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NEW ORLEANS, 09 September— If, by now you think I’m more than just one who truly loves the city of New Orleans just like you do, you’re right. Perhaps, the real untold story of New Orleans that totally encapsulates me is that it is the most black influenced city in America that rather than escape its African past, it wraps its arms around it.

It was best said in a 96-page publication I developed and produced for the City of New Orleans in 1993 entitled, ‘The Soul of New Orleans’. It stated, "every facet of this city, including its churches, schools, architecture, folklore, music and food has been touched and gilded by the people of the African Diaspora. New Orleans is probably the only city in North America which has not only retained the vibrancy of its African, Caribbean and Native American ancestry, but which also revels in it."

It was in many unseen ways the spirit of that culture and its history that is on full display now as it faces the worst natural disaster in the history of America.

As this is being written, many misguided individuals whose sole responsibility for, "the rise from the watery grave" of this great city just might feel that now is the time to totally gentrify that "shining star" and strip it of the negritude and its African based culture that made her so unique amongst America’s cities.

For those of us who worked and lived in New Orleans, there was ample evidence over its long history of a not too secret desire to "downplay" if not totally erase the very facets of the city that made it so great.

One taste of authentic okra gumbo while in New Orleans and you feel the taste of the Continent of Africa thousands of miles away. Or in the sweet smell of fall, you, along with 70,000 other black folk witness one of college sports great rivalries, Grambling University versus Southern University in one of America’s greatest events, the ‘Bayou Classic’. It’s an event that turns traditional college football on its head. And, surely it is the only football game where no fans leave their seats during halftime. And to do so, you would miss one of the greatest entertainment spectacles on earth, the dancing and jamming marching bands of Southern and Grambling.

These great university bands are as adept at performing and playing the latest hit songs while creating intricate choreography that would make Fred Astaire smile while dancing to the music of Destiny’s Child and Kanye West as they are at playing standard EuroAmerican Phillip Sousa musical catalogue.

If you’ve not visited New Orleans over the Fourth of July Weekend and attended the Essence Music Festival, you undoubtedly have not had the ultimate entertainment pleasure of a lifetime. Some 250,000 mostly black folk convene on New Orleans over the hottest weekend of the year to ingest the best of a live Aretha Franklin performance or listen to Frankie Beverly cranking it all out with ‘Southern Girl’ or the late Luther Vandross or the Isley Brothers or Stevie Wonder and yes, R. Kelly.

Then you leave the Superdome and in dozens of smaller venues in and around the city of New Orleans during the Essence Music Festival, you can sit in a small club and dig Etta James or Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland or the jazz folk styling of Cassandra Wilson. It’s a life experience. And, how can I say this politely, it derives from our culture our music our soul, it’s us, it’s a black experience thing. You feel it differently in New Orleans than anywhere else. When the music has gotten you filled, you headed to a small café and jazz club in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward called Pampy’s, you sit back in a small room and order an Oyster or Shrimp Po-Boy chased by a small snifter glass of cognac. That’s New Orleans, baby.

The environment in which all of this and so many other unique life experiences occur could only happen in that city. Don’t get me wrong, I love Los Angeles and the uniqueness of San Francisco and, of course New York and Paris and London. But, in each of those cities and others around the world, the first question you’re usually asked is "how is it in New the jazz that that the home of Fats Domino and God knows how many Marsalis family members…the answer is Yes.

As a result of an extraordinary set of human and natural occurrences, the African influence is very prominent in every aspect of the city’s existence. Yet, the extent and root nature of the African experience upon New Orleans has not really been extensively reviewed except in the last decade or so. That changed dramatically in 1992 with the noted historian, Gwen Mildo Hall. Her historic publication, "Africans in Colonial Louisiana", shed newer and conclusive light on New Orleans and its African Roots.

Ms. Hall wrote, "two thirds of all African slaves brought to Louisiana were from the great Senegambia region of Africa, (now Senegal and Gambia). As the slaves came into Louisiana and New Orleans, they maintained a family cohesiveness in both their culture and language."

Another important factor in the emergence of New Orleans’ African and Caribbean culture was the assimilation of slaves and freed individuals from Haiti. In fact, the largest single migration of free blacks during the 17 and 18th Centuries emigrated from Haiti during the Insurrection. It was during that Insurrection in Haiti whereupon the Haitians defeated Napoleon Bonaparte and his French forces. Again, the independence of these Haitians would add another dynamic ingredient to the New Orleans gumbo and give the truly unique atmosphere and culture we experienced while in the city and the regional area.

Some historians now attribute the quality of life issues in Haiti to the fact that mostly African slaves defeated a Colonial Power. And as a result, the world and principally the Western powers have deliberately prevented Haiti and its wonderful people from enjoying a prosperity they deserve.

Is it possible that many now in the US will continue to deny New Orleans rise to its nexus due to the fact of the very factors that make New Orleans great. It’s more than just an intriguing question, it’s one where if we’re not diligent to the rebuilding of New Orleans, the very African Caribbean culture that makes it unique among cities could be destroyed.

Many theories abound about the intent to so gentrify New Orleans during the rebuilding effort, that the very Africaness of its culture and that of our forefathers who labored and created jazz and the beautiful iron work of the French Quarter as well as its cuisine, could be wiped out.

I too might join this conspiracy platform were it not for my belief that we can not erase the culture of New Orleans, its heritage, and its blackness. For the millions of visitors, who come to New Orleans, they come to experience those same very ingredients that make the city so special.

New Orleans major industry prior to Katrina was its Tourism and Convention business. It would be hard to convince those same people to come to New Orleans and experience its real culture as opposed to a visit to Las Vegas and visit a simulated Bourbon Street.

New Orleans is not only about ‘having a good time’. Yes, a good time is had in New Orleans unlike any other city in the world. But, it’s about its people and its business and its art and its cable cars that take you on a journey to another time in its Uptown District. It’s about its education system and quality of life too.
If a redevelopment plan for New Orleans heeds her history and its African culture and all that it means to the world, by all means, develop the city.

On the other hand, if the redevelopment of New Orleans is some smoke filled room suite of good ol’ boys attempting to strip New Orleans of its richness of life, its Zulus, its Mardi Gras Indians and the multiple facets of black culture that makes this city wonderful, then we, the People must let it be known, that Development of the famed city is wonderful. Stripping her of the African spirit and culture that made New Orleans what it is would be a travesty. Moreover, We the People would not tolerate our elected officials, our employees, to undergo any such action.

Would you spray paint Michangelo’s Sistine Chapel or put a Days Inn atop the Vatican Palace or place Pepsi and Coca-Cola Signs on the side of the great pyramids of Egypt. Many would indeed like to do just that, but the people will not allow its employee politicians and bureaucrats to make those cosmetic changes.

Then, We the People too, must let our employee politicians and bureaucrats know that, we will not let any defacing of our great culture and art go unchecked in the great rebuilding of New Orleans that is set to come.

We must be diligent and watch and participate with our employees, ‘the elected officials’ who are ultimately charged with the Rebuilding and Refurbishment of New Orleans’. Let it be known, that we too want a better product than the last one, but we want to restrengthened the ‘Soul of New Orleans’ not strip it of her soul.

Or as Ronald Reagan, one of America’s greatest politicians stated when confronting the Soviet Union secrecy surrounding the multiple nuclear weapons elimination during the Cold War and its accuracy in destroying those weapon systems should, "trust and then verify."

Then, we too, when it comes to the reconstruction of New Orleans as citizens owners of this great democracy, must with all deliberate speed and accuracy for the sake of our children and the generations to come, "trust and then verify."

Long Live the ‘Soul of New Orleans’...

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