pieces from the area’s brightest African American artists. Now, the 20-year New Orleans residents are looking for a new home of their own.
The couple, Berry’s brother, and a friend evacuated the city a day before heavy winds and rain hit. “I could see the waves coming onto the bridge, and I knew that we had to go, and we just sang. We sang songs of thanksgiving,” Berry, 61, said between sobs. “We were very much involved in the neighborhood, and a lot of the people we left sitting in the park. They did not understand the urgency.”
Two weeks after the evacuation, Berry was still uncertain about the future. But she did say that she and her husband plan to return to New Orleans and rebuild their business. “We know what we can do. When we first got our building, we restored it and we can do it again. We are a part of the city and the city is a part of us. We will be back.”
Displacement following natural disasters has happened before, although never on such a massive scale. As Thomas D. Boston, of Boston Research Group in Atlanta and a member of the BE Board of Economists, points out, hurricane-related destruction in Florida and other Gulf Coast communities in the past has been quickly followed by an inrush of real estate developers, many of whom aren’t interested in building low-cost or affordable housing. There’s little money in that. They want to build luxury condos, rentals or upscale homes, which dramatically escalates land values.
And in New Orleans, where one-third of the black residents lived in poverty, odds are that most African Americans who left the city won’t return. This dynamic may have major political, social, and economic implications. “So you
have the loss of the market itself, and the displacement of population, which undermines political power and the ability to have some political influence in both the economic development of the city and just regular, ongoing affairs,” says Boston. “I just think that with all of those things combined, we can potentially see the death of black-owned businesses in New Orleans on a significant level.”
REBUILDING A BUSINESS COMMUNITY
However, if African Americans can participate in the rebuilding process, it could provide just the stimulus black business will need. With rebuilding costs estimated at well over $100 billion, jobs could be created and black entrepreneurs in areas such as construction and related sectors could see some benefit. This, in turn, would create more jobs for blacks and a cycle of economic prosperity that will bring New Orleans’ displaced African Americans back home. But that’s only if the black community is represented when these contracts are handed out.
President George W. Bush addressed some of the black business community’s concerns in his Sept. 15 address to the nation. What wasn’t mentioned were contracting opportunities. “When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets,” Bush said in his speech. “When the houses are rebuilt, more families