Monday, August 13, 2012

Bywater, New Orleans

In the plantation era this part of the city of New Orleans was known as Faubourg Washington to it's French Spanish and Creole (mixed race) residents and their slaves.

It's separated from the rest of the Ninth Ward by the Industrial Canal and thus it became the Upper 9th Ward which confused the locals enough such that by World War Two they adopted the telephone exchange designation of Bywater. Nowadays it's a down-at-heel neighborhood veering between eccentric, artistic, bohemian and gritty, with a sense of humor, witness this homemade sign for a street that's actually called Montegut:

Bywater lies about three feet above sea level which saved it from flooding in the great Katrina washout of 2005, along with the rest of that narrow sliver of the city closest to the Mississippi River that didn't flood.

The modern Bywater is part of the declining gentrification that follows the river from the mansion riddled Garden District, through the Central Business District to the infamous French Quarter to Faubourg Marigny and thence to Bywater.

Bywater's main claim to fame is the incident that gave rise to the Supreme Court ruling that made the idiotic "separate but equal" standard the law of the land. It's comforting to know that the US Supreme Court has it's own history of missing the mark on social legislation.

Homer Plessy, as a test case sat in the white part of the train, even though he was "only" seven eights white(!), and was dragged to the ground here in Bywater for violating Louisiana's Separate Car Act of 1890. That led to the ruling in Plessy versus Ferguson which stood from 1896 till the 1954 Brown versus Board of Education ruling when separate but equal was finally declared to be nonsense.

Nowadays Bywater struggles as does the rest of the city with gentrification. Some homes remain marked by Katrina's X mark which designated damage and casualties during the clean up after the storm.

Some houses are all spiffy.

And these are the homes that you think of when you think of traditional New Orleans, shotguns with two front doors and those flights of steps.

I have mixed feelings about gentrification whether it's here in New Orleans or at home in Key West, but I do know that my yuppy self likes houses that look like this:

And Bywater is a mixed bag.

Yet speculation is rife in New Orleans and there are plenty of people ready to make money, still off other people's lack of hope.

New Orleans is a paradox at every turn.

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