New Orleans, Levees, and Racism
"They opened the levees to save the whole neighbourhood to protect their investments," declared Larry Crawford, 34, believing, as many sincerely do, that some districts were deliberately flooded to relieve the pressure on the dykes protecting others.
Inconceivable today, yet this is what happened in 1927 with the great Mississippi flood that made a million people homeless. Not only that, as John Barry documents in his social history Rising Tide, black work gangs were held as virtual prisoners in squalid "concentration camps" while shoring up the levees to protect plantations. Many black Americans living in the north are descended from those who abandoned the Delta that year, after the landowners escaped the floods on a steamer to the music of "Bye, Bye Blackbird".
New Orleans, say some, never recovered from 1927. The pretence of a social compact between blacks and the white ruling class was shattered. This week, anger was boiling over like the raging waters of the Mississippi.
Graffiti daubed on a warehouse in a poor easterly neighbourhood proclaimed: "They left us out here. Them bitches flood us. Fuck Bush."
What makes this even more difficult to understand is that the logistics of rescue were not so insurmountable. Both the Superdome and the Conference Center, where refugees were most concentrated, are situated close to the elevated highways that are the city's lifelines to the outside. Crowds even made their way up to the highways and started to cross the main bridge across the giant Mississippi but were turned back by police firing in the air.