New Orleans after the Promises

New Orleans after the Promises: Poverty, Citizenship, and the Search for the Great Society

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 488
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    New Orleans after the Promises
    Book Description:

    In the 1960s and 1970s, New Orleans experienced one of the greatest transformations in its history. Its people replaced Jim Crow, fought a War on Poverty, and emerged with glittering skyscrapers, professional football, and a building so large it had to be called the Superdome. New Orleans after the Promises looks back at that era to explore how a few thousand locals tried to bring the Great Society to Dixie. With faith in God and American progress, they believed that they could conquer poverty, confront racism, establish civic order, and expand the economy. At a time when liberalism seemed to be on the wane nationally, black and white citizens in New Orleans cautiously partnered with each other and with the federal government to expand liberalism in the South. As Kent Germany examines how the civil rights, antipoverty, and therapeutic initiatives of the Great Society dovetailed with the struggles of black New Orleanians for full citizenship, he defines an emerging public/private governing apparatus that he calls the "Soft State": a delicate arrangement involving constituencies as varied as old-money civic leaders and Black Power proponents who came together to sort out the meanings of such new federal programs as Community Action, Head Start, and Model Cities. While those diverse groups struggled--violently on occasion--to influence the process of racial inclusion and the direction of economic growth, they dramatically transformed public life in one of America's oldest cities. While many wonder now what kind of city will emerge after Katrina, New Orleans after the Promises offers a detailed portrait of the complex city that developed after its last epic reconstruction.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4258-0
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Something New for the South?
    (pp. 1-18)

    It took less than a week to end New Orleans as we knew it. The wind came and the water came and the levees could not keep them away. In August 2005, the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain returned to long-ago shores, and people had to head to higher ground. Hurricane Katrina made nomads out of over a half-million people, and it eroded faith in American progress. Celebrated systems could not keep up. Engineering and technology could not come easily to the rescue. Many thousands had to wait and wonder. More than one thousand perished in the delay. This...

  5. Part One: A War on Poverty, Segregation, and Alienation, 1964–1974
    • [Part One: Introduction]
      (pp. 19-20)

      Locally, the politics of the Great Society became a matter of calculating black potential and black peril. There are many examples of both, but two instances stand out, serving as the symbolic opening and closing of this history. One involved a little black girl named Ruby Bridges, the other a young black man named Mark Essex.

      In mid-November 1960, Bridges and three other black girls tried to go to white schools in New Orleans. The white reaction was fierce and disturbing. People around the world saw those first-graders endure gauntlets of screaming white working-class mothers who cursed, spit, and threw...

    • CHAPTER ONE A European-African-Caribbean-American-Southern City
      (pp. 21-37)

      New Orleans began in 1718 as a gamble made by French aristocrats. In time, the decision to create a European community in a subtropical river delta devastated thousands, perhaps millions, of lives, but built a civilization that guided the growth of the New World. In a pattern repeated throughout the city’s history, mercantile dreams beat out the inconveniences of early death and frequent flooding. Over the next century, the city’s proximity to river and sea helped it become a bustling port that grafted bits of France, Spain, and western Africa onto the end of the Mississippi River. From its founding...

    • CHAPTER TWO Establishing the Early War on Poverty
      (pp. 38-58)

      In the 1960s, Louisiana was home to some of the least educated, most poorly paid, and most persistently violent citizens in the United States. The Bayou State led the nation in overall illiteracy and had the fourth highest black illiteracy rate.¹ In New Orleans, 35 percent of residents had less than an eighth grade education.² Statewide, infants died at a rate almost 30 percent higher than the national average. Louisiana also experienced almost twice as much violent crime per capita than the national average. In 1947, the state’s murder rate was 12.6 per 100,000, compared to a 6.1 national average....

    • CHAPTER THREE Building Community Action
      (pp. 59-82)

      Community action was supposed to empower the supposedly powerless. One of the drafters of the Economic Opportunity Act, William B. Cannon, intended it to be “a method of organizing local political action,” not just a means of repackaging social services. Adam Yarmolinsky, one of the chief architects of the poverty legislation and a speechwriter for Johnson’s War on Poverty message, believed that community action was to be “partly a means of ensuring black participation in the south.” Jack T. Conway, a former labor leader who headed up the national Community Action Program for the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) in...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Challenging the Establishment and the Color Line
      (pp. 83-103)

      In 1966 and 1967, local organizers used community action to build political power, and they turned the social policy process into an extension of civil rights activism. Challenges to the “establishment” helped to shift bureaucratic influence from white progressives to black neighborhood leaders. At the forefront were neighborhood women who wanted better living conditions for their families, student activists who wanted to reform the American Way, and residents who wanted to control their own affairs and improve their economic status. Many of the direct challenges failed in the short run because of racial prejudice, economic inequality, bureaucratic conflict, and racial...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Making Better and Happier Citizens
      (pp. 104-125)

      While community action was helping to build structures for black political inclusion after Jim Crow, an equally important question was being worked out at an intellectual level: Why should black residents be included as full citizens? The answer, judging from the ideas of local progressives, was that alienated and segregated people reduced productivity, constrained consumption, and threatened tranquility.¹ To discourage disorder and expand the economy, local progressives pushed for black psychological transformation and civic assimilation, focusing arguments for inclusion on improving the way black citizens learned, worked, purchased, and, most important, believed in themselves. Self-esteem and self-realization took on key...

    • CHAPTER SIX Defusing the Southern Powder Keg
      (pp. 126-150)

      Between 1963 and 1968, the United States experienced an urban crisis. In over 250 American cities, at least 334 episodes of urban unrest erupted, nearly 90 percent of them between 1967 and 1968.¹ During those six years, approximately 250 African Americans were killed, 8,000 were injured, and 50,000 were arrested. A sizeable portion of the injuries and deaths came from fires or from actions taken by state or federal authorities. Cities suffered property damage estimated in the hundreds of millions, but the most damage was caused in Los Angeles in August 1965, Newark and Detroit in July 1967, and in...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Making Workers and Jobs
      (pp. 151-164)

      In the middle and late 1960s, the unemployment rate in the United States was at one of its lowest points in history. Roughly 3.5 percent of Americans were reported to be out of work. In New Orleans that number was only slightly higher at 4.2 percent. For New Orleans’s black neighborhoods, however, the rate hovered near 10 percent, and the underemployment rate in those areas approached 45 percent for men and nearly 70 percent for women.¹ Local target-area organizations cited the lack of jobs as the most pressing limitation of residents.² To combat this serious problem in an otherwise prosperous...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Making Groceries
      (pp. 165-179)

      They came for groceries. In August 1969, a reported three hundred welfare recipients, most of whom were female African Americans, made their way over land and water to the New Orleans Civic Center complex to collect on an offer of free food and shoes. At least, that is how the day started. The rest of the story is a bit cloudy, but, after a short while, the congregants realized that the promises of bread and footwear were, at best, a mistake or, at worst, a malicious hoax. The August heat and humidity intensified. Some grew surly. In the end, the...

    • CHAPTER NINE Making a Model New Orleans
      (pp. 180-208)

      In 1965 and 1966, several black neighborhood leaders complained that their areas were ignored by a disinterested Mayor Victor Hugo Schiro. By mid-April 1968, however, target-area residents had forced City Hall to take notice. Victor Schiro finally targeted the “slums” as a serious problem. According to the mayor, target areas contained only 25 percent of the city’s homes and provided only 6 percent of its tax revenue, but they took up 45 percent of city services and accounted for 50 percent of all major crime, 50 percent of “all major diseases,” and 35 percent of the city’s fires.¹ Schiro and...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  6. Part Two: Black Power and Dixie’s Democratic Moment, 1968–1974
    • [Part Two: Introduction]
      (pp. 209-210)

      A militant black activist stood in front of his house and handed a sack of beer to his friends. Two New Orleans police officers witnessed the exchange. Using the police department’s “Stop and Frisk” policy, they rushed in to demand that the man, Lionel McIntyre, reveal the contents of his container. Someone in his group demanded a search warrant, to which one of the officers sneered, “What are you, a smart-ass nigger?” McIntyre dropped his beer and told the officer not to “push a man.” The officer promptly pushed him. McIntyre told him to take off his gun and fight....

    • CHAPTER TEN The Thugs United and the Politics of Manhood
      (pp. 211-223)

      During the late 1960s, New Orleans experienced an intense political transformation. It was the democratic moment that black leaders had wanted for so long. The conditions for creating something new for the South were finally set. Competition on the streets, in the bureaucracies, and at the polls would determine what kind of city emerged from the shadows of Jim Crow. Racial rules were in flux and ready to be redefined. Black voter registration was rising, and organizations were springing up to channel the power of those votes. The Great Society was providing local people with unprecedented resources and was encouraging...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Women, Welfare, and Political Mobilization
      (pp. 224-245)

      Generalizing about men and women is dangerous business. In the late 1960s, however, a few trends in local black activism do stand out. In particular, organizations and/or activities that focused on black capitalism or political mobilization (e.g., negotiating construction contracts, running for public office) were almost always led by men. As advocates of black capitalism, they often saw political power and economic growth as inseparable, frequently using muscular tactics to attract support from white business leaders and governmental bureaucrats. Women were certainly interested in those issues and quite willing to be aggressive. Dorothy Mae Taylor, Oretha Castle Haley, Lavada Jefferson,...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Acronyms, Liberalism, and Electoral Politics, 1969–1971
      (pp. 246-270)

      The election season of 1969–1970 was a test of racial liberalism. Black voters, primarily organized by neighborhood councils and political groups that this study refers to as the Acronyms, put the racially liberal Moon Landrieu in the mayor’s office. Seven years after the New Orleans Police Department dragged civil rights activists out of City Hall by their feet, racial liberals walked in through the front door with keys in hand, ready to set the post-Jim Crow political agenda. The coalition that produced Moon Landrieu’s triumph was fragile, however, and endured severe early testing. How would progressive electoral success affect...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Panthers, Snipers, and the Limits of Liberalism
      (pp. 271-295)

      In 1964, a half-decade before Moon Landrieu’s election, New Orleans Urban League director J. Harvey Kerns had hoped that racial liberalism could produce “something new for the South.” At the dawn of the new decade, New Orleans seemed poised to do that, or at least to end the Dixie defined by Jim Crow.¹ As several moments of violence demonstrated, however, the worst aspects of Dixie kept coming back. Two more episodes were added to a long history stretching back at least to the Absolute Massacre of 1866. First, in the fall of 1970, an effort to purge the Black Panthers...

  7. CONCLUSION: Prelude to Katrina
    (pp. 296-314)

    In New Orleans, keeping faith in progress can be hard to do. Many people there have found it easier to put their confidence in things unseen and in life beyond life. In 1973, the Essex episode demonstrated that one man with a few dozen bullets could shut down a city at one of the most optimistic moments in its history. Thirty-two years later, Hurricane Katrina showed that an epic storm could do the same to a catastrophic degree. Unlike any others in New Orleans’s modern history, those two events exposed the city’s vulnerabilities. In both periods, the flaws were serious...

  8. Appendixes
    (pp. 315-334)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 335-400)
    (pp. 401-430)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 431-460)