Fred Johnson, center, and the Black Men of Labor, march in a traditional Second-Line Jazz Funeral procession through downtown New Orleans August 29, 2006, to commemorate the first anniversary of that Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast. Below, Oblique Weaver prays by the re-built flood wall in the Lower Ninth Ward. Weaver lost four members of her family .






UPDATE SEPTEMBER 5:

The phone has stopped ringing. I knew it would. A week after the first anniversary of Katrina's landfall, no one seems to have any assignments for me. That's okay, I need the break. The anniversary has lifted a burden, but I don't want to be lulled into a false sense of belief that the story is over. I am taking a break, but there are many stories still out there, and much work to be done. There are a few more dates of note in the next few months: the re-opening of the Superdome at the end of the month, and, of course, the end of hurricane season on November 30th. After that, maybe we really will be forgotten. I have mounted a new gallery to commemorate the first anniversary of Katrina. There will be more coming this fall. I may be exhausted, but I still have many ideas.



UPDATE AUGUST 30:

Some glad morning when this life is over,
I'll fly away.
To my home on God's celestial shore,
I'll fly away.

I'll fly away, O Glory,
I'll fly away.
When I die, Hallelujah, bye and bye,
I'll fly away.

When the shadows of this life have gone,
I'll fly away.
Like a bird from prison bars have flown,
I'll fly away.

I'll fly away, O Glory,
I'll fly away.
When I die, Hallelujah, bye and bye,
I'll fly away.

Just a few more weary days and then,
I'll fly away.
To a land where joy shall never end,
I'll fly away.

I'll fly away, O Glory,
I'll fly away.
When I die, Hallelujah, bye and bye,
I'll fly away.

If you've never stood in the middle of the street and danced your sorrows away, you've never been to New Orleans.

If you've never suffered the heat of the day to watch men and women parade down the boulevard in their finest Sunday clothes, you've never known the true meaning of a Second-Line.

If you have not experienced monumental tragedy and watched as your city, it's culture and it very soul is threatened by bureaucracy, stupidity, and incompetence, you don't know what it means to miss New Orleans.

I'm not trying to be a smart ass, or ride a high horse. I'm just trying to make everyone understand. I went to the levee in the Lower Ninth Ward yesterday. It was a sea of raw emotion. People would walk up and touch the rebuilt flood wall and break down. They had lost parents, siblings, children. Children. And it wasn't just in the Lower Ninth. It was in Lakeview, and Gentilly, and Broadmoor, and New Orleans East, and Slidell, and St. Bernard Parish, and in Waveland, and Bay St. Louis, and Gulfport, and Biloxi, and Long Beach, and in Pass Christian. How do you ever get over that? How does one ever heal? Especially knowing that it did not have to happen; that someone has acknowledged fault and taken responsibility. In New Orleans, the only way to do it is to fall back on tradition. New Orleans is seeped in traditions. The Jazz funeral starts off slow; a dirge, a slow version of "A Closer Walk With Thee." The marchers shuffle a step at a time, the band following. At some point, with the beat from a drum, the tempo changes. The band breaks out in something more upbeat: "Down By The River Side," "This Little Light of Mine," "I'll Fly Away."

I always think I'm ready for it. But it always catches me off guard. We were marching up Poydras toward the Superdome with the Black Men of Labor and the Popular Ladies Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs. The Treme Brass Band, and a number of accompanying musicians broke into "I'll Fly Away." Now, my friends know that I am not particularly "traditional" in my beliefs, but let me tell you: if you've never stood in the middle of the street and allowed yourself to be carried away by the emotion of the moment, you've never marched in a Second-Line. Everyone sang and danced and wept as one:

I'll fly away, O Glory,
I'll fly away.
When I die, Hallelujah, bye and bye,
I'll fly away.

It was a step, perhaps a small step, but nevertheless a step toward our collective healing. And we're all still hurting. Some more than others. We've all lost something in the last year. Some lost everything, others lost little materially, but still suffer greatly. We must all try to heal together. Yesterday was a start. A burden has been lifted. All the reporters and camera men and women are gone. They've filed their stories, signed off the air, gone to press. We're still here. We're still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (and Rita) on a day-to-day basis. And for those of us you choose to stay, we will be dealing with it for a very long time. The anniversary does not mean the problems are going away, or that you should turn your attention elsewhere. Our traditions are at stake, the very soul of the city. I want my daughter to be able to march in a Second-Line in 15 years and know that it is REAL, not a caricature of how things used to be, before the storm. So we'll wait, and we'll see.






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