Daily BulletinHoliday Centre

The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imageThe Lower Ninth Ward Living History Museum opened in August 2013.Author provided

The human-made disaster in New Orleans before, during and after Hurricane Katrina was the first time I was forced to really grapple with race and class inequality.

And it’s what motivated me and three fellow volunteers to try to preserve the history of one neighborhood – New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward – before its story was forgotten.

In 2005 I was a college student, paying little attention when Katrina happened. Nine months later, I got on an airplane as part of an alternative summer break, where I expected to do the same volunteer work I’d done since I was kid. Then I’d head off for Bourbon Street and the French Quarter (which was all I knew of the city).

Instead, I discovered that the Lower Ninth Ward – a neighborhood that, before Katrina, had one of the highest rates of black homeownership in the nation – remained an open wound, one that left a lasting scar.

For while New Orleans has largely recovered from Hurricane Katrina, it’s clear that the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood has not.

Nonetheless, the story of the neighborhood’s destruction and the story of the ensuing efforts to rebuild it – which includes the creation of a museum – is a remarkable tale of cultural survival.

imageThe Lower Ninth Ward – with one of the highest rates of black home ownership in the country – was hit especially hard by flooding.Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

Residents recall chaos, fear

After that eye-opening summer, I spent years volunteering to rebuild homes and support local community organizing efforts.

I remember sitting down at a tool lending depot with a man struggling to rebuild his home in Lower Ninth Ward. He’d stayed through the storm, and his trauma was palpable.

Other residents remembered the chaos of the disaster. There was Brandon Fontenelle, who recalled that it was “hard for some of us that wasn’t making the money to get out of here.”

Ward “Mack” McClendon noted that the hurricane itself only caused the neighborhood wind damage. But “when the levees broke after Katrina had passed, that’s what created all of our problems.” Karen Frank remembered hearing “a boom, and when I heard the boom, I heard everybody outside saying ‘ooh.’”

The predicted and preventable levee failure inundated the community under a twenty foot wall of water, drowning many who thought the danger had passed and destroying homes.

“All I had was one emotion: survival,” Milton Crawford III would later say.

‘I think they forgot about us’

Despite the magnitude of the flooding, a number of houses remained structurally sound and could be renovated. But the houses needed to be emptied of all their contents, the walls taken down to the studs.

The work was demanding. At the same time, it was incredibly moving to sort through the remnants of someone’s life – some of whom had passed away in the flooding or in the aftermath. It seemed as though if we could just gut, renovate and rebuild enough houses, the community could return.

imageBefore being rebuilt, houses needed to be gutted.Author provided

However, the Lower Ninth Ward was treated differently from other parts of New Orleans.

As resident Minor Moe recalled, “St Bernard coming up. Uptown coming up. Canal Street coming up. Every part of town coming up but the Ninth Ward, and I think they forgot about us.”

The return of Lower Ninth Ward residents was obstructed by prolonged denial of access to property (worsening mold and termite damage and theft), prolonged absence of water and electrical service, and concern over adequate levee repairs.

But “risk reduction” measures – including proposals to “right size” the city by redeveloping their neighborhood as green space and rainwater storage – have been perceived as attempts to hinder the return of displaced black residents. This was further exacerbated by threat of government seizure of “nuisance properties” under eminent domain if homes were not gutted or lawns were above eighteen inches.

The premature demolition of homes by FEMA without proper inspection and notification (and then without compensation) – along with the presence of disaster capitalists seeking to buy up properties before residents recovered – further hindered the community’s rebuilding efforts.

“Everybody could come back home to New Orleans but us,” a resident named Ester Smith remembered.

Under military curfew enforced by the National Guard, residents of the neighborhood were given only restricted access to their property for months after the flooding, well after it had been lifted for other parts of the city.

“Matter of fact, they created what they called a ‘look and leave’ policy,” Ward “Mack” McClendon explained. “After so many months, you could get on a bus in the Upper Ninth, and you could look at your house and leave.”

A culture and history forever lost?

Ten years later, most pre-Katrina residents remain displaced or have died, while the economic and physical infrastructure remains gutted. Nearly half of the housing units are vacant.

“How long it’s been?” resident Deborah Hawkins wondered. “A long damn time, and we still look the same.”

What many people don’t know about the Lower Ninth Ward is that it is a distinct community, with a rich cultural history going back to the late 1700s, when it was a cypress swamp that housed runaway slaves. It was later ground zero for school desegregation in the Deep South, and home to over 200 renowned musicians, including Fats Domino.

The neighborhood possesses “a unique bundle of characteristics that, when taken together, constitute a sense of place that cannot be found or replicated elsewhere.”

Unfortunately, today the number of households living in the Lower Ninth Ward is 36.7% of its original size.

With most of their people unable to return home and the spread of gentrification, many original residents expressed the same concerns: they feared their culture, their history, their stories – all of it would be submerged forever.

“The people that’s coming here now, they really don’t know the heritage of the Lower Ninth Ward,” resident Jason Freeman said. “And I’m just afraid that it’s going to get lost.”

“It’s history. It’s the place where I grew up,” Percy Robinson said. “It’s a community that I knew really, really well, and I don’t know it anymore. It’s gone. The community I grew up in is gone.”

A living museum is born

It was residents like Jason Freeman and Percy Robinson who inspired us to create the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum.

Building on an existing subculture of house museums in New Orleans (such as the House of Dance and Feathers and the Backstreet Cultural Museum), we co-founded the museum to combat the erasure of residents' voices.

Situated in half of a double-shotgun house on the corner of Deslonde Street and Urquhart Street, the museum is nestled on a quiet residential block between the main drags of St Claude Avenue and North Claiborne Avenue.

Built in 1940, the building was originally owned and inhabited by several families before becoming a rental property. While the house was renovated after Katrina, the owner stopped renting it because he relocated to Baton Rouge and no longer wished to make the commute.

Wanting to put down roots in New Orleans, we purchased the property in 2011 with the museum in mind. After knocking on neighbors doors in the surrounding area and receiving their approval, we began work.

Today, the well-marked purple facade and blue porch are hard to miss.

The Living Museum – which officially opened its doors in August of 2013 – celebrates the neighborhood’s vibrant history and culture through exhibits and oral histories, excerpts of which are included in this article. It has also become a hub for children’s programs and community events. Admission is always free.

I’m indebted to the people here for teaching me how the world works on the back of their trauma, for their kindness and generosity. “Roots run deep here,” and the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum will continue to work in solidarity with the community and carry their stories forward.

Resident Jon Chenau probably put it best: “The soul of the people here, you’re not going to find that nowhere else.”

imageVisitor messages in the Rebirth and Remembrance Room. To date, the museum has welcomed 4,278 visitors from 42 states, 22 countries and six continents.Author provided


You can find more information about the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum here and here.

Ian Breckenridge-Jackson is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Riverside. He has received funding for research from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, the U.C. Center for New Racial Studies, and the American Sociological Association’s Sydney S. Spivack Program in Applied Social Research and Social Policy Community Action Research Award. He is a co-founder and co-executive director of the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum, an entirely free and volunteer-run nonprofit neighborhood museum.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/in-the-lower-ninth-ward-a-museum-works-to-preserve-a-culture-washed-away-46170

INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

The Conversation

Politics

Scott Morrison Virus Announcement

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon. Keeping Australians safe - that is the priority of our Government as we deal with what has been an emerging situation with the coronavirus. Each and every day there a...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Closing the Gap Statement to Parliament

Mr Speaker, when we meet in this place, we are on Ngunnawal country. I give my thanks and pay my respects to our Ngunnawal elders, past, present and importantly emerging for our future. I honour...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Alan Jones

ALAN JONES: Prime Minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Alan.    JONES: I was just thinking last night when we're going to talk to you today, you must feel as though you've ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Business News

Having a mentor is a must to take your business to the next level

Kerstyn Walsh will have the chance to meet her business mentor, LA-based wedding planner to the stars, Lisa Vorce, which will be game-changing for growing Kerstyn’s business Kerstyn Walsh, a self-emp...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

Is Hiring a Corporate Lawyer for Your Company Necessary?

Alternative online legal services like LegalZoom, Incfile, and Rocket Lawyer provides young and budding entrepreneurs access to legal help at a much affordable price without having to hire or meet a l...

Joe Curmi - avatar Joe Curmi

Top 5 Green Marketing Ideas for Your Eco-Friendly Small Business

According to studies, about 33 percent of consumers prefer buying from brands that care about their impact on the environment. This is good news for anyone running an eco-friendly business. It’s a...

Diana Smith - avatar Diana Smith

Travel

Travelling With Pets? Here Is What You Should Know

Only a pet parent can understand the dilemma one experiences while planning a vacation. Do you leave your pets at home?  Will you get a pet sitter or someone to take care of them while you are away?...

News Company - avatar News Company

How to Be a Smart Frugal Traveller

You are looking through Instagram, watching story after story of your followers overseas at a beach in Santorini, walking through the piazza in Italy, and eating a baguette in front of the Eiffel ...

News Company - avatar News Company

HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR GRADUATION TRIP

Graduation is the stage of life when a student receives the rewards of hard work of years. It must have taken sleepless nights and tiring days to achieve the task. Now, as you have received your cov...

News Company - avatar News Company

ShowPo