I have basically been very happily based in New Orleans, Louisiana, since I arrived here from Maui, Hawaii on December 9 of last year. You know, there are ups and downs everywhere, but I had missed living in this city ever since I graduated from the Tulane College of Arts & Sciences on May 11, 1980, and have wanted to return here ever since. I actually did return for several years 1997-2000, but was so wrapped up in my problems in Texas, I was basically bouncing back and forth. One of the most consistently agreeable aspects of my life in New Orleans has been attending Church at Christ Church Cathedral on St. Charles & 6th Street, occasionally visiting at Trinity on Jackson right around the corner from my temporary home on Prytania (since March 8, 2013). One of the things I love most about New Orleans is its history—basically it’s impossible to take a walk, anywhere in this city, and not confront history face-to-face, it’s everywhere. Basically, even the majority of the historic architecture in French Quarter really dates from the 19th century city, the actual 18th century buildings number in the dozens at the highest possible count. The Garden District and “Uptown Audubon” mark a progression through the 19th century into the 20th. St. Charles itself has been hideously scarred with mid-twentieth century cheap apartment buildings which took the place of many blocks of Victorian houses… but to either side of St. Charles, the historically decimating devastation is less.
How few people realize just how deeply New Orleans was shaped by the ante-bellum era and how loyal it was to the Confederate States of America, ESPECIALLY AFTER (ironically enough) the collapse of that nascent Federal Republic in 1865.
It is also undeniably true that the question of race-relations hangs like a sword of Damocles over the heads of the people of New Orleans. The question comes up all the time, usually in emotional and rarely in analytical terms.
Ever since I heard, at the beginning of September, about an “Ecumenical Mass of Racial Reconciliation” being planned for January 12-21, 2014, I have been reflecting on the question of race and history in this wonderful town, this city where by dint of history black Americans first created a kind of “Jazz Aristocracy” recognized all over the world in the 1920s….
I wrote my initial thoughts on this question in a letter I just completed and delivered on Wednesday to the Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana and other members of the Clergy at Christ Church and Trinity Church.
I have been told that in the bad old days of the Civil Rights movement, when the barriers of segregation were first being torn down, they had special “greeters” at Christ Church would take black folks aside and suggest to them that they might be “more comfortable elsewhere.” The inversion of history is so great, I more than casually wonder whether I’ll now be afforded the same treatment for challenging the modern “politically correct” mythos of race.
I attach here two versions of my letter to the Bishop and Clergy—only one of which I actually delivered (the October 2, 2013 version in which I reflect on the sinfulness of pride).
I owe a great debt to two of my California friends who read over this letter before I delivered it: Shelene Emily Peterson of Belmont and Daniel Christian Mack of San Juan Capistrano. Shelene keeps my English in line and tries to control my tendency to ramble (obvious with only limited success, although you should see how much she cut out….). Dan made me realize the error of asserting, oxymoronically, “pride” which is inimical to Christian faith—although it is a critical element of human identity and sanity, it seems to me, that we must love ourselves for what we are. And our ancestry shapes us, both culturally and genetically, whether we would wish it so or not.