America’s First Slavery Museum (Vox. Aug. 2017).

“Coming Home,” by Rod Moorhead, a memorial in the “Field of Angels” dedicated to 2,200 enslaved children who died before they turned three, at the Whitney Plantation in Edgard, Louisiana in July 2017.
 AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

The curator of Whitney Plantation Museum, America’s only museum dedicated solely to the history of slavery, has a message for the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville.

“We should bring them to the Whitney. Something will change in their minds,” says Ibrahima Seck, who began working on the museum in Edgard, Louisiana, 14 years ago. The Whitney finally opened in 2015.

In an era when white supremacists rally to protect Confederate monuments, questions of how America should reckon with its history of slavery are more relevant than ever. The Whitney Plantation offers up the history of the 1811 slave revolt — reportedly America’s largest-ever slave rebellion — as well as a glimpse into the lives of child slaves, an explanation of the roles African leaders played in exacerbating the slave trade, and much more, all through the eyes of slaves themselves.

Seck came to the museum after it was purchased by John Cummings, a wealthy lawyer. “Like every white boy here in the South, he wanted to own a plantation,” recalls Seck, who began curating the Whitney after earning his PhD in history.

Seck, who is black, describes Whitney as a spark. His spark has already begun to catch fire, changing the national discussion on how history is presented to make slave stories relevant — including at the many other famous plantation homes surrounding Whitney, whose “history” tours used to all but ignore the issue of how all that white Southern opulence came to be.

Seck and I discussed the Whitney’s history and the difference between this monument to slavery and Confederate monuments. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Michael Patrick Welch: After my first visit last year, I came away feeling like the Whitney Plantation was one of the few feasible medicines for the problems we’re currently suffering in America.

Ibrahima Seck

You don’t get everything when you go there for an hour and a half. But this will be the spark that ignites something new in your mind. And that’s why it’s important.

Michael Patrick Welch: One thing the Whitney confronts well is how not only were slaves’ bodies taken from them, but also their histories, their lineages, not to mention their names. I feel like that didn’t sink in for me until I visited the Whitney, even though technically I’d already known that.

Ibrahima Seck

I always tell people, they did what they could to erase your past. Even if you run away, you cannot go home. And one day you just surrender. But that doesn’t mean that home doesn’t exist anymore inside you, because you don’t need a suitcase to pack your culture; it is in you. But they erase your identity, your past; you cannot trace your family back.

Michael Patrick Welch: You’ve traced a lot of famous slave names back to Africa — I remember seeing Toussaint on the marble slabs, and Batiste, all of New Orleans’s famous musical dynasties. But then, unlike at, say, the Vietnam War memorial, you have the slaves’ names listed on the marble slabs in complete disarray. Is it symbolic that they are not listed alphabetically or chronologically?

Ibrahima Seck

Yes, the names appear chronological in our database, but when we printed them on the granite the slabs they were just random, to show the way these people’s histories were.

Wall of Honor at the Whitney Plantation in July, 2017.
 AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

But I tell African Americans, don’t worry about knowing exactly where you came from. Consider every country of Africa your home — just manage to travel to Africa if you can, one time. Remember that these people [slave owners] did break you physically, but they were never able to own your soul. You kept your soul. You did the job; you built this country. This country was initially built on slave labor — everywhere, North, South.

But beyond that, remember that you contributed tremendously to the making of American culture and identity. And what makes American culture so attractive outside the world has something to do with things that were born on the plantation, that Afro-Creole culture. It is in the food, in the music, it is in the religion. It’s in storytelling, folktales. It’s in the link between Br’er Rabbit and Bugs Bunny — it’s the same bunny!

CLICK HERE to read the rest of this interview at…

Or watch THIS NEWS SEGMENT on the Whitney Plantation slavery museum.

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Living With the Constant Fear of Flooding (VICE. Aug. 2017).

It’s raining hard again here in New Orleans, and my heart’s beating like an anxious dog’s. I have spent the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this week trying to talk my 80-year-old father into evacuating his home north of Houston, and also thinking about all the water in my life.

My heart didn’t used to freak out at the sound of rain, not even in the years after Katrina. That was a onetime tragedy from which New Orleans would bounce back and then never let that happen again, or so we told ourselves. My heart’s painful, triggered beating began just a few weeks back into this summer, when New Orleans filled up with water again after a simple hard rain. Sans warning, several of my friends lost their cars, and many of their houses took on water. The clubhouse of our legendary African American carnival krewe, Zulu, flooded to just under Katrina levels.

The saddest flood story I heard came from my young friend Gregory, who stopped by my house Monday morning with a box of pancake mix in his hand. A native New Orleanian, Gregory has the tendency to put the good news first, and sometimes even exclude the bad news altogether. It seemed strange that he just wanted to eat pancakes with me at my house, so after we’d shared a post-breakfast blunt, I prodded him until he finally shared the bad news: After finding a great new apartment, Gregory had rented a U-Haul and packed it with every single thing he owned. That afternoon it rained ten inches, filling the streets and Gregory’s U-Haul with several feet of water. He lost all of his belongings at once, just as he had during Katrina. Luckily for U-Haul, it’d sold Gregory every type of insurance except flood. His new apartment also flooded, so now he had nowhere to stay, nowhere to cook his pancakes.

After that flood, the water slowly, very slowly, drained away, and it came to light that several of the turbines that power New Orleans’s most important pumps were dead—two had died at the beginning of this year’s hurricane season, and another back in 2012. Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is president of the Sewerage and Water Board that maintains the pumps, thinks you should CLICK HERE to read the rest of this essay at VICE…

Or watch THIS DEPRESSING FOOTAGE of New Orleans most recent flood (Aug 2017).

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An interview with Tony Clifton about how Trump stole his act (Escondido Grapevine. Aug. 2017).

Back when this Donald Drumpf fiasco was still a little bit funny (I think we all agree it’s no longer funny in the slightest), many comedy fans accused Orange Julius Caesar of ripping off insult comedian and lounge singer, Tony Clifton. In order to win the election, Donald appropriated Clifton’s distinct brand of sexism, his cartoonish racism, the ill-fitting suits and magic realist hair, and the misplaced swag of the disgusting old white man who somehow believes women want to fuck them.

As Drumpf grew unfunny, I as a comedy fan grew almost offended by Drumpf’s blatant rip-off of Clifton — right down to the facial expressions, namely that dewy, pink pout, the bottom lip protruding like the world’s most punchable cocktail wiener.

In 2014, I spent a very fun weekend in New Orleans with Tony Clifton. I’ve still never met Bob Zmuda face-to-face. They are though, the same person. Tony Clifton shouts “nigger” whenever, and spends half of every year as a sex tourist in Thailand (when he’s not at home in Nevada in a house conveniently located near the famed Bunny Ranch brothel). The decidedly liberal Zmuda, on the other hand founded, and to this day spearheads, the famous Comic Relief organization that has raised millions for various important charities, mostly homelessness. “I don’t agree with people saying the N word onstage,” Zmuda once told me on the phone, in a voice so similar to Clifton’s. After spending just that one weekend with Clifton, I came away seeing the whole gag as less of an act, and more as Zmuda’s dark pathology.

But anyway, Drumpf. I’d first met Clifton when he rolled into New Orleans performing a big show, the money from which would go to benefit Hurricane Katrina survivors. Tony claimed he ended up on this charity tour as part of a plea bargain in a New Orleans rape case. Supposedly, he’d come back to his hotel one night wasted, and accidentally entered the wrong room, where he crawled in bed with a strange woman who “got the wrong idea,” freaked out, and pressed charges. “That broad was old as dirt,” Tony had told me in his own defense. “I do not under any circumstance fuck anything over half my age.”

Drumpf used this exact same logic to shoot down his own sexual assault allegations! “Take a look. You take a look. Look at her,” Drumpf had said in his defense. “Tell me what you think. I don’t think so.”

I grew so outraged at Drumpf’s appropriation that, ever since Tony Clifton’s doppelganger became the most powerful man in the world, I have attempted to reconnect with Clifton and get his thoughts. Tony though has been in Thailand fucking prostitutes these last several months, and so only recently got around to answering my questions regarding Drumpf’s blatant identity theft:

MPW: Have you ever met Donald Drumpf? How did that interaction play out?

Tony Clifton: I did. I was participating in a fundraiser and Marla Maples was on the organizing committee. One day, we met for lunch and she had me meet her at Drumpf Tower. She asked if I wanted to meet “The Donald” so I did. He gave me the old “once over,” surmised me as a threat and unwelcomely shook my hand. On the way out of building, Marla apologized for his behavior, six months later they divorced.

What did you think when you found out Drumpf was running for President?

Like everyone else, I thought he didn’t have a prayer. We were all proven wrong. It just goes to show you, that our entire lives (certainly our political sphere) can turn on a dime. The poet William Blake Yeats said, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, The Falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…” Tony Clifton is loosed upon the world… (I added that last part).

When he started his run, did people begin mentioning to you how much Drumpf seemed to be “stealing your shtick” (not just his political incorrectness, but his facial expressions even…)

Yes… I started to get calls from everyone who was familiar with my works, the similarities were unmistakable. It was as if he was channeling me. Of course they were picking up on the “political incorrectness” angle and Tony Clifton is all for that. The Jetting out of the lower lip is of course my signature facial expression…I lifted it from Mussolini. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this interview at Escondido Grapevine…

or watch THIS RARE VIDEO of Clifton performing at the Sugar Mill in New Orleans.

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The Only Good Teacher I Ever Had (Medium. Aug. 2017).

David Drake was the only good teacher I ever had, or at least the only teacher I was glad to run into later in life. David was a college English II professor of mine back in Florida. He was youngish then, 31 maybe, feathered hair, smart and funny as hell. He introduced me to Guided By Voices via a full 90-minute tape he dubbed just for me. He was the first to push Bukowski on me — Bukowski, who would later help to try and kill David.

David was a great teacher, convincingly passionate, simultaneously cynical and hopeful. A thin sheen of whiskers shadowed his neatly trimmed face. He smelled not too much like nice cologne and was clearly into personal perfection. He was never without a tie. I would sometimes see David Drake out in the world partying very hard with his “older” friends, and even then he always wore a tie, with tucked in dress shirt.

In David’s class in Florida, I wrote a paper about Kate Chopin’s famous Louisiana novel, “The Awakening” wherein I “proved” that the main character actually didn’t [SPOILER ALERT] kill herself in the waters of Grande Isle, a treatment David loved; technically he was the first person to ever tell me that I should try and get something published. I ignored his advice for a long time though and focused on music until I graduated and moved away from Florida to Louisiana.

In 2001, I am living in New Orleans and writing my first novel (something neither David nor any other teacher of mine would’ve ever predicted). Just as I begin looking for an editor to read my final draft in a town where I know no one, I receive an email from David Drake, who’d seen my name on a New Orleans byline. We hadn’t spoken in seven years. He now lived in the French Quarter, about a mile from my apartment. No shit.

We meet up and hit it off even deeper, because now we’re both grown. He is very excited to help me with my novel, and invites me over to his microscopic, book-crammed but impeccably neat French Quarter apartment for weekly editing sessions. He walks me through changes he’s annotated in each chapter. During every visit he is always tucked in with tie. I wonder if he removes it after I leave each night around midnight, before he turns his small couch into his small bed. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this emotional story at Medium…

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A tour of New Orleans’s former PJs with Dr Ben Carson and Gov. Edwards (LA Weekly. Aug. 2017).

Brain surgeon-turned-Drumpf administration head of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Dr. Ben Carson, toured two of New Orleans’ revamped housing project developments last Tuesday, along with Governor John Bel Edwards and representatives from both HANO and HUD.

The two developments, Bienville Basin (former Iberville projects) and Columbia Parc (formerly the St. Bernard, which flooded after Hurricane Katrina). Since Hurricane Katrina, both have been refurbished inside and out. Both now house mixed-income communities funded through public-private partnerships.

Gone are most of the old brick structures, replaced with cheery red brick and colorful siding. The insides are no longer painted institutional yellow, but rather white walls like any other apart rather white walls like any other apartment. Faux marble countertops and faux wood floors give each unit a homier feel.

The baseline market price for a one bedroom in Bienville Basin was said to be $1,200. “That’s the market rate. If you came in and didn’t have any assistance with the rent, you’d pay $1,200,” Governor Edwards told The Louisiana Weekly. “I don’t want to speak for the folks who run the development but I think, if you were low-income with assistance, it can be as little as $150 or $200 a month.”

Of the Bienville Basin’s total 496 units (down from over 800 units before Katrina), 155 are now reserved for public housing, 173 remain at market value and 168 are reserved as affordable units for those utilizing tax credits and/or vouchers to reduce their rent.

“I’ve been through this development previously and I am happy with the progress,” Gov. Edwards added, praising the mixed-income model. “To move from where you have concentrated residents who are all low-income into a mixed-income deve-lopment is going to be a big success. This is just so much better, I think. So much more stability.”

This tour came after a stop the day before in Baton Rouge where Dr. Carson and Gov. Edwards stopped to look at new housing there and also to speak with politicians and residents about the slow-coming $1.7 billion in special appropriations from Congress to fix last year’s flood damage.

The large group including Dr. Carson and Gov. Edwards, plus representatives from HUD and HANO then proceeded to a second, larger Bienville Basin unit meant for families. There, Carson explained to those gathered that HUD was pleased to currently be helping one-in-four people in need of residence. The waiting list for Section 8 vouchers currently contains over 30,000 people.

At this point in the tour, Dr. Carson asked, “What are the schools like around here?”

“We have several schools near here,” replied Gov. Edwards, “all charter schools.”

“Oh, really?” said Dr. Carson. “Were the charters already there or did they come in [after Katrina]?”

“After Katrina almost all of New Orleans’ schools became charters,” replied Gov. Edwards, referencing what has been one of the biggest issues in Katrina’s wake.

“Oh. Well, that was very proactive of them,” Carson said, smiling.

“It’s been a huge improvement,” Edwards claimed, before also claiming that the schools were all about to move back under the control of the New Orleans Parish School Board. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the story at Louisiana Weekly…

Or watch THIS VIDEO of Maxine Waters handing Carson his ass. 

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How to Remove Your Town’s Racist Monuments (VICE. August 2017).

At the risk of sounding pretentious: New Orleans began removing our Confederates monuments months before it became fashionable. Following South Carolina’s lead after the 2015 Dylan Roof shootings, Mayor Mitch Landrieu—whose policies have otherwise done more to burden local African Americans than to help them—boosted his stock by leading the charge against General Robert E. Lee. Today, the Confederate leader’s bronze likeness no longer looms high above Lee Circle, his eyes no longer fixed on his enemies to the north.

But it wasn’t easy to reach that point, as anyone who lived here during the months-long debate can attest. Much can be learned from New Orleans’s painful, protracted battle to boot all its remaining Confederates. If your city plans to confront this problem soon—which it should—then let me offer some advice:

Don’t list the contractor’s name in the paper

The Landrieu administration made the mistake of announcing the name of the first company hired to ax General Lee. Of course, extra-passionate “history buffs” set fire to the contractor’s car (a Lamborghini no less)After that contractor quit out of fear, it took a long time to find a replacement. While that hunt dragged on, the pro-monument Monumental Task Committee began suing the city, further gumming up the process.

Do it fast

New Orleans did not have many examples to follow, and so came out the gate clumsy. Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh must have been watching our struggle, because she had four of her city’s monuments to racists removed under cover of night less than 48 hours after the decision was made to get rid of them. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the piece at VICE…

Or watch this mini-documentary about Nazis visiting New Orleans to protect the monuments (they failed).

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S&WB drowns residents in lies following August flood (LA Weekly. August 2017).

Robin Grisaffe and a friend were caught on the I-10 bridge in creeping traffic and increasing rain as the waters rose around the city.

“Traffic was so bad my friend wanted to exit sooner than we otherwise would have,” says Grisaffe. The rain soon began falling in hard sheets. “When we started to exit, I could see ahead of me that the street was flooded and unsafe to drive through, so I decided it would be safer to get back up on the bridge. By the time I got back on I-10, the traffic was even slower. So, I tried to exit again at Esplanade Avenue, where it was flooded seemingly much worse. I drove through super deep water and decided to go up under the bridge and just sit.”

Water soon began to rise under the overpass, around her car. “And by now the area under the bridge was filled to capacity with other vehicles, so there was no getting out at that point,” she explained. Grisaffe and her friend sat in the car for three hours waiting for the rain to calm, and then another three for the floodwaters to begin subsiding.

This was not a scene from Hurricane Katrina, but rather from last Saturday afternoon, when a so-called “rain bomb” dumped eight to 10 inches of water on New Orleans in just a few short hours. Social media exploded with photos of flooded cars. What seemed like just an unusually heavy rainstorm ended up flooding homes and businesses. Even the French Quarter found itself shin-deep this time.

Businesses took water, from The Always Lounge on St. Claude, to The Saenger Theatre on Canal Street, to the The Broad Theatre and Zulu clubhouse, both a stone’s throw from the street’s pumping stations.

“I believed it was a typical flood where the water would blow in and blow out, but the water stayed in the building for well over 10 hours. At midnight it was still 2.5 feet,” attests Zulu President Naaman Stewart of the now ruined Zulu clubhouse. “We still have a mark on the wall where the Katrina water was, and this wasn’t too far under Katrina levels. We lost appliances, furniture, memorabilia across the street in the store; everything on the first level was destroyed. Most of our 2018 throws, all of those things were damaged. We closed the club and cancelled all our activities for now. We have to gut out everything that’s four feet high and under, take out insulation, remove a sculpture that was installed –and we are scared to start the process cause we don’t know if it’s gonna flood in the middle of it. And every day we can’t do that is a day we can’t operate and make money.”

Many assumed the pumps simply had not been turned on. As such, it was later terrifying to hear Sewerage and Water Board representatives claim the pumps had been running at full capacity. The S&WB’s Cedric Grant blamed the rain bomb on global warming. “There is no pumping system in the world that could handle that amount of water in that amount of time,” he said.

The next day Grant announced he’d be retiring earlier than planned, at the end of this hurricane season, with full pension of over $170,000 a year for the rest of his life. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this story at Louisiana Weekly…

Or else watch this YouTube footage from New Orleans’s most recent flood:


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