To provide insight into the family and neighborhood history obscured behind miles of devastated structures, the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank and community activist Greta Gladney organized a tour of the Lower Ninth Ward.
Director of the Renaissance Project and graduate student in history at the University of New Orleans, Gladney led a walking and bus tour of her neighborhood, her childhood home, and other areas of the Lower Ninth Ward in June 2006. A 4th generation Ninth Ward resident, Ms. Gladney is leading several efforts to revitalize the neighborhood; she is also a working on an MA thesis study of the neighborhood's history. One may view all nine segments of the 28-minute as an online tour, or select individual parts of the brief segments.
In the wake of several levee collapses--New Orleans' manmade disaster following Hurricane Katrina--international media focused upon innumerable failures of local, state, and federal government. The impoverished nature of tens of thousands of New Orleanians left to be rescued by boat and helicopter generated third world allusions. The Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood quickly became a term meant to denote poor African-Americans.
In reality, the Lower Ninth Ward's former status as a cohesive, working class community and its not so distant past as one of the city's most racially integrated neighborhoods proved to be too difficult for most journalists to convey--if they discovered it at all.
Few journalists chose to question how a neighborhood depicted as the city's nadir of poverty could boast majority home ownership in a city characterized by one-third vacant housing stock, absentee landlords, and ill-preserved housing developments falling to gentrification. Almost two-thirds of Lower Ninth Ward residents owned and still own their homes--a testament to the legacy of New Orleans' union worker past and subsequent generations inheriting homes. New Orleans' chronically depressed economy makes such inherited wealth a crucial element of survival for white as well as black working class families. With home ownership the treasured measure of success in the United States and racially integrated neighborhoods an increasingly elusive ideal, one would expect more interest in Ninth Ward history.
Downloadable and streaming video clips, 9 each, are available for viewing.