POEM: Lillian Dupree & The Ballad of Frenchman Street

UPDATE: This poem was published in the Winter-Spring 2010 issue of Blue Collar Review. You can get your copy at partisanpress.org.

Photograph by Richard Oliver

Lillian Dupree & The Ballad of Frenchman Street

It always starts with the rain and wind kicking up.
Clouds circle like vultures far out over the ocean,
higher than the sailors could see them,
if they were looking.

In a bar near Charity Hospital,
the TV shows the slowly spiraling storm,
but the sound is off and no one pays much mind
as the weatherman says “this is the one.”

In old westerns, the Indian lies prostrate,
ear to the ground, listening for the approaching hoof beats
of a warring tribe. If Donald Harrison, Jr., were to put
his ear to the ground, he would hear the low rumble of the future.

A factory in Texas made the guitar
that will be strummed when the horn should be sounded.
The strings are tight across the bridge,
like the cars and the buses and those on foot will be later.

Back on Frenchman Street, Lillian Dupree gets up from the bar
and starts for home, noticing that the breeze is strong.
She’s still in her scrubs after a long night taking readings,
listening for pulses and watching the moving lines.

This is the old part of the city.
The part the French built when it seemed like they’d be here forever.
As time and the storm proved, no one
is guaranteed this plot of land at the edge of the gulf.

First the French, then the Spanish, then the French again;
they all tried to conquer what could not be tamed;
tried to civilize the wild Caribbean soul of a city that was
never really part of this country, and yet is at the heart of it.

Perhaps it is that very separation, that very wildness,
that will make it easy for many to look away
as the bowl fills with unholy water like a rusty pot
left to decay in the tall grasses out behind the house.

Lillian Dupree is tired.
Tired of walking these same streets every night.
She wishes she could drive, or that she could afford to live
far enough away to commute.

She was born at this very hospital, born to a mother
who was born to a mother
who was born to a mother
who was born a slave.

Did you know that the last ever shipment of African slaves
from the continent came to this very city?
By that time, all the Africans you could ever want
were being mass produced in Virginia.

The Democrats’ debt to the people of New Orleans

Melissa Harris-Lacewell and James Perry co-authored this piece for The Nation. Here’s an excerpt:

When New Orleans flooded in August 2005, the Democratic Party was a shambles, locked out of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. For nearly a decade the Democrats played defense against a Republican onslaught initiated by Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America. After September 11, Democrats had joined with Republicans in giving President Bush unprecedented executive authority, thereby helping to erode civil liberties at home and authorize ill-advised aggression overseas. In 2004 Democrats were keenly aware that a solid majority of Americans believed it was unpatriotic to protest the Iraq War. So instead of articulating a clear alternative to Bush’s militarism, they nominated John Kerry on the strength of his record as a solider. Even so, they found it impossible to outmaneuver the existing commander in chief.

In August 2005 the Democratic Party had no clear leader, no identifiable platform, no winning national coalition and little political courage.

Then the force of Hurricane Katrina devastated the inadequate levees surrounding New Orleans. Americans watched as the city flooded, the power went out, and food and water became scarce. They watched as emergency shelters became centers of disease, starvation, agony and death. The nation watched in horror, but no mass evacuation began and Air Force One did not land. As the crisis wore on, the public became increasingly confused by and angry about the lack of coordinated response to alleviate human suffering and evacuate trapped citizens. As the waters rose, President Bush’s approval sank.

Read the rest of the article.

Responding to the post-Katrina race war in New Orleans

The current issue of The Nation has a very disturbing report on white vigilantism in New Orleans after Katrina. Here’s a description along with a link to pressure the NoLa authorities to investigate these crimes:

A new report in The Nation[1] documents what many have claimed for years — for some Black New Orleanians the threat of being killed by White vigilantes in Katrina’s aftermath became a bigger threat than the storm itself.

After the storm, White vigilantes roamed Algiers Point shooting and, according to their own accounts, killing Black men at will — with no threat of a police response. For the last three years, the shootings and the police force’s role in them have been an open secret to many New Orleanians. To date, no one has been charged with a crime and law enforcement officials have refused to investigate.

The report is helpful, but given Lousiana’s horrible record on protecting its Black citizens, justice will only come if we demand it.

I’ve joined ColorOfChange in calling on Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, and the U.S. Department of Justice–to conduct a full investigation of these crimes and any police cover-up. Will you join me? It takes only a moment:

ColorOfChange.org

In the two weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the media created a climate of fear with trumped-up stories of Black lawlessness. Meanwhile, an armed group of White vigilantes took over the Algiers Point neighborhood in New Orleans and mercilessly hunted down Black people. “It was great!” said one vigilante. “It was like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it.”

“The Nation’s” article tells the story of Donnell Herrington, Marcel Alexander, and Chris Collins–a group of friends who were attacked by shotgun-wielding White men as they entered Algiers Point on September
1, 2005. As they tried to escape, Herrington recalls, their attackers shouted, “Get him! Get that nigger!” He managed to get away. Alexander and Collins were told that they would be allowed to live on the condition
that they told other Black folks not to come to Algiers Point. Herrington, shot in the neck, barely survived.

And there’s the story of Henry Glover, who didn’t survive after being shot by an unknown assailant.[2] Glover’s brother flagged down a stranger for help, and the two men brought Glover to a police station. But instead of receiving aid, they were beaten by officers while Henry Glover bled to death in the back seat of the stranger’s car. A police officer drove off in the car soon afterward. Both Glover’s body and the car were found burnt to cinders a week later. It took DNA analysis to identify the body.

These are only a few of the stories of Black folks who were accosted in Algiers Point, and you can read more in The Nation. But unless you speak out, we may never learn the full extent of the violence. Journalists have encountered a wall of silence on the part of the authorities. The coroner had to be sued to turn over autopsy records. When he finally complied, the records were incomplete, with files on several suspicious deaths suddenly empty. The New Orleans police and the District Attorney repeatedly refused to talk to journalists about Algiers Point. And according to “The Nation” journalist A.C. Thompson, “the city has in nearly every case refused to investigate or prosecute people for assaults and murders committed in the wake of the storm.”

The Nation article is important, but it’s just a start. For more than three years now, these racist criminals have by their own admission gotten away with murder while officials in New Orleans have systematically evaded any kind of accountability. We have to demand it.

Please join us in calling on state and federal officials to investigate these brutal attacks and the conduct of Orleans Parish law enforcement agencies, and please ask your friends and family to do the same.

ColorOfChange.org

Thanks.

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1. “Katrina’s Hidden Race War,” The Nation, 12-18-2008

2. “Body of Evidence,” The Nation, 12-18-2008