An Observation on New Orleans

By A.B. Assensoh

Vol. 2, No. 6, 1980, pp. 7

Former Alabama Gov. George Wallace had achieved such racial notoriety that before my arrival from Africa in New Orleans, I perceived that all the Southern region of the United States was an extension of the state of Alabama. I knew of the existence of the other 10 states, including Louisiana but I seldom placed them within the geographical ambit of the South.

The state of Louisiana, in which I reside now, seems to have been blessed with the presence of several bayous and the Superdome described as a monument beyond imagination. New Orleans can easily fascinate the new visitor. Upon my arrival, in January 1979, 1 was anxious to visit several historical sites. I visited the former Congo Square, now called Beauregard Square, named after a Confederate general. I also had a glimpse of the famous French Quarters, the citadel for near-decadence, where male and female prostitution reportedly thrives like the oil industry.

Strangely enough, the city appears to thrive on traditional ways, as it continues to be divided into parishes instead of counties. In some of these parishes can be found communities of foreign language groups, examples of which are the Hungarian settlement on the boundary line between Tangipahoa and Livingston Parishes; German groups in Acadia; Bohemians in Rapides; the Spanish settlements in St. Bernard; and the citrus-growing Yugoslavian community in the lower part of Plaquemine Parish. It was, also, interesting to note that more than any other racial group, the New Orleans French have maintained their culture, religion and, indeed, mode of living.

On the buses, at parks, in the restaurants, in classrooms, at work and even at conferences or seminars, one is able to observe how Blacks and Whites interact in New Orleans. Since the old folks, both Black and White, find it uneasy and uncomfortable to stand up for long on buses and streetcars, one may occasionally find them seated comfortably among one another. But the energetic White youngsters often prefer standing.

When I first came to New Orleans from Stockholm, Sweden — where I had lived for almost five years and had seen little or no racism - I did not know much about the local racial situation. One day, on a bus, therefore, I shifted from a seat to make room for a White boy standing to sit by me. Instead of sitting down, he said, "Thank you, I will stand here."

A.B. Assensoh, currently studying at Dillard University in New Orleans, is a professional journalist from Ghana in West Africa.