Wednesday, January 9, 2008

"GETTING CHARGED OUT OF THE BIG EASY"


This posting is one of those "in the moment this event happened in New Orleans," stories.
The point in planetary time is December 31, 2007 mid day.




this is what the street looks like where I met logan fields


This is how this posting composed itself... It is New Years eve midday 2007, and am going out to my car to put my umbrella back into it. As I come out onto the steps of my little shotgun, I see a well dressed man walking around in the center of the street, off to my left, seemingly musing on something very deep.

Attempting to be the best (transplanted) New Orleanian I can be, I kid him about the possible dangers of being in deep thought in the middle of the street. He looks at me and says seriously, "I used to live in this neighborhood and I just need to vent." I chuckle and say, "let me go back into the house to get my steno pad." "I have been writing about and photographing what I believe to be a forced gentrification of this neighborhood."

"You know," I say to him walking back to my house, "I have been waiting for someone to tell me the history of this neighborhood and I guess this is the moment for it to happen." The person I met in the middle of the street on New Years eve day 2007, is Logan Fields, the following is our conversation from my notes and to the best of my memory.

Logan Fields: "I went to the LC Forcheire (now called Luscher) all boys, prior to de-segregation. The fraternal side of my family lived on Garfield Street (link to Google) the maternal side came from Loyola and Liberty. That's how I was able to walk through this neighborhood."

Logan Fields:
"Part of the culture of the city is the "shotgun" {house}. You could fire a shotgun from the front of the house to the back."



Logan: You know what this neighborhood was called don't you? I tell him yes, I have been told. "Nigga Town" he says anyway. {historical context and beg pardon for anyone who might take disrespect - I have been told by long time residents that this name is a (cultural marker) and a part of a proud heritage of this Black New Orleanian neighborhood. It will be used by Logan (who is African American) again in his recitation to me.}



I like it when community members of Mt. Moriah Missonary Baptist Church come back to their neighborhood I get to see what some of the previous residents were like - the whole area is suddenly more alive with the sounds of laughter and talking in the streets.


This is the famous church where Mahilia Jackson sang.




Logan: "See where the playground is at - that was a syrup factory, you could smell syrup all through the neighborhood."



"And up on the levy before the Corp (Army Corp of Engineers) was there, people lived in shanti towns up there. No building was there at the time. People would fish in the river and cooked fish - right out of the river - cat fish - they had no electricity."





"This area is where they put the slaves to take care of the people on St. Charles."



Logan: It wasn't bad here for us. Whatever our blessings were, we had them. Everyone coexisted no one was afraid of anybody else. (A reference to the different classes and races).

That is why New Orleans is called the big easy - 'cause we could coexist. There was a sense of belonging for everybody. You could go down to the French Quarter and party with everybody whether you had money of not. Everyone drank together, men from Uptown, projects, etc.." " That is why it is called the "big easy".

"These neighborhoods were designed to be quarters for the "haves" - their maids, porters, house cleaners."


Logan: "All the ladies worked in white folks' houses." People would know what you meant if you said this to them."


Logan:
"There are 13 families that live over by the guard. The houses look like mausoleums. 13 different money holders in the city. This was a port city, the wealth from merchants - importers and exporters that is where they camped. And I am not talking about this new cyber space money either. "



down a few blocks to the pitt street by audobon park

Logan:
These areas (back to Garfield, Pitt, etc.,) used to be support for the wealthy. For every major affluent neighborhood, you'll see the shotguns built for families to support the affluent.

Logan: In the Quarter they had slave quarters attached to the house. After slavery it is not as apparent. They build places like "Nigga Town" to support it. Now they want it back." (This neighborhood).



"They don''t need nobody to clean their homes no more. "Now it's 'get the shit out of here."

"They don't need us."

one gentrified street in nola - beautiful to the eye - sour to the soul.

Logan: The yuppies can't afford St. Charles. So they say we gonna buy one of these houses and make something of them. It started in the 1980's, it is systematic.


one gentrified new orleans street, in manner and consciousness

I mentioned to Logan how my landlord has bought up 6 properties on Pitt street and only 1 apartment is rented to a African American and she is paying $40 a month higher rent than I. I told my neighbor this - she said it didn't matter to her because she really wanted to live in this neighborhood.

Logan: "He's doing the minimum of what he has to do."


"They are "$-charging-$ us out." "They want us out."


Logan: Back in the 70's yuppy movement, they wanted back Uptown and this area. Audoubon park is here, the zoo the proximity to Carollton Avenue - became prime properties. They started on perimeter of an area, they would take 1 street at at time. On 1 side of the street was inner city people and on the other the yuppies.

Logan: The law would come in with them first. If you put your house in an area where there is {poverty} people will steal from your house - so then the police would go around and start rounding people up. And if you had any record, you could find yourself getting 50 years in Angola and your "get out of the neighborhood." That is how they cleaned out this neighborhood until there were only a few drug dealers left.

Logan: This was one of the toughest neighborhoods out of all the tough neighborhoods in all of the city it ruled - not fear - respect. The school represented five parts of the city. When they knew your family was from "nigga town," nobody tangled with you.

Logan looks over his shoulder at me smirking and saying, "I was a bit of a thug in those days." (He now has 2 college degrees and a masters).

A lot of the black families were from Vadalia, Clayton, Tallulah they migrated here in the he 1940's.

"What he wanted to vent was about the changes about a part of town that was once revered by everywhere else in the city - the culture - this part of town -you had to know family in this part of town - to get into this neighborhood - you had to know family. Mahilia Jackson sang in the Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church on Milaudon and Leake."

Logan: "Before the storm, in this store (corner of Garfield) you could buy all kinds of black products. When I came back after the storm, they were catering to the Feds on the river (Corp of engineers) - they had no time to take care of us."


Logan: Pointing to his family's house on Garfield street. Before this building there was another that burnt down. Three families lived in that house - my parents, my uncles and my grand parents they came from Clayton LA.

There was opportunities in the city (1940's) money to be made. 1 of the brothers went to Vegas and my father came here. The uncle that went to Vegas was a part of the building of the Hoover Dam, worked in hotels and was at the Area 51 Test Site.

My father who stayed, worked at National Egyptian "Asbestos Heaven", where they made sheet-rock and roofing materials with fiberglass and asbestos. Dad has Mesophilonoma. He worked at the Tchoupotoulis plant - this was when the river was a major port. My father was the President of the AFL-CIO for 30 years. My dad has survived his Mesophilioma.

At this point in our journeys through the neighborhood Logan's sister Constance Logan Fields walks up and she enters into the conversation. A few moments after that Logan's lovely wife Kiesha walks up and is introduced.

Constance: I am a union steward for the UMC-SEIU is our local. Constance lives in Las Vegas now. I am with he nursing union, I am a nutritionist and I am shop steward.

"Unions are what made this city work." When they brought in the "right to work" legislation, that killed all the unions here. The longshoremen. There were major unions. Everything went downhill for the loaders on ships. The {longshore men} controlled Uptown, labor ruled 'them'.

Governor Edwards did a bedroom deal and killed unions and labor in this city.

I asked Logan, "is it strange to see me, a white woman in your neighborhood now?"
Logan: "Strange no" " But no, I know the reason for your being here - to get your story - or to buy up property."

When my family lived by Soniat and Roberts, we were the "2nd" black family on Roberts off of Feret on an all white street - "Uptown". The neighborhood was full of doctors and nurses. Our family moved into a retired physicians house. Dad bought on 3rd Street, paid $3000 for a shotgun when we left Garfield.

Constance: "We lived up by the Dew Drop Inn by La Salle and Louisiana, that is where all the famous musicians used to come in. It was by Shakespeare park - that was what they still called it in the 60's now it is called Davis Park.

"It had one of the oldest Protestant churches in the city. White folks would come for the morning services and the Black folks in the evening."

Constance would like people to know more about this historical church and is sending me literature by mail on it. She said she wants people to know about the First African Baptist Church in the 1st District. 2216 3rd Street. Both she and Logan insisted that I go and read the cornerstone of the church.

Logan: "They used to hide slaves in the catacombs. The church was built in 1826 - the original trustees - pre-slavery (end).

Our conversation ended as everyone was visiting family, so hugs all around and we parted ways with Constance promising to send me the information about First African Baptist Church.

garfield street nola 70118



earlier posting in July of 07 on this issue: Buffalo Soldiers and Racial Integration




COEXIST with a Smile

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

Nice blog. Keep up the good work. Cheers:-)