When you go to the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans your brain can’t comprehend the situation there. You react like you do when you visit Roman or Aztec ruins – yeah, you hear that a large number of people once lived there and you take that number in but you just can’t sense it, you just can’t process the changes. All you see are stone blocks strewn around grassy fields and sadly you can’t picture the homes and community of the 6,000 families who used to live in this poor neighborhood.
Maybe the original inhabitants can’t either.
Records have shown that three years after Hurricane Katrina only 11% of families had resettled. When we went there and took these photos recently we couldn’t see any deliberate attempt to rebuild this community. There were no film stars helping to building houses, no TV personalities moving buses to show what reconstructed wonders lay behind.
In other parts of this American city, there is an amazing spirit of rebuilding and moving on. Here, like a set of ruins out of tourist season, the Lower Ninth Ward was dead and empty.
There’s a description of the history of the Lower Ninth Ward written before the hurricane here. An excerpt:
Originally a cypress swamp, the area was the lower portion of plantations that stretched from the river to the lake. Poor African Americans and immigrant laborers from Ireland, Germany and Italy desperate for homes but unable to afford housing in other areas of the city risked flooding and disease to move here.
…Due to the Ninth Ward’s geographic separation and working-class inhabitants, residents have developed a history of activism encouraged by seeming neglect by city officials. Civic groups established in the neighborhood fought diligently to obtain funds and services for the Lower Ninth Ward.
As a result of the activism of residents (particularly from the Lower Ninth Ward) that emerged with the fight for civil rights, and the expertise of the NAACP legal team, the school desegregation movement marked New Orleans as the first deep-South school district to open its all-white doors to black children.
…[Today in 2002] the neighborhood is rich with small businesses, barber and beauty shops, corner stores, eateries, gasoline stations, day care centers, as well as public schools and some say, far too many churches.