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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.



Books by Jerry W. Ward  Jr.

Trouble the Water (1997) / Black Southern Voices (1992) / The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)  / The Katrina Papers

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006—June 2, 2006

By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.


Dear James and Rudy,

These unedited segments from The Katrina Papers represent a sliver of my thinking about the next four generations in New Orleans.—Peace, Jerry

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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 Jerry Ward.

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 experience.

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 nurtures.

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.

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.


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 say.

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. Bush:

Her timing is perfect. She began at 11: 35. She ended at 11: 55.

She 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.


“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 themselves.

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 of rebirth.

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 Interview

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.


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 is powerful.

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 good night.

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 deliquescent.

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The Katrina Papers, by Jerry W. Ward, Jr. $18.95  The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)

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

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#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

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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 Pilger 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 before us.—Publisher’s Weekly

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

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, and scholar 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’.”

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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)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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


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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 /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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

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posted 3 June 2006




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