Magazine article The Christian Century

Delta Blues

Magazine article The Christian Century

Delta Blues

Article excerpt

TEN MONTHS AGO, the nation was riveted by televised images of people, most of them African Americans, fleeing the floodwaters in New Orleans. It was obvious that poor black neighborhoods were the most vulnerable when Hurricane Katrina hit and the levees broke, and that blacks had the fewest resources with which to cope with the disaster. Newsweek branded the situation "a national shame" in a cover story. Many people expected that the economic disparities exposed by Katrina would elicit a national conversation on poverty and race. President Bush spoke of building the city "bigger and better." Some public figures talked of creating a Marshall Plan for the region or a New Deal-style public works program that would provide work for the displaced poor while rebuilding the city.

The conversation on poverty and race never happened, and so far no bold social vision for the remaking of New Orleans has taken hold. Very little has happened to give low-income residents hope. As thousands of volunteer church workers can attest, the city's low- and middle-income neighborhoods contain block after block of empty homes, vacant businesses and abandoned cars. There is an eerie silence. No homeowners are in sight. It is as if the waters just receded. About 250,000 residents remain scattered around the country, a great many of them without the resources to return and rebuild.

"The rebuilding of New Orleans is going forward like the evacuation of New Orleans--it is based on self-help," says William Quigley, director of the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University in New Orleans. …

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