The vote to remove NOLA’s confederate statues (Dec. 2015. Louisiana Weekly).

In a six-to-one vote on Dec. 17, New Orleans City Council decided to relocate four Confederate, reconstruction-era monuments. The four “nuisance” monuments—commemorating Robert E. Lee (Lee Circle), Jefferson Davis (Jeff Davis Parkway), P.G.T. Beauregard (outside City Park), and The Battle of Liberty Place (Iberville Street) — will soon be moved from their current positions of reverence into a city-owned warehouse and, eventually, to as-yet-undetermined public places of study.

The atmosphere in City Council chambers both before and after the public comments and the vote, was decidedly intense, with a third of the audience comprised of Black men and women old enough to have lived through legal lynching, segregation, and the tumultuous Civil Rights era. One man handed out t-shirts featuring a Black male urinating on a Confederate flag. A woman distributed “Kiss White Supremacy Goodbye” cookies.

Council President Jason Williams started the proceedings by reminding the capacity crowd in attendance, “We are here today to listen to each other, persuade each other and to communicate — but this is not a rally.” It seemed many did not hear this warning, as Williams was forced to slam down his gavel dozens of time to quiet the passionate capacity crowd, which grew more boisterous as the hours and public comments passed.

This past June, Mayor Mitch Landrieu requested City Council begin the process of relocating the statues to, as he put it, “right old injuries that didn’t heal right in the first place.” Landrieu was on hand to start the meeting with an appeal to the council to move the statues. “Their place of prominence and reverence misrepresents us as a city… The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity,” the mayor said, reminding the crowd that the Confederate army “fought against the United States of America,” and that the four statues were initially erected to “cast a shadow of oppression… These men should be remembered but not revered.” CLICK HERE to read the rest of this harrowing, blow-by-blow recount at LOUISIANA WEEKLY…

Or follow this link to watch the whole dramatic meeting in its entirity: http://www.nola.gov/mayor/press-releases/2015/20150804-pr-monuments-public-meetings/

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You can sell books in NOLA without a permit or permission (Dec. 2015. NolaDefender).

In the city of New Orleans, books are the one item a person can give away or even sell on public property without obtaining permission, or purchasing any sort of permit.

In 2001, then newly transplanted New York bookseller, Joshua Wexler, wanted to sell his wares on the streets of his new home, New Orleans. So Wexler headed to City Hall to obtain the proper permits. “It turned into this weeks-long Kafka-esque journey, getting sent from one to department to the next,” says Wexler. “The answer was always either ‘not my department,’ or just ‘no.’”

Turned out the City of New Orleans did not provide permits for anyone to sell books. “They had a list things you could specifically get permits for,” recalls Wexler. “Pencils, t-shirts, vegetables, beads, even razorblades were on there…they just didn’t have books on the list of things you could get a permit for.”

With no permit available, city officials told Wexler he was simply not allowed to sell books on the street. “Elizabeth Pugh, Attorney for the city, told me, ‘If you want more, hire a lawyer,’” claims Wexler.

So, in 2003, Wexler and a pro-bono lawyer from the Institute for Justice, sued the City of New Orleans. The judge presideing over his case finally ruled that books are protected speech under the First Amendment, and that Wexler didn’t need anyone’s permission to practice that form of free speech. “[Selling books on the street in New Orleans] is now considered the same as standing on the sidewalk making a political speech,” says Wexler. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article at NoDef…

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America’s first slavery museum (Nov. 2015. VICE).

When you arrive at Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, you’re given an enslaved person’s image and story to wear for the day. Mine was Ann Hawthorne, who was 85 years old when the Library of Congress’s Federal Writer’s Project recorded her personal story of growing up enslaved on the Whitney Plantation, one of many plantations along the Mississippi’s winding River Road. Each story is printed on a laminated card that you wear around your neck—a physical manifestation of the history of slavery; a reminder that real people lived here, died here.

Billed as America’s first-ever museum dedicated exclusively to American slavery,Whitney Plantation sits amid acres of sugar cane that, on the late afternoon of my visit, swayed in a wild wind from a passing tropical depression. The plantation’s swampy land lay heavy with ankle-deep water and hummed with voracious mosquitos. A long row of black and white umbrellas leaned against the visitors’ center and gift shop so that those who had paid $22 a head to tour the grounds were not made uncomfortable by the day’s fine, cool mist of rain.

As I waited for my tour guide, a black woman with long braids led a tour group past a white church, where statues of a young Ann Hawthorn and a dozen other enslaved children seemed to stare directly at—or, really, into—the visitors, who watched a video featuring their testimony.

The entire museum is similar: You walk the same pathways that victims of chattel slavery walked, you listen to their stories in their own words, you see and hear the pieces of history that aren’t printed in textbooks or told on other plantation tours. You won’t find much information on the wealthy slaveowners on this plantation. Instead, Whitney presents slavery through the stories of those who experienced it.

The museum’s creation is owed in part to Dr. Ibrahima Seck, a tall, dark man with a florid African accent, who built the museum along with Whitney’s owner, white New Orleans attorney John Cummings. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Antebellum South, and it’s clear that everyone working at Whitney regards him as a living exhibit. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article at VICE…

Or watch this great video about the slavery museum: 

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Hanging with singer Irma Thomas (Nov 2015. NewOrleans.me).

Rhythm and Blues singer Irma Thomas is so authentic that only she could play herself in the theatre adaptation of her life, Simply Irma. Well, for most of the time.

“Actually, of the 24 song of hers in the play, a younger actress sings four,” says Anthony Bean, proprietor of the Anthony Bean Community Theater and author of the Simply Irmascript.

“In real life, Miss Irma is so quiet and sweet, so in my version of how her life should be like, I got her dressed up like the Supremes, bigger than life, and then she comes out on stage and crashes the whole thing – ‘This is not who I am’ – and then she starts telling the story herself,” says Bean.

While waiting for the night’s rehearsal to begin, Thomas herself told NewOrleans.me, “When I entered the business I already had three kids. I’d been fired from my restaurant job for singing. Previously I’d been a dishwasher and was fired for singing on that job – I was just keeping myself company, but my white bosses didn’t like the music I was singing.”

“When you get fired though, you do what you need to do. For me that was singing. It’s called survival. People ask me how I did all that with three kids, ‘Well, you survive! You don’t think about how you’re gonna do it you just do it.’” CLICK HERE to read the rest at NewOrleans.me…

or just gaze longingly at this photo of Irma and me! irma and me

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The precarious upkeep of New Orleans’s famous cemeteries (Sept 2015. National Geographic).

The neglected, broken roads around Valence Cemetery in New Orleans will shake your car to death. The tombs are in similar disrepair.
As he guides me through the latest vandalism inflicted upon Valence, Adam Stevenson, President of the Save Our Cemeteries volunteer organization, notes the conditions of the brick, marble, and cement.

“What do the citizens want more, streets or cemeteries?” he asks.

New Orleans’ iconic aboveground cemeteries—an adaptation to regional flooding that makes burial untenable—are one of the many reasons tourists flock to the city. But the tombs deteriorate in Louisiana’s extreme weather, and they face break-ins and vandalism from treasure-seekers. City-owned Valence is less famous than some of New Orleans’s 42 other graveyards, so maintaining it hasn’t been anyone’s priority for a long time. The city does a passable job trimming the grass, but upkeep of the tombs falls to their owners, the majority of whom have died themselves—or otherwise disappeared—over the years.

That leaves it to independent volunteer groups like Stevenson’s to fix the crumbling landmarks. Today, they’re doing urgent work.

“This is the second cemetery where we’ve had an emergency operation like this,” Stevenson says, standing before bones made visible by vandals. “Between here and Lafayette No. 2 [another cemetery] in the Garden District, there were about 20-odd open vaults. Something just had to be done.” CLICK HERE to read the rest at National Geographic…

Or take this Haunted Cemetery Tour of New Orleans: 

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Cover story on DJ/musician Quickie Mart (Oct 2015. OffBeat).

Martin Arceneaux’s trademark long, wavy brown hair blows in the perfect breeze off Lake Pontchartrain as we sit at a table on a jetty sticking out into the water—tonight’s backstage area. He has just performed a 20-minute set spinning funk and soul records at the Landing Festival, filling space between trumpet-rock band Cake and New Orleans’ modern funk overlords, the fest’s headliners, Galactic—a band to whom Arceneaux (alias Quickie Mart) owes much.

Quickie Mart. Photo by Elsa Hahne

Quickie Mart. Photo by Elsa Hahne

“I don’t get to spin funk and soul enough, unless I am with Galactic,” he says. Having expected an older crowd tonight, he was just as happy with the kids who danced to tonight’s heavy Neville set. “I don’t get to spin that stuff as much as I like to, so when I do it locally, I hope a lot of the dance music kids who like my electronic sets will come out, and it will kind of open their minds.”

On nights like this, with the black water reflecting the black sky and the mellow lights of docked yachts, we could almost be sitting on the French Riviera. Quickie tells me he has not yet ever DJ’d on the French Riviera. We sip whiskey and talk and I recall a similar breeze, in Miami, blowing across South Beach as I walked along grokking the beautiful Super Bowl 2006 crowd, then looked up and saw Quickie Mart spinning hip-hop records at an expensive-looking Art Deco patio party. His smile was big and his hair short beneath a cocked ball cap back then, at the age of 26, when he looked like an actor from the movie Kids. We didn’t know each other well yet, but he greeted me warmly with daps and a hug—as he would again when I came upon him randomly in 2010 as he DJ’d his original electronic music, some dubstep, plus Louisiana funk and soul at an Abita beer party at the clusterfuck that is Austin’s South By Southwest.

All this to say: The French Riviera may have eluded him so far, but Quickie Mart’s talent for both spinning the best records from all party genres, as well as producing original, eclectic electronic tracks, has him on the road for 50 to 80 concert dates a year lately, with another 5 or 6 in-state shows each month. Clearly it’s just a matter of time. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article at OffBeat…

Or check out this video of Quickie Mart moving the crowd at Bonnarroo Fest… 

 

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2 Xmas stories: Krampus Gras + history of Santa’s Quarters shop in the French Quarter (Dec 2015. NewOrleans.me)

Krampus Gras: http://www.neworleans.me/journal/detail/1101/Krampus-Gras-is-Coming-to-Town

Santa’s Quarters: http://www.neworleans.me/journal/detail/1117/The-Store-Where-Its-Always-The-Most-Wonderful-Time-of-the-Year

Or check out this video tour of the amazing Santa’s Quarters shop: 

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