Filed Under:  Columns

Neighborhoods are extended families

5th November 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

Once upon a time, it was a pleasant fact of life that one’s neighborhood was a vibrant part of one’s family. Those of us mature enough remember our childhood when our neighborhood was nearly as safe as our own home. From small towns to the biggest cities, people report a similar experience of safety, closeness and surrogate parents.

Until as recently as the early 1970s, the extended family neighborhood was enjoyed by the entire country with few interruptions such as the terror inflicted by evil mobsters in otherwise peaceful communities such as onetime “Little Italy” in New York.

As evil and as inhuman as slavery was, the slaves nonetheless brought with them the huge benefits of the wonderful African culture of the extended family. So powerful is the African extended family that it mirrors what we read in Acts 4:32, “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.”

Of course, we recognize that early Christian community as the only example in history where pure communism worked for a while. Even there, it was ruined by the greed of Ananias and Sapphira who kept for themselves some of the proceeds from sales.

Especially in New Orleans, but also in similar venues across the country, people enjoyed sitting on their front porches, stoops or steps, holding audiences with whomever strolled past, tightening up neighborhood acquaintance and security by their vigilance and presence. This phenomenon endured until people were enticed indoors by two factors.

First, there was the factor of air conditioning that drew folks inside away from the heat of summer. Simultaneously, many, if not most, converted their front porches into an extra room by walling it in. Second, the factor of newly-popular TV sealed their move in from the outdoors exposure to and communication with passing neighbors and strangers.

As long as most of the residents oversaw the neighborhood from their porches or steps, drug dealing and other felonious activities were not even possible. All kinds of malefactors would have been drummed out of the neighborhood, if not beaten to a pulp.

President LBJ launched the vaunted War On Poverty in 1964, committing billions of dollars to help needy women who had no man in the house — known as the missing man rule. Church member Elliot Guidry tells of his onetime unhappy job as an enforcer.

Sadly, the missing man rule undermined the bond between husband and wife and eventually ruptured the sacred union. Together with sporadic unemployment and job discrimination, those three negatives destroyed the foundation of the nuclear family. From a dizzy high of 86 percent, the Black nuclear family plunged to a dismal 33 percent.

Organized by spirited Freddie Evans and Asali Devan Ecclesiastes, the Tremé Bicentennial celebrated the legacy of the African fami­ly/extended family and the African-American family in New Orleans from October 16-21 with a film on Treme plus panelists, music and food. One of the greatest ironies of history is that slavery, despite the heinous extent of its evil, brought about incredible blessings on this country, reminding us of Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.”

However grating it sounds, without the slaves there would be no Congo Square where slaves did their native African rituals after church services on Sunday afternoons. There would have been no chants working the Old and New Testaments into slave songs, aka the Negro Spirituals or Holy Blues. Local musicians would have had nothing to copy.

Without the Holy Blues to imitate, local musicians would not have initiated the secular blues that they eventually elaborated, syncopated, improvised with riffs until jazz was created, the only uniquely American homespun gift of any music to the world. Thus, Grandmother Holy Blues begot daughter secular blues that begot granddaughter jazz.

But for the slaves, churches would lack the inspired riches of the Negro Spirituals, Black Gospel and the truest teaching of the Old and New Testaments and the Good News.

Without the slaves, Faubourg Treme would not be the oldest African-American neighborhood in the United States, nor would it be the most African in culture.

In Perseverance Hall in Louis Armstrong Park, hard by Congo Square, Rapheal Cassimere, Ph.D., Naydja Bynum, Ph.D., Greg Osborn, Leon Waters, Al Jackson, Keith Medley, Kalamu ya Salaam, Jerome Smith, Barbara Trevigne, Lolis Eric Elie, Brenda Marie Osbey, Sylvester Francis, Marion Colbert, Arturo Phister, Rev. Dwight Webster and Sabrina Mays-Montana told how the Tremé neighborhood helped shape the world.

This article originally published in the November 05, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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