Stories of Survival in the Post-Katrina Gulf
These books present must-read portraits of the diverse people rebuilding lives five years after Hurricane Katrina.
One of the more fascinating stories Horne tells comes in the chapter "In Search of Common Ground," about Black Panther activist Malik Rahim, who rode out the storm (his neighborhood, Algiers, wasn't flooded) and then organized hundreds of visiting volunteers to form the first running health clinic. The setting wasn't exactly fertile for this clinic's sprouting: Horne reports how white vigilantes armed with guns were looking for African Americans under a "shoot first, ask later" policy. But with the help of his white comrades, who traveled from as far as Washington, D.C., Rahim was able to maneuver around to get his health clinic, Common Ground, running.
Even the Army was astounded by this enterprise, one soldier comically asking a volunteer, "So you're the anarchists in the mosque brought in by the ex-Black Panther giving free health care?" Rahim "never lacked conviction," writes Horne -- most evident when Rahim explains why non-flooded Westbank communities like Algiers didn't take evacuees: "They wouldn't take in people from the [Eastbank] because most of them was niggers."
The list of books about Katrina is extensive and ever growing. These works, released in the last year, also offer sobering insights: Race, Place, and Environmental Justice After Hurricane Katrina, a collection of reports edited by Robert D. Bullard and Beverly Wright; Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder That Rocked New Orleans, by Ethan Brown, an account of two lives lost in Katrina's aftermath: that of an Iraq War vet suffering from PTSD who returned to the city in 2004, and the girlfriend he killed in 2006 before taking his own life; Zeitoun, by David Eggers, based on the true story of a Syrian man who, while rescuing those stranded in the flood, is detained and accused of being a terrorist; Under Surge, Under Siege: the Odyssey of Bay St. Louis and Katrina, by Ellis Anderson, about the Mississippi city where the storm actually made landfall; and Black Rage in New Orleans, which looks at the corruption and brutality of the New Orleans Police Department from World War II to Katrina, and how the Crescent City's African-American residents have responded. Coming Back: New Orleans Resurgent, a book of photography from Mario Tama, is due out in Sept.
Brentin Mock, a frequent contributor to The Root, is based in New Orleans.