Landmarks in the History of Imperialism, White Supremacy and Male Supremacy in New Orleans: Before, During and After Katrina

Sharon Martinas
Date Published: 
June 1, 2006



  • Between 1970 and 2000, New Orleans lost 13,500 manufacturing jobs including highly paid unionized jobs for Black and white workers at the Port. These unionized jobs were replaced by non- union, low wage, service, tourism and retail jobs.

  • Oil and chemical companies destroy wet lands and pollute soil in Mississippi and Louisiana. Federal government does not hold companies accountable for their environmental destruction. (1970’s to present.).

  • In 2005, Congress cut funds for strengthening the levees to withstand a major hurricane. The money went to make war on Iraq


  • The 85 mile stretch of river lands from Baton Rouge to New Orleans is home to thousands of poor African Americans, as well as 125 refineries and chemical plants. The cancer rate is so high among the population that the area is known as ‘Cancer Alley,’ (1970-2006).

  • As African American voters begin to elect African Americans to govern New Orleans, white population flees to the suburbs, drastically eroding New Orleans' tax base for funding public services; (1970-2006)

  • Deindustrialization of New Orleans combined with institutional racism in public and private employment result in an 18% poverty rate in the total population; but 35% of African Americans are poor.

  • In 1991, infamous white supremacist David Duke wins 55% of the Louisiana white vote in his run for governor, but is defeated by a coalition led by Black voters in New Orleans.


  • The ‘Welfare Deform Act’ of 1996, throws thousands of women, disproportionately African American, off the welfare rolls in New Orleans. These women are forced to seek below minimum wage jobs as hotel room cleaners in the tourist industry, with no access to childcare, food stamps or health care.

  • HOPE VI federal housing policies, in collusion with HANO (Housing Authority of New Orleans) and HRI (Historic Restoration, Inc.), a private developer, destroy Black community in St. Thomas housing projects, where leadership of strong community organization is led by women and their teen age children. St. Thomas now brags condominiums and a huge Walmart. (1996-present).

D U R I N G K A T R I N A (Aug 28-end of Sept. 2005)


  • Katrina drenches New Orleans; the levees drown 9th Ward, New Orleans East and Gentilly in up to 20 feet of water. (Aug. 29).

  • In first few crucial days of flooding, George Bush plays his guitar, Condaleeza Rice shops on Fifth Avenue and Michael Brown (head of FEMA) sends email jokes to his buddies.

  • When the Federal government does act, its major program is to militarize New Orleans. All federal, state and local military and police forces are under orders to 'Shoot to Kill.' Protecting property takes precedence over saving lives. Over 235 companies (registered in Louisiana) of mercenaries, including Instinctive Shooters International from Israel, supplement military and police forces. They number in the thousands, and they are heavily armed. (September)

  • Cuba and Venezuela offer highly skilled evacuation and rescue teams to send immediately to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Bush and FEMA ignore their offer (first week of September).

  • While the city is still under water, New Orleans business interests are meeting weekly to plan the new whiter, wealthier New Orleans after the waters recede.


  • New Orleans Parish Prison guards flee to dry land, and leave thousands of mostly African American prisoners to starve and drown in locked prison cells.

  • Corporate media spreads the lie of 'Black looters,' justifying the military and police 'Shoot to Kill' policy.

  • Gretna police, guns pointed, turn back thousands of African Americans fleeing the flooded city as they try to cross to dry land in Gretna.

  • Armed white vigilantes come through Algiers gunning to assassinate former Black Panther Party community organizer Malik Rahim.

  • Military helicopters pick up white residents and tourists. They fly by thousands of African Americans trapped on their roof tops screaming for help, as the waters rise.

  • Living hell in the Superdome and the Convention Center.


  • Bus operators and the Red Cross, when evacuating African Americans from New Orleans,

      • Refused to tell evacuees where they were going,

      • Refused to stop busses in towns where evacuees had families,

      • Refused to let children and the elderly take beloved pets with them on the busses,

      • Refused to insure that family members were on the same bus,

      • And refused to transport neighbors to the same destinations.

  • Low income African American women for whom community and neighbors are central to survival for themselves and their families, are pushed into double diaspora.

  • FEMA refuses to release information to evacuees and their supporters about the location of evacuees, thus preventing effective community support in the cities to which evacuees were sent; and prevent- ing families from finding out whether their loved ones were alive or dead.

A F T E R K A T R I N A (October, 2005 to June 1, 2006, beginning of new hurricane season)


  • As of June 1, the beginning of the new hurricane season, the levees are still not repaired to withstand even a Level 3 hurricane like Katrina. Five of the city’s 22 pumps, designed to pump out flooding water, are still so weak that they didn’t work in a regular April rain storm.

  • On June 1, FEMA cut out rent subsidies for 55,000 evacuees, alledging that the ‘relief’ agency had no more money for rent!

  • Congress passes the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act, authorizing Louisiana to spend $7.9 billion for private construction of homes damaged by Katrina but not one cent goes for renters.

  • Federal agencies award $9.4 billion to large corporate contractors like Bechtel and Shaw Group, while subconstractors pay Latino immigrant workers minimum wages (if they get paid at all), with no right to unionize or even to basic health and safety conditions in toxic work places.

  • 40,000 evacuees are unable to return home to work on their damaged houses, because they have no temporary housing. Meanwhile, 10,000 unused FEMA-contracted trailers rust away in Arkansas. Many trailers that do get to survivors are toxic with formaldehyde.


  • Housing: Although most of New Orleans’ public housing received little damage from Katrina, New Orleans officials refuse to let any tenants return to fix up their apartments. Public housing residents are over 90% African American, 14,000 families, many of whom are headed by women. No federal monies have been set aside for any renters of either public or private housing.` Landlords have trebled rent on available housing, and there is no rent control in NOLA.

  • Employment: While hotel rooms for Latino workers cost about $70 a day, an average wage for a daily laborer is $100, if they are paid at all. . Subcontractors often hire Latino immigrants rather than New Orleans-born African American workers in a deliberate effort to create divisions between African Americans and Latinos, and to depress the wages of all available workers of color.

  • Health: Charity Hospital, the center piece of Louisiana’s health care for poor and uninsured people, is closed and slated for demolition, although health professionals who worked there say that with a few million dollars, the hospital could be brought back to its pre-Katrina standards. The only reliable health care for uninsured (mostly African American and Latino) people are the community run clinics like Common Ground and Latino Health Organizing Project.

      • Independent environmental testers say that low income communities are still toxic, with soil contaminated by the floods and chemical run off from the oil and chemical industries up river. But the EPA is not cleaning up anything to a healthy standard.

  • Corporate and governmental rebuilding plans: All the plans agree that the ‘new New Orleans’ needs more parks. The corporate rebuilders propose to build these lovely parks in the Ninth Ward and New Orleans East, conveniently wiping out the communities of thousands of poor, working and middle class African American residents.

      • (20 years ago these ‘rebuilders’ wiped out Black communities with freeways and urban renewal; today they do it with parks...)

  • Culture: 11,000 cultural workers, mostly African American, lost their jobs after Katrina. For the sake of the tourist industry, corporate rebuilders plan to contract cultural workers to come back for big festivals, but have no plans to house them as permanent residents.

  • Schools: Of the 117 (substandard) public schools open pre-Katrina, only 20 have been reopened as of February. 16 of these are charter schools. (Tulane University created its own charter school for the children of its faculty (mostly white) As of February, 2006, students at the charter schools were mostly white.

  • Prison Industrial Complex: After Orleans Parish prison flooded, 6100 prisoners were finally evacuated to 38 prisons around the state. As of February, 2006, 4500 prisoners still had not seen an attorney! In spite of the loss of thousands of court files in the flood, the New Orleans District Attorney still refuses to release people who were picked up before the flood for unpaid traffic tickets. Before Katrina, there were 42 public defenders. As of February, 2006, only 6 were left to serve the entire low income, mostly African American, prison population.

      • In spite of the notorious reputation of the New Orleans police for brutality against the African American community, their average salary is only $25,000-$32,000 a year. Compare that to the annual salary of the Blackwater USA mercenary who earns $150,000 a year, and is accountable to no public entity for his brutal performance.


  • City services: The policies, practices and programs of white supremacy have impacted all African American residents of New Orleans, but some have disproportionately affected women. One example is the systemic refusal by the city to provide African American majority communities with water, electricity, debris removal, and garbage collection-- all fundamental city services that residents have a right to expect. How can a mother of young children, and often a care-giver of elderly parents, plan to return to a community where her damaged home has no water, electricity, debris removal or garbage collection?

  • Housing: In the diaspora, long term housing for low income survivor families of color, many of which are headed by women, has been a major demand of survivors’ organizations. In too many host cities, local governments have put survivor families at the top of the waiting list for scarce low income housing, thus pitting New Orleanian evacuees against local residents. FEMA has cut off rental subsidies for survivors at least 4 times since October, even though the Stafford Act assures disaster survivors that the government will provide evacuees with housing for at least 18 months after the disaster.

  • Employment: 150,000 residents lost their jobs as a result of Katrina. A bankrupt New Orleans laid off (fired) the city’s school teachers, most of whom are women. By January, 2006, 13,046 people had filed unemployment claims. On May 31, unemployment payments ended, leaving thousands of families with no income at all. A recent study of evacuees indicated that less than 15% had found jobs in the cities in which they and their families were dropped by the evacuation busses.

        • For immigrant workers who have found day labor employment in New Orleans, the combination of rent-gouging landlords and unscrupulous employers who refuse to pay their wages, makes it very difficult for these workers to send support to their families in their home countries. Consequently, women of color globally are profoundly affected by the U.S. white and male supremacist systems.

  • Health: Families who have returned to New Orleans report that in the few African American neighborhoods where water has been restored, it is so contaminated that it cannot be used for drinking water or even washing clothes! Families both within New Orleans and in the diaspora have been severely traumatized by the horror of being abandoned to die in the flood after Katrina. But, except for where strong survivors’ councils and their allies have demanded mental health services, there are few or no free mental health services to address this trauma.

  • Schools: Families, many of whom are headed by women, will not return quickly to New Orleans if there is absolutely no public schooling for their children, and they cannot afford tuition at charter schools. Children of the diaspora often feel isolated in their new schools in their host city, and their studies suffer. Mothers are rarely given information about how to navigate the school system bureaucracy, so that they can effectively advocate for their children. (In San Francisco, some evacuees didn’t even have bus route maps, so that they could figure out how to get to their children’s schools.)

  • Culture: ‘Culture is the life blood of a community,’ according to The Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond, an anti-racist training and community organization institution in New Orleans. Culture in this understanding includes art, music, literature, and more: the food you cook, and the traditions of using meals to gather family and community; the way you say hello to neighbors on the street; the knowledge that if you are at work, a family member or neighbor will be caring for your children; or that if your family is short on food at the end of the month, you can find a place at the table at your neighbor’s house.

        • When a whole community is wrenched apart and sent to all corners of the country, the communal support systems that low income, African American women once relied on are suddenly cut off, and every aspect of daily life becomes more difficult.

  • Prison Industrial Complex: When prisoners were moved after Orleans Parish Prison was flooded, several hundred women were sent to Angola Prison, an all male prison that houses people who will never be released, if the prison authorities have their way. These women reported being treated violently by prison guards, and they feared for their lives.

        • Children who were imprisoned were left for days in toxic waters, filled with feces. When they were sent to juvenile prisons throughout Louisiana, the prison authorities refused to tell their parents or adult care givers where the children were, so that parents had no way of communicating with their children, and their children felt as if they had been abandoned.


1. (For overall political frame of this analysis): Jaron Browne, Marisa Franco, Jason Negron-Gonzales & Steve Williams, Towards Land, Work & Power. San Francisco, 2005. (Written by The Amandla Project of POWER: People Organized to Win Employment Rights.)


2. Brod Bagert, Jr. ‘Hope VI and St. Thomas: Smoke, Mirrors and Urban Mercantilism.’ London School of Economics. Sept. 2002. For info: bagertjr [at] hotmail [dot] com

3. The Black Commentator: See:


4. The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program,

New Orleans after the Storm: Lessons from the Past, a Plan for the Future. Oct. 2005.


5. C.C. Campbell-Rock’s regular articles in the San Francisco Bay View an African American community newspaper.


6. Critical Resistance, ‘Critical Resistance Fact Sheet -- What We Know--The Status of Prisoners and Policing Post Katrina.’ Nov. 2005.


7. Michael Eric Dyson, Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster. NY: Perseus Books, 2006.

8. Gulf Reconstruction Watch (A Project of the Institute for Southern Studies), ‘The Mardi Gras Index: The State of New Orleans by Numbers Six Months After Hurricane Katrina,’ February/March 2006; and ‘Storm Cloud over New Orleans,’ June, 2006.


9. Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. ‘Letter from Incite! to Friends and Supporters,’ Sept. 11, 2005.


10. Manuel Pastor, Robert Bullard, James Boyce, Alice Fothergill and Beverly Wright, In the Wake of the Storm: Environment, Disaster and Race After Katrina. May, 2006.