor Nagin, and Richard Moe.
Moe focused on the work of the
Trust with places and cultures. His remarks provided a
good opening for Jack Davis, publisher of the Hartford
Courant, to introduce those who served on the "What
Makes Community?" panel: Irvin Mayfield, Tom Piazza, and
Tom read from his prepared remarks
about community. He said something about black and white
that sent up the red flag regarding binary discourses.
Had I not early this morning read the phrase "media
malfeasance" regarding the coverage of the Katrina
disaster? I have no prepared remarks. I trust
improvising. When Davis asked for my comments, I began
by suggesting that Irvin and Tom were very much a part
of my community in the city. I noted Irvin's alluding to
the blues, to the classic definition provided by Ralph
Ellison—running one's finger over the jagged grain of
I added "catching splinters and
healing from the injury." I framed the remainder of my
remarks with a quotation from THE KATRINA PAPERS: "Those
of us who have made our beds in New Orleans have learned
to sleep soundly on the surface of water." Community is
about people being interdependent. It consists of
relatives, friends who have returned to the city and
friends who are still absent, friends and colleagues at
Dillard University. It is about our social communion.
Rituals are important.
I mention Dave Brinks and his
efforts to reunite writers and artists, the October
resuscitation of the
17 Poets Series at the Gold Mine
Saloon; I mention the March 6 taping by PBS of a special
reading in the series. I wanted the audience to know
about the most democratic venue for arts in the city. I
want them to note that kind of human spirit that Dave
It is important for us not to get
bogged down by the classic oppositions of black and
white. I remind the audience that the coverage of
Katrina in the first weeks of September 2005 would lead
to the idea that no Latinos/Latinas, no Vietnamese, no
Greek-Americans, no Asian-Americans inhabited the city.
The media invoked the classic and reductive black/white
template, a template that cherishes the black as victim.
This habit is not to be tolerated. It will not serve us
well in the future.
The audience has a special interest
in restaurants and cuisine. I could not resist
mentioning that Pampy's on North Broad may lose all of
it former pretense to elegance and become an upscale
fast-food joint. I emphasize that I am replaying Mr. "Pampy"
Barre's remarks on a NPR program. Restaurants have been
special sites for eating, for conversations, for
political planning. That must be remembered. Food and
politics are old friends. I do hope the audience will
recall the political implications of what they ate
during the pre-conference field sessions.
To recreate a sense of community
that will support the rebirth of culture, we must have
respect for the multilayered cultures of the city. We
can have no respect if we turn our backs on the facts of
class tension in the city, the enormous distance between
the rich and the poor. Someone mentioned the Aspen
Institute during the opening session. I picked that up
by noting that those who ski in Aspen may have
absolutely no perspective on the lives of successful
people, poor and middle class, who lived in the much
maligned Ninth Ward.
I recounted the attitude of
Gentilly Civic Improvement Association residents to a
story about having raised five children in the Ninth
Ward. Their negative dismissal led me to believe they
would willingly feed rat poison to everyone who formerly
live in the St. Bernard Project. This genteel audience
must hear something that is often unspoken as New
Orleans puts on a daily Mardi Gras face for the sake of
Tourism is a vital part of the New
Orleans economy, for the majority of the city's revenue
comes from tourism. Nevertheless, I feel a moral
obligation to end my remarks with a strong assertion.
Rebirth demands Honesty, an honesty that may never have
existed in New Orleans or in America.
WE MUST STOP DOING WHITEFACE FOR
TOURISTS. THAT KIND OF MINSTRELSY WILL NOT AID THE
Irvin followed my remarks with a
nicely packaged patriotic message. Jazz teaches us that
democracy is not easy, that we are always in struggle.
The life of community depends on constant struggle. I
confess that what Irving actually said is now foggy in
my memory. I was busy controlling the internal flames my
comments had started. I don't clearly remember what Tom
said either . When Tom was reading, I was pouring
gasoline on the smoldering coals of what I planned to
I take a break after our panel and
have coffee with Tom. He persuades me that I should hear
First Lady Laura Bush's keynote address at 11:30. I
return to Freeman Auditorium, Woldenberg Art Center, to
witness the address. I catch the end of the second panel
on "Rebirth of New Orleans' Historic Neighborhoods:
Coming HOME AGAIN!" Kevin Mercadel of the National
Trust, New Orleans Office, is saying something important
about sites and creativity, the shotgun house and jazz.
I think of where I write and how
the quality of writing is affected. What I write in a
hotel room has a very different flavor from what I write
in my Vicksburg apartment or on the campus of a
university where I am a guest. The writing I did at home
prior to Katrina was utterly different.
Notes from listening to Mrs.
Her timing is perfect. She began at
11: 35. She ended at 11: 55.
thanks the sponsor for this summit. Cowan is a huge
advantage for New Orleans. Can I crack the code of what
she just said? She mentions we have the 40th anniversary
of the National Preservation Act. It is important to
protect America's historical heritage for the next
century. These discussions at Tulane will help promote
dialogues during the forthcoming Preserve America
Summit. It helps President Bush's Preserve America
Initiative. (I don't want to misread the code here).
Well-preserved history can revive local tourism. Katrina
is a defining moment in New Orleans culture and history.
New Orleans can come back. She thanks everyone for
commitment to preservation.
Her timing is perfect. The measured
words of her speech are perfect. I have witnessed
conservative perfection. All the insiders are pleased.
A Loss and A Promise
I opt not to join the participants
and audience for lunch, although I regret not hearing
what Brian Williams, anchor for NBC Nightly News has to
say. I have obligations at Dillard, obligations that
have much to do with its rebirth! I do plan, however, to
attend all the session tomorrow.
At St. Augustine's: 7:00 pm
After a rather heady discussion of
King Lear in our Shakespeare class, I rush to St.
Augustine's Church (1210 Gov. Nicholls St.) to see
Maroon: On the Trail of Creoles in North America by
the Quebec filmmaker Andre Gladu. This is the premiere.
Gladu and Father Jerome LeDoux were scheduled to be
present. Neither was. The film was rather long, but it
was an eye-opening painting of rural French Louisiana,
the Creole music that links the rural with urban New
Orleans, the slow death of a culture.
The film causes me to think about
departure, refusal, what it might mean to be a maroon
after Katrina. The film visualizes much about the role
of faith in preservation of community and traditions.
The information about a truly Creole Mardi Gras is
striking, because a genuine Mardi Gras deals primarily
with a people's culture not their commerce. Wonderful
contrast of a people's celebration with the pre-cooked
celebration offered up in New Orleans.
Thursday, June 1, 2006: FIRST
DAY OF HURRICANE SEASON
"How you be? Kalamu greeted me and
shook my hand as I got into his car in front of the
hotel. "Tired from two days of the National Trust
conference," I confessed. He gives me another CD of New
Zealand music. "And here," I said, "is a copy of the
conference program. Let's go to Mama Rosa's. I read
somewhere that it's reopened."
As we drive to one of the first
restaurants where Kalamu and I began our weekly dinner
and conversation ritual three years ago, I begin to talk
about Andre Gladu's Maroon. How impressed I was
with Gladu's not looking at the fragile glamour and
pretense of New Orleans but at rural Louisiana and the
reality of sweat. How much awe there was in seeing the
film in St. Augustine Church.
It was something of a triumph of
the spirit over the machinations of the New Orleans
Archdiocese. The showing had something to do with the
spirit of the Unknown Slave.
Kalamu tells me he had intended to
see the film, but other obligations had to be taken care
of. Yes, that is always the case, isn't it. Other
obligations. I want to do this but must do that.
Frustration has become so comfortable. So normal. This
is America. This is New Orleans. This is the new New
Orleans produced by hurricane and water. The city is a
black line of obligation.
As we eat, I give a disjointed
report on the conference, a string of moments I remember
most clearly. The fine music we had after lunch from
Michael White's quartet. Remarks by Ellis Marsalis,
David Torkanowsky, and Tom Fitzmorris. A statement by a
man named Voltz about how those who are official city
planners are prevented from demonstrating that they are
as capable of doing their jobs by the stream of outside
consultants the city council insists on hiring to
produce expensive reports.
Reports and dust. Reports gather
dust like books of poetry in America. And I was the only
person who did a second line dance as the jazz band
played at lunch. Kalamu smiles as I talk on and on. He
has lived in New Orleans all his life. What he is
hearing sounds like a replay of what has always been.
Yes, these weekly dinners inspire
me to think and rethink. Kalamu is an "ideal"
reader/listener. His is the sympathetic but critical ear
to which some words in THE KATRINA PAPERS addresses
Second Day of the Conference
Slept late. Missed Lt. Gov. Mitch
Landrieu's talk about "Louisiana's Role in Reviving
Cultural Heritage" and the panel on "Striking a Balance:
The Important and Delicate Role of the National Critic
in Reviewing Cultural Entities in New Orleans." Enjoyed
the aliveness of the panel Dr. Michael White moderated
on "Rebirth of New Orleans Music Culture."
Most of the panelists agreed that
New Orleans was going in the economic black hole long
before Katrina. They seemed not to disagree with Ellis
Marsalis's idea that musicians depend on people's having
disposable income. There was consensus that teaching
music in the schools could help young people develop
discipline, that music should be put back into the
public school curriculum.
There was remarkable non-reaction
to Marsalis's mentioning that home economics and trades
were once important in schooling. There was civil
disharmony between Nick Spitzer, the host of American
Routes, and the pianist David Torkanowsky about the
role of money in the preserving of music culture. Will
the rebirth of music culture in New Orleans, I wondered,
really be the birth of twins?
Walter Isaacson, president of the
Aspen Institute, presided over the summarizing panel
"Mixing the Gumbo: Reactions and Responses." Isaacson
dreams of rebuilding a magical city. What makes
community in New Orleans may still be a moot question,
but there is no doubt about the necessity of having a
good system of public education in the long-term process
There must be some balancing of
down-home cultures and economics. Diversity in New
Orleans culture must be preserved. Restaurants are
stabilizing elements in neighborhoods. Paradigm shifts
will occur in how we think about values in
neighborhoods. Tom Fitzmorris's irony-clad remark that
outsiders neither think of nor want New Orleans to be a
serious city and that insiders should not desire
seriousness if they want success in the tourist
industry—well, this bit of perverse and perverted irony
caused my ears to burn.
Did such a remark come from the
whiskey sauce one pours over bread pudding or from a pot
of magical gumbo? Poor New Orleans. Damned for being
good. Damned being bad.
Our lunch was light and refreshing.
The final comments by Scott Cowen and Richard Moe were
urbane and reassuring. By 2:30 p.m. the conference
ended. It succeeded in nurturing optimism about places
and culture. Preservation is probable; rebirth,
possible. Handle this credo for the new New Orleans
carefully. Double-edged razors must be handled
carefully, especially when your hand thinks people
received insufficient attention.
June 2, 2006: Weather and an
Today was the second day of
hurricane season. I barely noticed the ineffective
attempt of raindrops to dampen the soil and the concrete
of New Orleans.
Joshua B. Guild, a graduate student
in history and African American Studies at Yale,
interviewed me for almost two hours about New Orleans
and the future of historically black colleges and
universities in the city. Mr. Guild is amiable. I am
relaxed as I talk with him. He asked intelligent
questions. I hope I gave him intelligent answers.
June 2, 2006: A FILM IS A MATTER
He arrived at 7:15 p.m., slightly
more than an hour after the event had begun. A few
hundred members of the New Orleans Museum of Art had
gathered for the preview of the Ansel Adams exhibition.
In the crowd he met a person whom he had known for
seventeen plus years. The person has some authority in
making funding decisions about the preservation and
promotion of Louisiana's cultures.
He and the person had both seen
Gladu's Maroon. Smiling, the person asked him
what he thought of the film. Smiling in return, he said
he had found the film instructive but too lengthy. It
needs cutting. The person agreed. "It was about an hour
and a half. It could be reduced to three minutes."
Three minutes! The person offered a
salvo of opinions. Gladu did not know what he was
looking for. Just got off the bus with a camera. Became
fascinated with black people in rural Louisiana who
speak French. [Correction: Some speak French, some speak
Cajun, some speak Creole] Gladu has no sense of history.
Did you see how stupidly he presented history. He did
not consult historians or books, just shot pictures.
His work is not academic. "Such
sloppiness disgusts me." His voiceover explanations are
abominations. Gladu does not understand music. He does
not understand the refinement of Creoles. What have
maroons to do with Creoles anyway? Gladu's film is an
onion. The person was trying to mince it with an ax.
You, who are he, insist that Gladu
deserves some credit. The film was not totally bad. For
Gladu, Creoles are people who came to Louisiana from
Haiti, and he did frame his thinking correctly by
opening with the lighting of candles and the pouring of
libation at the Ancient Tree. That is a Haitian gesture.
You praise Gladu's interrogation of
the very concept of Creole. The term Creole is very
flexible. Its meaning depends on who is using the term
at what time. Gladu is right to say that very
black-skinned people were not accepted as Creoles until
after the Civil War, because many who belonged to the
third race between black and white rejected them.
Gladu's getting the country
musicians to talk has value. Those musicians do not
think of their continuation of tradition to be a
preservation of what is Cajun. It is Creole. Whether it
is good evidence or bad, Gladu's film provides raw
material for historians to dissect. The film is not
history. It is a lyric odyssey. You are adamant in your
belief that maroons have a lot to do with Creoles. Some
maroons, you remind the person, were the parents of
Creoles. You must not dismiss genetic fact. A tarbrush
The person smiles broadly. "You are
very generous. You have a big heart." Our post-Katrina
experiences should teach us all to have big hearts. That
is what your eyes say without speaking. "Isn't discourse
wonderful?" the person asks. "Yes. It helps to think
deeply about this matter of what is Creole." You can see
the wounded humor that rides your voice. Turning in
opposite directions, you and the person bid each other
At that moment, the person, whom
you have no legitimate reason to hate, reminds you of
what you resent about people who think God ordained them
high priests of culture. The person reminds you of what
you most dislike about the arrogance of some people who
live uptown. Charity demands that you pray as your
ancestors would have prayed for the person and the
neo-con priesthood. They must learn that culture is
The Katrina Papers is not your
average memoir. It is a fusion of many kinds of
writing, including intellectual autobiography,
personal narrative, political/cultural analysis,
spiritual journal, literary history, and poetry.
Though it is the record of one man's experience of
Hurricane Katrina, it is a record that is fully a
part of his life and work as a scholar, political
activist, and professor.
The Katrina Papers provides space not only for the traumatic events but
also for ruminations on authors such as Richard
Wright and theorists like Deleuze and Guattarri. The
result is a complex though thoroughly accessible
book. The struggle with form—the search for a
medium proper to the complex social, personal, and
political ramifications of an event unprecedented in
this scholar's life and in American social history—lies at the very heart of
The Katrina Papers . It
depicts an enigmatic and multi-stranded world view
which takes the local as its nexus for understanding
the global. It resists the temptation to simplify
or clarify when simplification and clarification are
not possible. Ward's narrative is, at times, very
direct, but he always refuses to simplify the
complex emotional and spiritual volatility of the
process and the historical moment that he is
witnessing. The end result is an honesty that is
both pedagogical and inspiring.—Hank Lazer
* * *
* * *
Hopes and Prospects
By Noam Chomsky
In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky
surveys the dangers and prospects of our
early twenty-first century. Exploring
challenges such as the growing gap
between North and South, American
exceptionalism (including under
President Barack Obama), the fiascos of
Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli
assault on Gaza, and the recent
financial bailouts, he also sees hope
for the future and a way to move
forward—in the democratic wave in Latin
America and in the global solidarity
movements that suggest "real progress
toward freedom and justice." Hopes and
Prospects is essential reading for
anyone who is concerned about the
primary challenges still facing the
human race. "This is a classic Chomsky
work: a bonfire of myths and lies,
sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky
is an enduring inspiration all over the
world—to millions, I suspect—for the
simple reason that he is a truth-teller
on an epic scale. I salute him." —John
In dissecting the rhetoric and logic of
American empire and class domination, at
home and abroad, Chomsky continues a
longstanding and crucial work of
elucidation and activism . . .the
writing remains unswervingly rational
and principled throughout, and lends
bracing impetus to the real alternatives
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America. This
collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * * * *
The White Masters
of the World
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
* * *
Negro Digest / Black World
Browse all issues
* * *
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 Slavery /
George Jackson /
* * * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding
* * * * *
* * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
posted 3 June 2006