Nov 24, 2020
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Canadian doc. parallels Katrina and floods of 1927

TORONTO (CP) _ Vancouver rescue worker Brian Inglis will never forget the day he arrived in a New Orleans suburb a few days after hurricane Katrina pounded the city and left thousands of people, many of them African-Americans, stranded amid toxic floodwaters two storeys high in some places.

Officials of St. Bernard Parish were overjoyed to see Inglis and his team show up, so much so that they reverentially started referring to them as Mounties although they had no association to the RCMP.

"They’re just looking at us bug-eyed when they found out the Mounties came _ even though we weren’t Mounties, we became the Mounties," Inglis recalls with a chuckle in an interview from Vancouver.

"But the difficult part was these guys, grown men, tough men, men with a background of military service, they were crying because someone had finally shown up. It took your breath away how bad things were; they were in serious, serious trouble there, and no one was coming to help them. There was nobody there."

Inglis’s visit to St. Bernard Parish _ an unauthorized mission that miffed the federal government _ is highlighted in Canadian documentarian Alan Mendelsohn’s award-winning "High River Blues," airing on History Television on Aug. 29.

Mendelsohn remembers watching CNN in astonishment two years ago as "one bureaucratic and governmental nightmare after another" played out in southern Louisiana in the aftermath of Katrina, mostly to the detriment of the region’s poorer African-Americans.

In his documentary, Mendelsohn draws parallels between the abysmal treatment of the area’s black communities to the abuses suffered by African-Americans in the wake of the great Mississippi River floods of 1927.

"It wasn’t the same brutality after Katrina, but certainly the neglect was there," Mendelsohn recalls over a lemon soda during a recent interview. "The lack of even the slightest humanity for those people who lived there was the same. The flood was a big moment in black history _ it was a shameful story of betrayal on so many levels, and almost 80 years later, we saw the same sorts of issues playing out."

When the Mississippi flooded its banks in 1927, as many as 1,000 people were killed, 160,000 homes were destroyed and thousands of square miles of crops were submerged underwater. It was the poor African-American sharecroppers who bore the brunt of the disaster, many of them forced at gunpoint to shore up the straining levees.

Many others were placed in refugee camps, where they endured horrific living conditions.

"I had no idea how crucial and critical a moment this became for African-Americans; it certainly became iconic and symbolic for people," Mendelsohn says.

"The memories stuck hard. The wealthy, white plantation owners didn’t want to give up their cheap black labour … when government officials realized the plantations were in dire need of labour and their labour might leave, they resorted to the same tactics that whites resorted to during slavery."

The floods also had a significant impact on American history. Until that point, blacks had been loyal Republican voters because the GOP was the party of Abraham Lincoln, but switched allegiances to the Democrats due to Republican mishandling of the disaster. African-Americans have largely remained Democrats.

It also caused a massive migration of African-Americans to the north, largely to Chicago, where their influence on culture was profound.

Mendelsohn believes the impact of Katrina will be similarly long-lasting.

"The anger and the bitterness and the outrage about Katrina will resonate for years and years and years," he says. "It can only be described as a horrible tragedy not just to the African-Americans who lived there, but to the country itself."

New Orleans, Mendelsohn points out, was the birthplace of so much uniquely American culture, including jazz and blues.

"You go there today and you see all those wrecked houses, some poisoned, row after row after gutted house after gutted house, and they don’t know that it’s not going to flood again; they have no faith in the system. So no one’s going to move back there unless everyone moves back there. And because those gutted communities spawned all that marvellous culture, the city will likely never be the same."

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Headline, Industry News

Canadian doc. parallels Katrina and floods of 1927

TORONTO (CP) _ Vancouver rescue worker Brian Inglis will never forget the day he arrived in a New Orleans suburb a few days after hurricane Katrina pounded the city and left thousands of people, many of them African-Americans, stranded amid toxic floodwaters two storeys high in some places.

Officials of St. Bernard Parish were overjoyed to see Inglis and his team show up, so much so that they reverentially started referring to them as Mounties although they had no association to the RCMP.

"They’re just looking at us bug-eyed when they found out the Mounties came _ even though we weren’t Mounties, we became the Mounties," Inglis recalls with a chuckle in an interview from Vancouver.

"But the difficult part was these guys, grown men, tough men, men with a background of military service, they were crying because someone had finally shown up. It took your breath away how bad things were; they were in serious, serious trouble there, and no one was coming to help them. There was nobody there."

Inglis’s visit to St. Bernard Parish _ an unauthorized mission that miffed the federal government _ is highlighted in Canadian documentarian Alan Mendelsohn’s award-winning "High River Blues," airing on History Television on Aug. 29.

Mendelsohn remembers watching CNN in astonishment two years ago as "one bureaucratic and governmental nightmare after another" played out in southern Louisiana in the aftermath of Katrina, mostly to the detriment of the region’s poorer African-Americans.

In his documentary, Mendelsohn draws parallels between the abysmal treatment of the area’s black communities to the abuses suffered by African-Americans in the wake of the great Mississippi River floods of 1927.

"It wasn’t the same brutality after Katrina, but certainly the neglect was there," Mendelsohn recalls over a lemon soda during a recent interview. "The lack of even the slightest humanity for those people who lived there was the same. The flood was a big moment in black history _ it was a shameful story of betrayal on so many levels, and almost 80 years later, we saw the same sorts of issues playing out."

When the Mississippi flooded its banks in 1927, as many as 1,000 people were killed, 160,000 homes were destroyed and thousands of square miles of crops were submerged underwater. It was the poor African-American sharecroppers who bore the brunt of the disaster, many of them forced at gunpoint to shore up the straining levees.

Many others were placed in refugee camps, where they endured horrific living conditions.

"I had no idea how crucial and critical a moment this became for African-Americans; it certainly became iconic and symbolic for people," Mendelsohn says.

"The memories stuck hard. The wealthy, white plantation owners didn’t want to give up their cheap black labour … when government officials realized the plantations were in dire need of labour and their labour might leave, they resorted to the same tactics that whites resorted to during slavery."

The floods also had a significant impact on American history. Until that point, blacks had been loyal Republican voters because the GOP was the party of Abraham Lincoln, but switched allegiances to the Democrats due to Republican mishandling of the disaster. African-Americans have largely remained Democrats.

It also caused a massive migration of African-Americans to the north, largely to Chicago, where their influence on culture was profound.

Mendelsohn believes the impact of Katrina will be similarly long-lasting.

"The anger and the bitterness and the outrage about Katrina will resonate for years and years and years," he says. "It can only be described as a horrible tragedy not just to the African-Americans who lived there, but to the country itself."

New Orleans, Mendelsohn points out, was the birthplace of so much uniquely American culture, including jazz and blues.

"You go there today and you see all those wrecked houses, some poisoned, row after row after gutted house after gutted house, and they don’t know that it’s not going to flood again; they have no faith in the system. So no one’s going to move back there unless everyone moves back there. And because those gutted communities spawned all that marvellous culture, the city will likely never be the same."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Headline, Industry News

Canadian doc. parallels Katrina and floods of 1927

TORONTO (CP) _ Vancouver rescue worker Brian Inglis will never forget the day he arrived in a New Orleans suburb a few days after hurricane Katrina pounded the city and left thousands of people, many of them African-Americans, stranded amid toxic floodwaters two storeys high in some places.

Officials of St. Bernard Parish were overjoyed to see Inglis and his team show up, so much so that they reverentially started referring to them as Mounties although they had no association to the RCMP.

"They’re just looking at us bug-eyed when they found out the Mounties came _ even though we weren’t Mounties, we became the Mounties," Inglis recalls with a chuckle in an interview from Vancouver.

"But the difficult part was these guys, grown men, tough men, men with a background of military service, they were crying because someone had finally shown up. It took your breath away how bad things were; they were in serious, serious trouble there, and no one was coming to help them. There was nobody there."

Inglis’s visit to St. Bernard Parish _ an unauthorized mission that miffed the federal government _ is highlighted in Canadian documentarian Alan Mendelsohn’s award-winning "High River Blues," airing on History Television on Aug. 29.

Mendelsohn remembers watching CNN in astonishment two years ago as "one bureaucratic and governmental nightmare after another" played out in southern Louisiana in the aftermath of Katrina, mostly to the detriment of the region’s poorer African-Americans.

In his documentary, Mendelsohn draws parallels between the abysmal treatment of the area’s black communities to the abuses suffered by African-Americans in the wake of the great Mississippi River floods of 1927.

"It wasn’t the same brutality after Katrina, but certainly the neglect was there," Mendelsohn recalls over a lemon soda during a recent interview. "The lack of even the slightest humanity for those people who lived there was the same. The flood was a big moment in black history _ it was a shameful story of betrayal on so many levels, and almost 80 years later, we saw the same sorts of issues playing out."

When the Mississippi flooded its banks in 1927, as many as 1,000 people were killed, 160,000 homes were destroyed and thousands of square miles of crops were submerged underwater. It was the poor African-American sharecroppers who bore the brunt of the disaster, many of them forced at gunpoint to shore up the straining levees.

Many others were placed in refugee camps, where they endured horrific living conditions.

"I had no idea how crucial and critical a moment this became for African-Americans; it certainly became iconic and symbolic for people," Mendelsohn says.

"The memories stuck hard. The wealthy, white plantation owners didn’t want to give up their cheap black labour … when government officials realized the plantations were in dire need of labour and their labour might leave, they resorted to the same tactics that whites resorted to during slavery."

The floods also had a significant impact on American history. Until that point, blacks had been loyal Republican voters because the GOP was the party of Abraham Lincoln, but switched allegiances to the Democrats due to Republican mishandling of the disaster. African-Americans have largely remained Democrats.

It also caused a massive migration of African-Americans to the north, largely to Chicago, where their influence on culture was profound.

Mendelsohn believes the impact of Katrina will be similarly long-lasting.

"The anger and the bitterness and the outrage about Katrina will resonate for years and years and years," he says. "It can only be described as a horrible tragedy not just to the African-Americans who lived there, but to the country itself."

New Orleans, Mendelsohn points out, was the birthplace of so much uniquely American culture, including jazz and blues.

"You go there today and you see all those wrecked houses, some poisoned, row after row after gutted house after gutted house, and they don’t know that it’s not going to flood again; they have no faith in the system. So no one’s going to move back there unless everyone moves back there. And because those gutted communities spawned all that marvellous culture, the city will likely never be the same."

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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