I had been spending a fair amount of time reporting from the Caribbean when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in August 2005. Making my way to the Crescent City from Kingston, Jamaica, I arrived to see US troops stationed outside the Harrah’s casino, as mostly black people were plucked from trees and roofs, and bodies floated down main streets and started decomposing in houses.
It wasn’t just the levees that had been breached but the facade of a First World nation: one of the United States’ most celebrated cities appeared like Port-au-Prince, only with skyscrapers.
The hurricane had not created the inequalities of race and class so evident in the aftermath; it had simply laid them bare. When Katrina struck more than 44 per cent of New Orleans residents were functionally illiterate; close to one in three African Americans in Louisiana lived in poverty; rates of black infant mortality in the state were worse than infant mortality in Sri Lanka, and black male life expectancy was the same as that for men in Kyrgyzstan. African Americans were less likely to leave town before the storm came because they were less likely to have cars or cash. As thousands of people, most of them black, flocked to the convention centre, in search of shelter and sustenance, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, said, “We’re seeing people that we didn’t know exist.” (Read more)
On a cold march afternoon in 1949, Wolfgang Leonhard slipped out of the East German Communist Party Secretariat, hurried home, packed what few warm clothes he could fit into a small briefcase, and then walked to a telephone box to call his mother. “My article will be finished this evening,” he told her. That was the code they had agreed on in advance. It meant that he was escaping the country, at great risk to his life.
Though only 28 years old at the time, Leonhard stood at the pinnacle of the new East German elite. The son of German Communists, he had been educated in the Soviet Union, trained in special schools during the war, and brought back to Berlin from Moscow in May 1945, on the same airplane that carried Walter Ulbricht, the leader of what would soon become the East German Communist Party. Leonhard was put on a team charged with re‑creating Berlin’s city government. (Read more)
These represent only the most recent episode in a long global history of black protest and activism against anti-black violence. Throughout the last century, the United States has projected itself as a global leader of liberty, democracy and freedom. But on questions of race, America has consistently been on the wrong side of history — and the world has noticed. (Read more)
Kevin M. Kruse