Thursday, May 8, 2008

At The Evangeline Oak

I received this comment from kathy at Stone Soup Musings about the pictures in yesterday's entry: "It's surreal to see these pictures with the green lawns and blue sky and remember the death and horror those people lived through."

During the tour, we passed a man mowing the lawn around a slab, which was all that remained of his house. Rose (our tour guide) explained that the city of New Orleans had enacted a draconian ordinance aimed at maintaining a decent level of sanitation. If an owner decides to keep his home whether he or she lives there or not and even if it is marked for demolition, they must maintain the yard. That's why you see closely cut yards but few shrubs or gardens. Failure to maintain the yard results in a fine of $100 a day. When the fines accumulate to an amount equal to the assessed value of the home, the city confiscates the home. The irony is that the city can't afford to maintain the yards, so city-owned lots are often overgrown and weed-choked.

Yesterday's essay closed with an excerpt from the close of a Huey Long campaign speech. When Long ran for governor in 1928, Louisiana was in a nearly complete state of benightedness, with few paved roads, no public health care, and rampant illiteracy. Long himself was no stranger to corruption, but he delivered a progressive agenda and was hugely popular among the common people. He delivered this speech in St. Martinville, under the Evangeline Oak, the subject of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The peroration is widely regarded as one of the most moving pieces of rhetoric in American political history. Here it is:

"…It is here under this oak where Evangeline waited for her lover, Gabriel, who never came. This oak is an immortal spot, made so by Longfellow's poem, but Evangeline is not the only one who has waited here in disappointment.

Where are the schools that you have waited for your children to have, that have never come?

Where are the roads and the highways that you send your money to build, that are no nearer now than ever before?

Where are the institutions to care for the sick and disabled?

Evangeline wept bitter tears in her disappointment, but it lasted only through one lifetime. Your tears in this country, around this oak, have lasted for generations. Give me the chance to dry the eyes of those who still weep here."

(Evangeling Oak drawing here.)

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