The Cost of a Chocolate City

The Cost of a Chocolate City


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



New Orleans is to African Americans, historically our forced Ellis Island. By 1850, New Orleans

was the South’s largest slave trading center and was one of the first and last places that most

closely preserved our pre-slavery culture, languages, and religions



The Cost of a Chocolate City: Blacks and the Need

for Progressive Economic Action in New Orleans


By Andrea Roberts


Part I: The Truth about “Us” and “Them”

So-called progressive and African Americans may be surprised to hear the discussion in the hallowed halls of Ivy League universities these days around the future of New Orleans. The concept of living in “two Americas” has never been more acute than when discussing recovery and the future of New Orleans in an academic context. “Why build in a city below sea level?” “What’s this Chocolate City thing all about?” “There’s no plan of action on the left concerning the recovery and the future.” “I guess Ray Nagin is the voice of the Left.”

I am confident that several of you reading this have answers to counter all these questions and false suppositions; but alternative voices have yet to penetrate the national or academic dialogue. (And for many, Katrina is simply an academic matter.) Political corruption exacerbated by the color caste system, Nagin’s “favored Negro status” pre-Katrina among Reagan Democrats and Republicans, organizations on the ground like member groups of Common Cause coming together to re-build one house and clinic at a time, these are not part of the academic conversations of the future government and business leaders studying in our universities. 

These are absent from the dialogue among students of public and government administration soon to be charged with righting the wrongs of the “Brownies” and Chertoffs of the federal government. Rather, discourse in professional schools is emblematic of the “perception gulf” between races and classes. These intellectual exchanges alternate  between explications on the significance and meaning of New Orleans and a cold and detached response to the idea of rebuilding. 

Matters such as the challenge of securing levees and moving poor blacks back to an area below sea level, end in a sense of the safe inertia endemic to academicians for whom agency is a careful career move rather than survival.

If you are a progressive African American in these arenas, it might be helpful to penetrate the cold intellectual by asking that dispassionate observer to engage the concept of rebuilding New Orleans, post-levee break, intellectually and in terms of dollars and cents. To many Americans those of us who hold a torch for New Orleans are impractical, emotional and are too attached to the past. To these people we might pose questions like:

If we knew there was a strong likelihood of an earthquake in California arising along the San Andreas fault, would we feel justified in telling those residents who live in that area to relocate and not return?

If on 9/11, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty were attacked and destroyed, would the government and the country think twice about financing (and not just charitably fundraise) to rebuild?

The answer to anyone of these questions by those with some attachment to the collective consciousness of American would quickly answer no to both questions. I would pose these same questions to those who see rebuilding in some areas of New Orleans and securing the right of return for its residents as futile.

New Orleans is to African Americans, historically our forced Ellis Island. By 1850, New Orleans was the South’s largest slave trading center and was one of the first and last places that most closely preserved our pre-slavery culture, languages, and religions.1 This is the place many Anglo Americans metaphorically wish was wiped off the face of the earth, so that never again would they be reminded of the remnants of slavery that lie beyond the drunken, fun-filled streets of the French Quarter. 

Maybe if Americans were able to understand that New Orleans was more than a place that the President used to enjoy getting drunk in, they  would be less inclined to write off New Orleans as insignificant and not worth saving. On the other hand, maybe not. 

This country has avoided the history of slavery and its generational curse on the nation. And this curse was especially acute in New Orleans where the political system largely reflected the plantation structure of power and domination based on skin color and traditional southern hierarchies. However, the challenge is to balance the reality of the past with a vision for Black self-sustainable communities in New Orleans.

Even more disturbing is that mired in the reality of this history and those helping the evacuees heal and survive are unwittingly releasing much of their will and their future to leadership exhausting the same methods of resistance and protest the community has utilized for the past sixty years. Any vision of rebuilding focuses on what the government has failed to provide African Americans, and little on what the more privileged among us have neglected to provide for ourselves. A new brand of leadership, empowerment, and resistance will be critical to the future of black American in New Orleans and around the country.

Part II: “Why We Can’t Wait”

Most recently, Jesse Jackson was named the most important black leader in an AOL phone poll of 600 African Americans. Greg Palast, noted leftist journalist, as recently as January 10, noted Jackson’s being in the forefront of a movement for right of return for Katrina evacuees. Noted also for his “slave ship” metaphor and grand oratorical messages and religious brand of spin, Jackson and TD Jakes are the most seminal voices in the recovery discussions among African Americans in the United States. Yes, there are several notable ministers, business owners, entertainers, Mayor Ray Nagin, Louis Farrakhan, and members of Congress who have called upon the government to increase aid to businesses and New Orleans’ displaced African Americans to facilitate the “rebuilding effort.” 

Unfortunately, I would contend that the African American community has exhibited a wanting sense of purpose and vision to move New Orleans forward on behalf of its African-American residents. There are those who are rightfully taking the Bush administration to task for its almost genocidal degree of neglect post-levee break. I am supporting their efforts, but there is another front on which we must concentrate our efforts.

Noted academics and African American scholars have not failed to note the economic impact and devastation exposed and exacerbated in the wake of the levee breaks post-Katrina. However, even after Jackson’s convening of the Wall Street Summit, Farrakhan’s Million More Movement March on Washington, essays, and studies bemoaning the poverty and class issues of New Orleans, a comprehensive, transparent finance oriented self-empowerment program for African American people of the region has yet to publicly materialize.

The first matter to address is that of a transparent plan with buy-in from New Orleans and Gulf Coast region grassroots. Part of that is confronting the question of asking poor blacks to move back to areas below sea level in which many of us wouldn’t live. Yes, there have been forums and speak outs in which the mainstream characterizes the voices of the displaced as emotional and irrelevant to progress. Katrina got less then a paragraph and not even a direct mention on the State of the Union.

Why? Because, the devastated landscape, begs questions that no one in Black or White leadership wants to answer, such as

Why have our richest African Americans, the Oprahs, want to-be-Hedge Fund leader and Hotel mogul Robert L. Johnson, Kimora Lee Simmons and her Baby Phat line, not stepped forward to build tax base via investment in new enterprises in New Orleans?

Why have the leaders in public finance and business in the African American community not publicly sought to organize support for their rebuilding and infrastructure investment plans via the Black church or traditional civil rights institutions like the NAACP in a visible manner?

Why has no one addressed the role of the color caste system and the colonialist nature of African American leadership in New Orleans and its role in fostering the poverty and disempowerment of the low income and underground economy blacks?

This is the greatest opportunity for our community to reverse the trend toward classism and elitism within our community. Rather than the most privileged among us seizing their own piece of the economic pie in the redevelopment efforts, let us have a more inclusive vision of what urban renewal can mean for ALL the residents of New Orleans. 

Those who build businesses, factories, or become major employers create the tax base and largely control the future of New Orleans. There is not any reason to wait on the US government to tell rich and successful African Americans how to build a tax base, join and organize new grassroots redevelopment authorities and boards, and issue bonds backed by black insurers and black wealth. Build now. Fight harder for tax incentives later.

Some answer, that the Bush administration, largely responsible for hundreds of storm and post-Katrina deaths, Middle Passage like displacement, and lethal neglect of Katrina evacuees must step up to the plate to release funding and deploy government resources to make any of these things happen. No, we don’t let GW and his administration off the hook. Chertoff, Brown, Bush, and all levels of government failed the Gulf Coast and that is a non-contestable fact. 

However, I would argue that in the wake of this devastation and level of government inaction, African Americans must see this dark moment in our history as a grand opportunity. 

This is not the Western states that Farrakhan speaks about in his speeches or the forty acres and a mule many of us were promised but never attained after Reconstruction. New Orleans is an ecological and environmental disaster area, and is nothing like where we African Americans would think to build our “Promised Land.” I do think that this is our chance to do just that. This is our self-directed 21st Century Reconstruction.

The wealthier among us and those lone progressives in the worlds of business and finance can bring new tools of resistance and empowerment to bear in New Orleans. And we don’t have to wait on Uncle Sam to make all of it happen. (That is, if the wealthy blacks we see in Ebony are as rich as they say they are.) Reverend Jackson, you might be a large part of the solution, but I would implore you and others who are part of the solution to let more of the community know about the works in progress. 

Many are focused on survival or are stuck in a holding pattern. Many of the more progressive among us want to be able to say there is a plan on the Left or among Progressives for the economic future of New Orleans’ displaced blacks. I challenge the middle, upper middle and wealthy African Americans to stop perpetuating the behind closed doors, gatekeeper mentality that arises among us, when it comes time to dole out the funding dregs that trickle down to our community and the limited wealth that exists within the community.

The more privileged of us are, I believe, called to be intercessors for Katrina evacuees, scattered, desperate, and poor in spirit. Those recently evicted from hotels and still unable to locate missing children and elders can not see opportunity, but those of us privileged with backgrounds in finance, business, economics, management, and urban planning have an opportunity to stand in the gap like never before for our community. 

Yes, there are tax breaks, the right of return, and matters of reparations for all of those displaced. However, the harder questions of where and how to rebuild are not solely in the purview of redress from local, state, or federal government. We needn’t wait to build on the higher ground above sea level and move our people out of the below sea level Ninth Ward. We can do it now. 

I have had my ear to the door, and the young men and women of academia are not privy to nor do they understand what is at stake in New Orleans. We can’t afford to wait for them to understand. The conscious among us, outside the traditional political worlds must act. 

This is the hour in which African Americans are to fight on several fronts simultaneously, and our fort is the least fortified down in the Gulf from those who would come before government even gets there and rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf in their own graven image.

1] State Museum of Louisiana,

posted 20 February 2006

*   *   *   *   *


Andrea R. Roberts / University of Pennsylvania, MGA

Andrea R. Roberts resides in Philadelphia, but was born outside Houston, Texas. She holds a BA in Political Science with a concentration in Women’s Studies from Vassar College and is presently completing her Masters in Government Administration at the University of Pennsylvania. The author has served as a journalist for African American and Women’s newsweeklies, and performed her literary works with Houston’s Voices Breaking Boundaries. 

Her career has included managing political campaign and non-profit volunteers, and expanding self-sufficiency programs at various organizations. Congressman Chris Bell (D-TX) recognized her with an Unsung Hero award for “her work to educate immigrants and single mothers about home ownership and to improve access to literacy programs and services to under-served populations.”


As an entrepreneur, she provided grant writing and consulting services to and conducted workshops for small and emerging non-profits in Houston. She recently served as an operations analyst for the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corporation where she focused on connecting low-income workers to demand occupations. 

She presently works with a firm providing public finance consulting services to cities and states. Her goal is to maximize the practical application of public finance and public management to the service of women, people of color, and economically challenged people. Contact her at

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi 

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011  


#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

*   *   *   *   *


The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly). Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.—Booklist

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The 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

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *






updated 30 October 2010




Home   Special Topics   Katrina Flood Index

Related files: The Cost of a Chocolate City: Blacks and the Need

  A War on Error 

Missing School in the Big Easy  Race and the Casualties of Hurricane Katrina The Contradictions of Black Comprador Rule 

The Impact of Katrina Race and Class 

Post Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.