New Orleans, Mayor Mich Landrieu, Gertrude Morgan discussed on Bob Salter
He is the author of city of a million dreams a history of New Orleans at year three hundred east joined us by phone on our program. There's so many different areas to potentially go in this discussion. One of the things that New Orleans is very famous for as well that we haven't mentioned thus far mardi gras carnival or mardi gras. How important is that in the history of New Orleans? It's of of pivotal importance because it began as a kind of cluster of celebrations in the well, really. Going back into the Spanish era, colonial era in the late even the French era in in in the eighteenth century, but by by eighteen seventy two it it became a way in which the city could market itself and announced that it had gotten past the bloody civil war. And here was a vacation place for the rest of the country to come to. When you have a king Rex every year going through the streets on a float it it promotes an other worldly fantasy. Well, as it became an engine of the economy drawing in millions of tourists over the years. It's now multibillion dollar enterprise. At the same time. It allowed for a constellation of identity. Pageants whereby not just the wealthy elite. In in the costumes of kings, and queens, but middle-class people from working neighborhoods or African Americans who carried their own cultural memory and used carnival as a stage. I mean, the best example probably are the black Indians of mardi gras. They're also call mardi gras Indians. And they date back to the eighteen eighties as a symbolic drama of resistance. These are the descendants literally of the dancers in Congo square of the early enslaved Africans and adopting the persona and the costume of the native American they perform the resistance dramas. The the outfits now with the many splendor feathers and sequins and beat it patches that you find are fast being recognized as. Hi, examples of folk art several of these costumes now, hang in museums. And so across the society carnival is a way for people to sort of interpret their lives. You can bet your back pay that Roger Goodell will soon be on a carnival float memorialize is the guy who stole the Super Bowl. I did we we we move on. And when you talk about an examination of this book. I mean, it's so character driven one of the questions that naturally comes to mind is. How tough was it deciding who to profile and preps was the tougher situation who not to. Well, let me compliment show on the question. I haven't been asked that yet and it cuts to the marrow. It was very hard to decide who not to include. I when I should add to write the book I wanted. I wanted a historical narrative that did not rely on politics and economics as a way of explaining the city. I I wanted to capture this baroque, multisided popular culture that puts forth the image of the city and to do that. I had to include, you know, politics. I had to include some of the economic dynamics, but I was much more concerned. And in each chapter has two or three people who hold a mirror to the the way in which the city was in its daily life at a given moment. I mean, it would have been easy to do an entire chapter on moon Landrieu who was one of the greatest mayors mitch's father in the nineteen seventies. Or for that matter Chep Morrison who was a glamorous mayor when I was growing up in the nineteen sixties and yet in the long run of history did not fare very well because he didn't do anything to stand against the worst of the segregation forces. So I took a different approach, and that was to find people and develop them in three dimensional texture being scrupulous about the facts. I mean, you know, not inventing dialogue or anything like that. For example, sister Gertrude Morgan was a folk artist whose work now hangs in museums. And if you were lucky enough to find it on the market and her picture sell for substantial figures, she began painting in the nineteen fifties. She thought of herself she was a mystic. She believed that she was a bride of Christ. And God the father and that I compare her to Saint Catherine of Sienna and William Blake the visionary poet. She goes into the city and catches the eye in the late fifties of Larry Bornstein. Here's a wildly colorful art dealer by his own admission. He was arrested three times in Mexico for trying to steal antiquities and ferret them out of the country had to pay bribes to, you know, get out, and he sees her work and likes it and starts reps. This is the ultimate odd. Couple. And. As her work matures. She is inspired by the book of revelation the battle between heaven and hell and the idea of the neutral Roussel is this place where we all go. These soaring images of choirs kind of waving like wheat and the wind. Her work is beautiful. And she's right there at preservation hall when Bornstein it takes his art gallery and opens it up for jazz and soon Alan Jaffe became, you know, born she's partner later took over the hall and these two guys are almost like Jewish uncles. These benevolent figures to this woman who's old enough to be their mother, and they're taking care of her. They're making sure that, you know, her house is, okay. And she is painting up the storm at a time when the freedom riders are coming through and gay bars are starting to. To stop in the payment of bribes to the cops and the costuming of gay mardi gras starting to sprout its wings. It's a whole period of revolutionary ferment that really kind of captures the theme of the book of culture pushing against a repressive legal system in in in due course, segregation fell in fact, one of the reasons it fell was because one reason David Brinkley did an NBC news piece on preservation hall. And here's Allan Jaffe, playing the tuba with a black band against the law and the city government, such as it was realized how can how can we sustain something? What do we do? Do we go punish the guy who was on NBC TV? Well, of course, they didn't. And in time the city changed and Gertrude Morgan was right in the middle of all of that almost like the spirit figure from the past. So I found her much more compelling than the elected officials. Of that time. You had worked with. Mayor MICH Landrieu on his book in the shadow of statues. What was that experience like? Well, it was quite informative and quite pleasant. I had known Mitch for quite a long time. We were we were not close friends. I liked him. I used to see a church now. And again, and we had never actually had a meal together. He called me up one day. And Well, I I did an op Ed piece defending his stance on the statues, and he called me and thanked me and invited me. Down to gal your hall to see the speech. He gave which I went to having no idea. It would be these speech, you know, put him on the map nationally now. I guess I don't know maybe four or five months later, he called me out of the blue one morning and asked if I'd be willing to collaborate help him on on a book he had gotten a contract to do. And I I agree. We came to terms and he would come to my house at five fifteen five thirty in the afternoon driving himself. No city driver. I mean, he was so scrupulous about not doing work on city tied. And but this time he was getting hammered by a lot of these conservatives who were furious about the statues coming down, and I thought he'd put the city on the right side of history. Fortunately, I had done a great deal of reading to that point about the loss cause and I took a brief cul de sac from my own work to help him finish his book. It is his book all the way, I should say he had written a fair portion of it before he came to me. I obviously helped him, you know, with editing and polishing, and and we did long interviews, and then, you know, fuse them together into the narrative, but the you know, the two things that strike me about him. Oh, I is courage and doing something that he knew would lose support among many whites in the state had he never taken the statues down. He would have sailed out of office as the great rebuilder and could have run for the Senate or governor. I think right now among whites in this conservative state. He would have trouble doing that. But the other thing that was so striking to me was his his true concern about youth homicide. He absolutely could not abide by the all of the killings going on not just in the city, but across the country, and he put in place certain programs, try to divert use on the jagged edge. So that they would not be drawn into drugs or guns. That's a hard road. Ho, and you don't find many other big city mayors who make an issue of that as he did. So. I think history will be quite kind to him. I have no idea if he's going to run for governor. I'm not part of his inner circle, we you know, we have occasionally mails things like that. But if he were to run, I think he'd be a formidable candidate Ed Randall is long talking baseball after nine o'clock update. This morning sports edge fellows are eight o'clock update. We are in a discussion with Jason berry on for as the author of city of a million dreams history of do Orleans at ear three hundred more with Jason as we continue here on the fan. Hockey fans. Wouldn't it be great to just put on a t shirt and shorts? No coat hat.