Thursday, September 15, 2005

Louisiana, They Tried To Wash Us Away

When Aaron Neville sang the chilling Randy Newman song Louisiana Flood, 1927 on the telethon to raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims, it was generally believed to be a protest against the institutional racism that America was watching unfold before our eyes. We were all eyewitness to the scenes of horror as victims struggled against the rising floodwaters and catastrophic winds that destroyed their homes and took their lives. And it escaped nobody's notice that most of those trapped in New Orleans were the poor and the black.Those with the means to leave had fled the city or were on higher ground in places like the French Quarter or the wealthier and older sections of The Garden District.

Newman's song recounts the devastating flood of 1927, when armed Louisiana National Guardsman forced the black populace, at gunpoint, to act as human dykes to protect the property of the wealthy. As they drowned in the deluge, pleasure boats filled with wealthy whites sailed out of New Orleans' harbor, while jazz bands played "Bye Bye Black Bird."

While the racism this time wasn't as blatant, it turns out that the song was somewhat more than just a metaphor.

I stumbled across this story in the most recent Washington City Paper. It's an account by two medical emergency workers, Lori Beth Slonsky and Larry Bradshaw, which appeared on the website of the Socialist Workers Party.

Now, I normally would take anything reported by so highly partisan and ideological a socialist website as the one run by the Socialist Workers Party with a healthy grain of salt, just as I would something I found on a far rightwing website. However, this story has been verified by the major media including ABC's Nightline and The New York Times, which ran this account last Saturday.

Here's the basic story:

Lori Beth Slonksy and Larry Bradshaw, who were in New Orleans to attend a convention for medical emergency workers, were trapped in a hotel when Hurricane Katrina hit. When the hotel ran out of food and water and lost its electricity, they and other guests were forced to leave. At first, they tried to get to the Superdome or the Convention Center. But when they heard the dire reports of the chaotic conditions at both places, they attempted to leave New Orleans for higher ground. New Orleans police suggested they walk across one of the bridges to get to a suburb south of New Orleans, Gretna. Buses were supposed to be waiting there to take them out of New Orleans.

However, incredibly, they were turned back by armed Gretna police officers and Sheriff's guards from Jefferson Parrish.

Those who were trapped in New Orleans and who were attempting to flee the flooding, privation and devastation were being forcibly prevented from leaving because, and this is a quote from one of the Sheriff's guards, "We won't allow a Superdome in Gretna."

Blacks were being prevented from going to higher ground and safety just outside New Orleans city limits. Sadly, people in Texas, Washington, DC and throughout the South were giving these evacuees a warmer welcome than their fellow Louisianans.

All that was missing was the jazz band.

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