When Dr. Lemuel Moyé’s agent first sent me the draft of this book, I was astounded to discover that the name of President George W. Bush was not even mentioned! (It still isn’t.)
Long before I ever heard of Dr. Moyé and his book, I knew that the people of New Orleans and especially the poor and largely African-American segment of the population had been treated in a criminally negligent way by the U.S. government. Indeed, in a column written for the Greensboro (NC) Times many months before Hurricane Katrina, I exposed the fact that the only preparation for Hurricane Ivan done by U.S. federal emergency officials in New Orleans was to accumulate ten thousand body bags! And they were busy seeking as many more body bags as they could get their hands on. For they predicted that as many as fifty thousand citizens of New Orleans might die as a result of a direct hit of Hurricane Ivan on this major city. According to federal authorities there, it was “impossible” to transport the citizens of this low-lying metropolitan area out of harm’s way because so many poor people lacked their own private transportation, i.e., automobiles. I contrasted this with the evacuation of more than one million citizens of Cuba from the northwestern area of that impoverished island nation by the Fidel Castro-led government in anticipation of the very same hurricane.
I concluded: “Fortunately, for the poor people of New Orleans, Hurricane Ivan largely bypassed their city, but ‘hurricane roulette’ is just a tragedy waiting to happen there.” (Greensboro Times, February 2005)
During and after Hurricane Katrina, in New Orleans and in the Gulf Coast region, and later in Houston and elsewhere, there were men and women of good will, including local government leaders, who unselfishly helped to rescue and aid their fellow human beings. But the only branch of the national government that acquitted itself well was the Coast Guard, whose local forces, based in Alexandria, Louisiana, performed heroically. Ironically, the Coast Guard is under the Department of Homeland Security, whose chief, Michael Chertoff, working directly under President Bush, blocked federal relief dollars for Katrina victims by refusing to make a declaration of an “Incident of National Significance.” Chertoff, along with President Bush, was the key saboteur of the rescue effort, even more than their subordinate and ultimate scapegoat, FEMA Chief Michael Brown or, as President Bush called him, “Brownie.”
The scandalous and even criminal treatment of U.S. citizens by their government at all levels, and especially the federal level, is by now well-known. Such comprehensive works as The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley and Come Hell or High Water by Michael Eric Dyson have done a good job documenting the criminal character of the U.S. government response. Nevertheless, Open Hand Publishing, LLC decided that this book, with no mention of George W. Bush, still has something important to share with the people of the USA and the world.
Face to Face with Katrina Survivors focuses on the human beings whose lives were most devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing damage caused by the breached levees, the poorest of the poor who had been stranded and abandoned in New Orleans.
The corporate-dominated mass media described these victims as people who chose to abandon their children and desert their families to steal useless stereos. Dr. Moyé initially expected to meet such people. This book is the product of the collision between his expectation and his actual experience with the survivors whom he interviewed and examined at the Houston Astrodome complex immediately after they were bussed there from a devastated New Orleans, Louisiana.
As the author described these evacuees: “[They] operated from a compassionate and gracious strength of heart . . . It was an honor to watch, and even participate in, their reactions as they demonstrated their allegiance to family, to culture, to each other, and, in the end, to us all.” Dr. Moyé’s undeniably honest narration exposes the fact that the U.S. mass media has taken the heat off of the system by “blaming the victims” in the most vicious fashion.
Elsewhere I have written that the Bush Administration is responsible for ethnic cleansing in New Orleans and that this constitutes twenty-first century lynching and land-stealing. In early October, as we are going to press, the Wall Street Journal has cited a door-to-door survey in New Orleans indicating that only 41 percent of the pre-Katrina population has returned there in the more than a year that has transpired since then!
From Face to Face the reader can learn, in the most personal way, why so many poor and African-American people have gotten the message from the government and the system that they should not return to New Orleans. In the wake of the barbaric treatment they received (and continue to receive) from the government, insurance companies, real estate sharks and others, is it any wonder that none of the evacuees recounted by Dr. Moyé in Face to Face With Katrina Survivors was planning to return home to live in New Orleans?!
What is miraculous about this book is that Dr. Moyé provides a heretofore unparalleled description of the depth of the misery and devastation experienced by the poorest citizens of New Orleans, the main targets of this ethnic cleansing. And yet, he is able to present a book that realistically holds out some hope for the future. This is due to the fact that Dr. Moyé concentrates his focus, not on the leaders, the movers and shakers, but on the people themselves.
Indeed, the book reveals the startling depth of the “souls of black folk” in our time quite similar to that depth of spirit which W.E.B. DuBois discovered and reported so eloquently in his classic work of that name over one hundred years ago. As the publisher of Face to Face with Katrina Survivors, I am no doubt prejudiced in its favor. Notwithstanding this fact, I truly believe that chapters such as “Young Mothers,” “Beyond Anguish,” and “Husbands, Fathers, and Sons” are so beautifully written that, like DuBois’ masterpiece, Souls of Black Folk, the text begins to soar; it seems transformed into poetry and even music.
The people Dr. Moyé encountered admiringly included not only New Orleans evacuees but also Houston volunteers. This decent and brilliant man allows us to accompany him on his journey of discovery. And what he has discovered is the decency, the compassion and the love shared among ordinary people in our society—from New Orleans to Houston and beyond.
Dr. Moyé was ennobled by his contact with the survivors and the volunteers. We at Open Hand Publishing, LLC believe that the reader will be ennobled by his contact with Dr. Moyé and his book.
In the process of editing and publishing this book, I received valuable help and encouragement from a number of formidable women. Along with their enthusiastic endorsement of the book, both Louise Davis Stone of Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Joanne Nyamukapa of Phoenix, Arizona provided a thorough editorial assessment of the book. Chinese-American documentary filmmaker Loni Ding of San Francisco, California suggested the narrative structure for our photo section; and Executive Director Amelia Parker of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina provided constructive suggestions to this section as well. Clara Villarosa, the Grande Dame of African-American booksellers, generously provided straightforward and wise counsel. Minnesota’s Sherry Roberts, of the Roberts Group, Open Hand Publishing, LLC’s book designer, has once again gone above and beyond her assigned responsibility. And, my wife, Sandra Self Koritz, a partner in Open Hand Publishing, LLC as well as my life-partner, believed, from the beginning, in the strength of Dr. Moyé’s narrative and expressed a strong and unwavering desire to have us publish this book.
Finally, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to collaborate closely with the exceptional Dr. Lemuel A. Moyé. A privilege—because the man possesses so many academic gifts, shares them generously, and, all the while, remains open to criticism, welcoming, embracing, and moving with it so as to advance the creative process. A pleasure—not only because all of these sterling qualities are wrapped up in a good man but mostly because knowing such a person is an encouragement for anyone who seeks a better world for humanity. Our collaboration enhanced our respective understanding of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and reveals the strength two people can bring to each other in a joint effort to get out the truth.
Richard A. Koritz
Editor and Publisher
Open Hand Publishing, LLC