Why New Orleans Is Going Down

Mafia 3 is set in the fictional city of New Bordeaux. The inspiration for this is New Orleans, one of the most interesting cities in the USA.
Mardi Gras, beaded college students, lots of alcohol and maybe even jazz, definitely something with trumpets and feathers and Hurricane Katrina. This is the New Orleans cliché, the fancy party headquarters of the USA. In fact, New Orleans in the state of Louisiana is a metropolis that, like New York, stands like no other for the cultural melting pot of the United States, for the oppression of minorities and the struggle for civil rights.

New Orleans melting pot

Large groups of black men in huge feathered costumes with rhinestones chanting a kind of war song: These are the "Black Indians" (also: "Mardi Gras Indians"), one of the most impressive sights during the annual New Orleans Carnival, Mardi Gras. The tradition may seem strange to outsiders. After all, why should adult black men dress up like a mixture of Carnival Indians and Las Vegas showgirls? The reason is the almost perfect illustration of the city's history.

A "Mardi Gras Indian" is getting ready for the prime example.
(Wikipedia - Infrogmation - CC BY-SA 3.0)

Around 1724 - it was 51 years before the American War of Independence - New Orleans was firmly in French hands. At this point in time, the city's population was largely made up of enslaved blacks. For fear of an uprising, the city rulers impose the "Code Noir": 54 paragraphs that govern the coexistence of slaves and slave owners. From then on, only Catholicism counts as a permitted religion. Slaves are not even allowed to carry sticks, they are not allowed to gather in groups, and relationships between whites and blacks are severely punished. Black slaves then flee to the swamps around the city and find shelter with the tribes of the indigenous Louisiana. Over the years the groups mix and there are numerous offspring. And: There are uprisings against the French colonial masters, in which the tribes stand by the former slaves. Out of gratitude, the "Black Indians" honor this hospitality with their costumes to this day.
The tradition only underwent a major change recently, in the 1970s. Then the competition between the different tribes of the "Black Indians", which is so characteristic today, arises, which aims to determine the "prettiest" of the "Mardi Gras Indians". Before that, Mardi Gras was often used as a time for bloody arguments between competing groups.
The costumes are a combination of carnival tradition, dark colonial history and gang fights, the battle chants an ode to the indigenous people of Louisiana mixed with Christian gospel chants. It is precisely these improbable mixtures that make up the city and that can be found throughout its history.

A jazz band marches in the Mardi Gras parade.
(Flickr - Entouriste - CC BY-ND 2.0)

One of the typical buildings in the touristy French Quarter.
(Flickr - Denisbin - CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Cabildo was built by Spanish governors, it served as the seat of government and is now a museum.
(Flickr - Reading Tom - CC BY 2.0)

The urban architecture is not exempt from this either: Although the old town in the French Quarter with its narrow streets, curved entrances to inner courtyards and the many cast-iron balconies and decorations is reminiscent of Parisian streets, the French Quarter is above all Spanish. After the Seven Years' War in 1763, New Orleans and the surrounding area passed from French to Spanish hands. At this point in time, the Spanish colonial power took over a kind of Wild West in the swamp. It is a wet, malaria-infected hole full of snakes and alligators, writes the French priest Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix in 1721 on his travels through the French colonies. Even before the Spaniards took over, the governor of the time, the Chevalier de Kerlerec, Louis Belcourt, reported that the city was full of treasure hunters, adventurers and other scapegoats while his troops were of the worst kind. After the Spanish takeover, Belcourt is ordered to Paris and thrown in prison for embezzling funds. Pot. Cover. The Spaniards, on the other hand, not only build the French Quarter in the "French" (actually Spanish) style, they also build some of the city's most famous landmarks such as the Cabildo, the Spanish seat of government in New Orleans.

New Orleans and Civil Rights

It wasn't until 1803, after the American War of Independence, that New Orleans became part of the United States. French mixes with Spanish and English on the streets. Refugees from the revolution in Haiti end up in the city, as do the descendants of French and Spanish colonists, former slaves and the children of black slaves and their white slave owners. Louisiana is the first state in the United States to have a non-white governor. P.B.S. Pinchback, son of a white American officer and his black slave, ruled Louisiana from 1872. It wasn't until an unbelievable 117 years later, in the 1990s, that Douglas Wilder became governor of Virginia, another black politician. Jazz, the music that emerged from slave songs and African tradition, is the soundtrack of the city and its lively club culture. And despite the diversity of the population, despite the historic Pinchback government, New Orleans is still a symbol of racism, inequality and the struggle for civil rights to this day.
After the American Civil War, 1868, slavery was abolished in Louisiana (like the rest of the United States). But that does not mean equality. Segregation, strict racial segregation, applies in New Orleans. Black citizens are not allowed to be police officers or firefighters. Black children are not allowed to attend public schools. A complaint against segregation before the Supreme Court is dismissed in 1896. A member of the racist terrorist group Ku Klux Klan ran as a candidate for mayor well into the 1960s. Perhaps the city's best-known mayor, deLesseps Story Morrion, or “Chep Morrison” for short, only pays lip service to the civil rights movement of the 1950s. Although the city's first black police officer was hired under Morrison in 1950, neighborhoods were also built for black citizens, who received only a fraction of the public money for infrastructure. Ghettos under other names.
The crisis that New Orleans still has to this day occurs in 1960. The 1954 Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka to disaggregate schools in the United States. Above all, public schools are to be integrated, i.e. made accessible to black pupils. On November 14, 1960, two white schools in the Lower Ninth Ward are desegregated. The four black underage students must be guarded by US Marshalls when they walk to the school. Parents of white students insult them, there are death threats. A riot breaks out two days later. White parents take their children out of school. Between January and May 1961, Ruby Bridges, one of four black students, is the only child at Frantz Elementary. It takes four years for the rest of the New Orleans schools to demolish. That doesn't bring much. Between 1960 and 1970, the white population in the Ninth Ward fell by 77%.

Ruby Bridges is one of four black children who will be transferred to a formerly white school. She needs a police escort. One of the most iconic images of the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s.
(Wikipedia - Public Domain)

And today? At least in schools it could still be 1960. Between 2004 and 2005, approximately 94% of New Orleans public school students were black from low-income families. Two thirds of these schools are considered "academically unacceptable". White parents prefer to send their children to expensive private schools. Hurricane Katrina made things worse in 2005. Poor, often black, families lose their property in the storm and flood. However, only high-income families can afford to come back to the newly renovated inner city. New Orleans fishermen are also gradually losing their livelihoods. When the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform sank in 2010 and loads of oil flow into the Gulf of Mexico, the fish stocks off New Orleans are contaminated. Tourism, which is so important for the city, also suffers. Anyone who speaks of New Orleans now is primarily talking about economic inequality, gentrification and the failure of the Bush administration to save one of the most important cities in the USA from environmental disasters. New Orleans serves as a strange, rhinestone-hung mirror of the USA, a city where big, social issues have always been negotiated while jazz bands march down the streets.