Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Animals and children

Fourth in a series of posts about the January 2012 UUA Board meeting

My seat mate on the New Orleans to Houston flight was a 30ish man who looked liked the volunteer fireman he once had been in the small town north of New Orleans where he had lived all his life. Engaging, proud of his wife and two kids, self-deprecating about his “hick” rural accent, he said Katrina hadn’t really impacted him much.

Except – he stopped and drew a breath – psychologically.

With Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) skills, he immediately volunteered and was in New Orleans two days after the levees broke. He lasted four days.

“It wasn’t so much the work”, he said. “We were basically pulling bodies. It was the way they were all treated….” His voice trailed off and he continued. “And nobody seemed to know what they were doing.”

The first day he was sent about 35 miles out to “pull bodies”. The second day his crew sat around on a log – no one knew where to send them. The third day they started again, but were quickly pulled in “because the government was doing something we had to wait for – no one knew what.” The fourth day he was back “pulling bodies” – “mostly animals and children”. That was enough.

The conversation shifted. His family had lived in the same area since 1806, when they bought the land as a land grant from Spain. They “raised cattle – and owned slaves”. “My great grandma was a dress-maker, so she said they would let her know when the ship was coming in with the slaves and concubines.”

Concubines? “Yeah. They would take the prettiest, maybe 13 to 17 years old, and they would be sold for concubines. They would rub them with butter, and my great grandma would dress them up so they looked real pretty. The person who bought the concubine would usually take the dress too. She said she could make two bits on each one.” Their family album includes very old photos of pretty dark girls in colorful dresses.

Rubbed them with butter!? Excuse me?

He paused and said softly “they thought of them like cattle”.

Animals. And children. He went on.

"You know, my 8 year old boy didn't know what slavery was. He plays with all kinds of kids, all colors -- we are a pretty integrated place now. So a few days ago he asked me what a slave was. I had to explain it to him, and he just couldn't understand how..." here his voice cracked and dropped lower, "how anyone could treat a human being that way."

Next post: Do you know where your mineral rights are?

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