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December 9, 2022 / Jim Fenton

Civil Rights Journey Day 4: Bayou

Friday, October 21, 2022

After breakfast at our hotel, we got on the bus and went east to visit one of the bayous. Along the way, we stopped and were introduced to a native American couple who explained the many ways that the oil industry in the area had impacted their lives. In addition to needing to relocate, they were severely affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil well disaster, and continue to endure health threats from toxic emissions from the refineries, many of which have been made legal through lobbying efforts on behalf of the oil companies.

We continued east through St. Bernard Parish, and as we did, we saw many skeletons of dead oak trees. These have apparently died due to increased salination of the underground aquafer. Many homes were seen that were propped up on platforms typically 20 feet above ground. Many of these homes were owned not by locals but by sport fishermen as second homes or as rentals. As we looked out into the waterway, it was fairly obvious which boars belonged the visiting sport fishermen and which were owned by locals. As our hosts explained, the waterway is always in a state of transition. There have been efforts to open new channels from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, and other projects that would change the salinity of that portion of the delta. Nobody seems to be sure how long this will last.

Returning to New Orleans, we had lunch at a very pleasant restaurant, Carmo. Our next stop was at a youth development organization called Son of a Saint. Housed in a newly renovated former ice house, Son of a Saint provides mentorship services to boys who have lost their fathers. Engagement with them begins in middle school and extends through their educational career and beyond. They have a very impressive track record with the boys they have mentored.

We then traveled to StudioBE, a warehouse art gallery space featuring the art of “BMike”, a local urban artist. As you might expect, BMike’s preferred medium is spray paint, but the amount of expression and detail he is able to impart is truly impressive. But spray paint is not his only medium: there were exhibits in many forms, even simulated video games. Along with the art were words that were in many cases quite profound. This visit definitely broadened my art tastes.

After a short break at the hotel, the group went to dinner at the Windsor Court Hotel, where we had stayed on our visit to New Orleans about 10 years ago. It was a wonderful dinner, definitely too much food but all of it delicious.

This article is part of a series about our recent travels to the US South. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

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