Historical Memory in Levees

I found it interesting how much Historical Memory played into the New Orleans citizen’s suspicion of their levee being blown by the government. There was a certainty among a number of people who were interviewed that there was an explosion that caused the Levee to break during Hurricane Katrina. Sylvester Francis was certain that “they bombed that sucker”(23:40), “they” one can presume to be the government.

While at first hearing these thoughts, one may write them off as whacky conspiracy theories, upon further investigation into the history of Levee explosions one can see that there is not only precedent for state-sponsored flooding but that its history is engrained into those that live in poor New Orleans neighborhoods. The New Orleans Levees were intentionally blown in 1927 and allegedly blown in 1965 to prevent flooding in wealthier areas – the French Quarter in particular – of New Orleans and this is something that no one has forgotten.

Whether or not the levees were intentionally blown, I think Doug Brinkley states the reasoning for these beliefs best: “those that believe it was dynamited have a long experience of being ripped off…[with this in mind] it’s not a far jump to believe the urban myth that it got dynamited” (27:15). This is where Historical Memory comes into play, the citizens of the Lower Ninth Ward have a history of being underserved by the government and can look to historical fact and rumor to show that its happened before. With these beliefs in their minds, it is completely understandable that, if they heard a boom when the levees broke they would immediately believe it was a dynamite explosion. Due to the shared history that they believe in, this viewpoint would not only be justified, but also validated by their shared Historical Memory.

One thought on “Historical Memory in Levees”

  1. I actually worked down in New Orleans in 2011. We did some demolition and remodeling of a home that had its wood rotted by the flooding in the area. On the long bus ride down there, one of the stops to eat was in Virginia (I think) and our server asked why we were all traveling down South. After telling him that we were going down to work, he spoke with us for a bit because he was displaced by Katrina. I remember nothing about the conversation except for him telling us that he thought the government knew that Katrina was going to be as bad as it was, and the free cheesecake he gave us for helping out. He didn’t say that the government blew up the levees, but there is certainly a distrust of government embedded in New Orleans (probably, rightfully so).


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