Hey, guys! I’m so sorry for the extended wait on this next post, I had to take some time to brush up on my big easy history. So, this week we’re gonna ramble on about the side of Nola we forgot, her history.
New Orleans, the land I call my home. What history lie beneath your potholes?
I love New Orleans. Good or bad, and good or bad, it didn’t get like this overnight. So, this week we’re gonna ramble on about how all this happened.
-The Big Easy in 1718 (neworleanstricentennial.org)
Picture it. Nouvelle Orleans. 1718. The Big Easy is born. We can thank the French Governor of Louisiana, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, for the birth and name (Nola is named after The Duke Of Orleans, from France, who reigned as Regent for Louis XV yo) of what would become one of the most culturally rich and diverse cities in America.
Even in the beginning, the big easy was on Mother Nature’s list. Soon after the city was founded, just four years later, it was obliterated by a hurricane. In true Nola form, the city was quickly rebuilt.
Following the hurricane and rebuilding process, New Orleans remained under French control and influence for 45 years. During those four and a half decades, the city was influenced by French cuisine, fashion, architecture, and infrastructure. During French rule, guess what, Nola was still very much into slavery. No free people of color just yet.
They Cede Us Out Yo
In 1763, the French Monarch signed over Louisiana to Spain. Following that treaty, New Orleans remained a Spanish city four decades, and in those 40 years, the city was equally influenced by Spanish culture as it was French Culture.
– First Spanish Governor of Louisiana, Antonio de Ulloa (knowla.org)
New Orleans also adopted Spanish social rules, while it was being governed by the Spanish Monarch. And Spanish social constructs were against slavery, allowing for a class of free people of color. Most free people of color were Creoles and Native Americans. There were many black free people of color, but they lived in enormous fear of being enslaved by fear mongering white folks who believed blacks were animals
In addition to social culture having a gigantic shift during Spanish rule, perhaps a more tangible piece of Spanish would be in terms of architecture, as the city was rebuilt twice following devastating fires in 1788 and 1794. During those reconstructive efforts by the Spanish, the city was rebuilt with new, all-brick buildings. They also built what is one of the oldest Catholic churches in America following those fires.
– Church of St. Louis, before it was a cathedral (wikipedia.org)
For or a Moment, We Had Paris
– The Louisiana Purchase (blackpast.org)
In 1803, New Orleans was given back to the French Monarch. But this possession only lasted about 20 days. After it was re-released to France, the Monarch immediately sold Louisiana to the United States Of America in 1803 as part of one of the greatest real estate deals ever, the Louisiana Purchase.
We Soon Found Out, America Likes War
Not long after the Louisiana Purchase, devastating conflicts, including the War of 1812, were fought in and over New Orleans. Actually, the last battle of the War of 1812 was fought in defense of Nola, the battle was led by Andrew Jackson, he and a brigade of pirates, free blacks (notice not “people of color”), and the Tennessee Volunteers pushed the remaining British force out of the city.
– black soldiers fighting in the War of 1812 in a battle in New Orleans (U.S. Army Center of Military History
After War…Let’s Make Love…and Money…Mostly Money
At the half mark of the 19th century, following the immense conflict that plagued the nation, New Orleans became the country’s wealthiest and third-largest city in the nation. This rapid growth was largely in part of Nola’s Port. New Orleans’ port was and remains one of the largest/busiest in the world. The Big Easy was shipping most of our nation’s produce to the Caribbean Islands, South America, and Europe.
– the Port of New Orleans, 1803 (Alfred Waud )
A large part of the revenue being generated by the port was thanks to the sale of, you guessed it, thousands and thousands of slaves. All while being a city that welcomed, “free people of color”
I’m quick to reference the free people of color term because many tour guides, tourists, and natives will often speak of the free people of color that were in the city. Brother and sisters, the color didn’t include black.
Speaking of Black….the Civil War Starts
The South wanted to keep slavery. Why? Because it was what this fine nation was built on and blacks weren’t people…duh! The North (most..definitely not all) disagreed…so the south seceded.
At the start of the Civil War, Nola was the largest city in the Confederacy, however, after only about a year, the union conquered Confederate defenses and took New Orleans as a Union city almost entirely unopposed.
– battle in New Orleans during the civil war (http://www.billiesilvey.com/Battle-of-New-Orleans.jpg)
– black soldiers of the Union (goarmy.com)
Following the war and introduction of the Reconstruction era, race became a critical political force. As a result of the war, emancipated slaves and other free people of color were being brought into the political process, some of them even briefly holding office.
This change in the political demographic led to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the White League. Consequently, this rise facilitated the push of brown folks right back out of the political process.
Great Scott, it’s the 20th century already?!
By the turn of the century, Nola’s streetcars were electrified and race relations grew thunderous. Even with growing tensions, black folks were placed on the back burner. Because of this, African Americans began to congregate to organize communities, create music and art, including a plethora of jazz and blues styles that are still relevant and frequently sampled today.
Once again all the people thrived because of Black Folks and Native Americans
Despite ignoring race relations, the city continued to grow (on the backs of low wage black workers) and prosper. Thanks to advanced pump technology, the city embarked on over zealous draining efforts on low lying land between the city’s Riverside and Lake Pontchartrain. These new levees and canals meant that we now live below sea level.
Mother nature is like, “nah, bruh”…and more war…oh and race.
A slew of hurricanes agitated the city in 1909, 1915, 1947, and 1965. None of the storms devastated the city catastrophically, so rebuilt each time.
Following the end of the second World War, unrest and bigotry involving segregation and suburbanization drew many, many whites out of the city. Leaving a core that was increasingly black. They were like, “y’all want it, take it.”
Despite the growing social unrest and changes, New Orleans was making quite the name for herself as a worldwide tourist destination. Largely because of the festivities, music, and culture inspired and created by Native Americans and Black people. Mardi Gras and the growing popularity of Jazz Fest were among these attractions.
The unforgettable works and talents of Jean Galatoire, Louis Armstrong, and Tennessee Williams also helped Nola reach the top of the list.
New Orleans was growing more popular and blacker every decade.
Black people eventually grabbed important seats in local government due to the drastic change in the racial makeup of the city.
“What if I made them all start over?” – Mother Nature
Picture it. August. 2005. There’s something lurking in Nola’s rear view mirror, and much like the mirror says, Katrina was much closer than she appeared.
– Hurricane Katrina one day before land fall. (emaze.com)
This little girl of a storm only turned out to be the most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history.
An estimated 1,833 people died and an untold number of citizens were either never recovered or deemed “too old” to be added to the count. So it is believed that the number could easily be few hundred people higher.
– photos of the devastation (usatoday.com)
It’s Not Really About the Storm
“The people of New Orleans weren’t just abandoned during the hurricane, they were abandoned long ago. – To murder and mayhem in their streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing, to dismally, inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.
– Obama in 2005 visiting New Orleans, surveying the damage (newsbuster.org)
That is the deeper shame of the devastation following Hurricane Katrina” – Pres. Barack Obama (then senator from Chicago) on the Senate floor in 2005 two weeks following Hurricane Katrina.
President Obama was making some earth shatteringly accurate assessments of New Orleans prior to the Storm. New Orleans had been left to rot from the inside out, so it could be gutted.
This was happening in the form of lower wages, discriminatory housing rules, unaffordable housing, a substandard education system, a city government that poured every dime into the tourism industry…and nothing else, and unchecked, ridiculous rent increases. The only thing Katrina did was show the world what the government was allowing to happen to this city long before the storm. It also drastically sped up the process of getting the black folks out of the city.
– Obama during the 10th remembrance ceremony of Hurricane Katrina (pbs.org)
“When 9/11 happened in New York City, they waived the Stafford Act, and that was the right thing to do. When Hurricane Andrew struck in Florida, people said, ‘Look at all of this devastation. We don’t expect you to come up with the money to rebuild, here’s the money to rebuild. We’re not going to wait for you to scratch the money together because you’re apart of the American family.’ What’s happening down in New Orleans?!” Where’s your dollar? Where’s your Stafford Act Money? – Makes no sense. Tells me that somehow the people in New Orleans people don’t care about as much.” – Pres. Obama on the response effort following Hurricane Katrina, on the Senate floor in 2007
Then senator Obama’s remarks about the response to the crisis in New Orleans weren’t unfounded by any measure. You can simply look around the city today and see who the city and federal governments has decided is worthy of receiving assistance to rebuild.
You can also watch videos on YouTube of the coverage of the storm by news stations around the country, to view the active choice of the government to remain inactive.
This wasn’t so much an argument
This wasn’t really an argument for black people. It’s more of a crash course on New Orleans’ history, and how black folks were, like in most places in the US, never a priority of the city. We’ve been marginalized and still thriving and fighting since the very beginning.
Now we’re fighting to remain in and apart of the city that we’ve inhabited for nearly a century. We just want people to know that the practices of the businesses and government in and around the city of New Orleans, aren’t just happening. They’re being actively executed.
While I know you want that really cute house in the bywater, people really just to want to be able to afford to live in the city they built and still carry on their shoulders.
Let’s come together.