Bayou La Batre, an historic African American community on Alabama’s Gulf Coast suffers from Hurricane Katrina 15 years later

Posted on October 29, 2020 by greenecodemocratcom

Shrimp boats deposited on land, in Bayou La Batre, by Hurricane Katrina

Katrina survivor and activist Barbara Robbins and her 95-year-old mother are forced from their home of 52 years, because they never received rebuilding assistance!

News Analysis By: Zack Carter
Preparing for the 10th Anniversary of Katrina the Poor People’s Campaign held a Truth Commission in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. The organizer’s report cites the community’s action items, and the testimony of Barbara Robbins, with whom I had the privilege of working with for ten years, fighting for a just recovery after Katrina:
“From the testimonies of these community leaders, the Saving OurSelves Coalition identified the following issues for action:
• “Recover and repair the homes of Snows Quarters: Alabama Fisheries Coop leader Barbara Robbins was forced out of Safe Harbor after she became disabled. ‘We [in Snows Quarter, the African American community of Bayou La Batre]…Out of some 100 homes, only four of us received meaningful assistance. Since Katrina many of our homes flood after a hard rain and we can’t even flush the toilet. My living room floor is rotting. I am afraid my 90-year-old mother will fall through any day…”. (“A Truth Commission Begins in Bayou La Batre, Alabama”, by John Wessel-McCoy, Nov. 7, 2014/Kairos). https://kairoscenter.org/truth-commission-bayou-la-batre-alabama/

The Truth Commission also referenced a 10-page report submitted to the United Nations, five years after Katrina, authored by Louisiana and Mississippi activists which concluded on pp. 7-8:

‘The hurricane damaged communities in Alabama are the most overlooked areas by the U.S. Government, and are not mentioned in the U.S. Government’s reports to the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination regarding Hurricane Katrina” (Prepared by Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (Louisiana, USA),and The Gulf States Human Rights Working Group (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana) https://alafishcoop.wordpress.com/2020/09/24/gulf-coast-activists-report-the-un-human-rights-committee/

Barbara Robbins was one of the thousands overlooked, but she refused to give up on getting their home repaired. With years of savings from her meager wages as a seafood worker and with a lot of borrower’s debt, Barbara hired a contractor to repair the floors. But it was a scam, like that suffered by thousands of other Katrina survivors. A photo shows the problem of the floors separating from the walls, which forced their recent departure from where they lived since 1968. Barbara Robbins, now disabled, cares full-time for her mother in a small low-income housing apartment.

Floors separating from walls in Barbara Robbins home, photo by Barbara Robbins 8/29/20

On the 15th Anniversary of Katrina, Aug 29, 2020, Barbara told me their heartbreaking story:

“When I take Mother out, the only place she wants to go, and the only safe place where we can avoid the virus, is the driveway of our home in Snows Quarter. This is where she and my father raised six children in the 1960’s and 70’s. Mother wants to go into our house, but I have to remind her it is not safe anymore. So, we just sit there in the car and reminisce for an hour or so until she finally says, ‘Okay, I’m ready to go now.’”
After an emotional pause in our interview Barbara continued:
“Recently the bank approved me for a trailer to put next to our home that I still hope to rebuild. I was about to rush to our apartment and give Mother the great news, but I was then told the City of Bayou La Batre will not allow trailers, even on the property we have owned for 52 years!”
“We never received any Katrina rebuilding assistance, like most of us in our Black Community. And that goes all the way back to our homeowners insurance agent who refused our claim, saying we were only covered for wind damage and not water damage even though Katrina’s 130 mph winds pushed the huge surge of water through our house, and on its return to the Gulf the surge sucked all our furniture out except the large freezer that jammed in the doorway.”
The powers that be in our state tried to deflect Alabama Katrina survivors’ demands for justice with the coded racist-based lie that ‘all the aid is going to New Orleans.’ Then, less than two years after Katrina, an Alabama investigative reporter revealed: (”Katrina aid goes to condo buyers near the University of Alabama’s football stadium”, by Jay Reeves, AP, August 14, 2007, Tuscaloosa News,)
https://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/DA/20070814/News/606118146/TL

The previous month the same newspaper published my Op-ed based on testimony and data provided by neglected Katrina survivors collected by Mobile County, and supported by a strong legal opinion from a national Civil Rights organization:
“……more than 2,000 Katrina survivors in Alabama still stuck in FEMA campers, and hundreds more doubled up in single-family homes, desperately waiting for Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds — allocated last summer — to be released.
“ The state’s failure to provide for these citizens contradicts the federal funding program’s intent to assist low- to moderate-income people and violates Alabama’s own stated objective to address unmet needs,” said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C. (“MY TURN” by Zack Carter, Tuscaloosa News, July 15,2007) . https://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/DA/20070715/News/606117785/TL
We had also received a legal boost from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law who, on June 6, 2007 wrote a 4.5-page letter and shared their logo with three Alabama groups, and co-signed by hundreds of organizations and individuals. https://alafishcoop.wordpress.com/2020/09/24/lawyers-committee-on-civil-rights-under-law-al-activists-letter-to-state-of-al/

Thus, our coalition countered the racist propaganda and policies by uniting with Civil Rights organizations and historic African American communities in north Mobile hard-hit by Katrina, as well as Katrina survivors in Louisiana and Mississippi. See for example one of our brochures that includes several pages of riveting photos of destruction, and survivors testimonies, from north Mobile along a 30 mile stretch to the “Bayou” : (“Tour of Mobile County Katrina Survivors”. https://alafishcoop.wordpress.com/2020/09/24/flyer-for-tour-of-mobile-county-victims/

On the 2nd Anniversary of Katrina, Barbara Robbins, along with several carloads of Alabama Katrina survivors, Blacks, Asians, and Whites, attended the August 28, 2007 GULF COAST REBUILDING PROGRAM at the HBCU Dillard University in New Orleans. 
A featured speaker was Representative Maxine Waters. In the first two minutes of the CSPAN user video clip cited below, Representative Waters commended a Mississippi panelist for documenting unjust homeowner’s insurance companies’ schemes. She received a loud ovation after strongly stating: “it will take a revolution” to end these monopolized insurance companies’ corrupt refusal to pay claims (such as that suffered by Barbra Robbins!). 
Just after Rep Waters thunder, Derrick Johnson (now president of the NAACP)  introduced me and the inhuman treatment of people in our state: “Zack Carter, Alabama has been largely ignored as it relates to Katrina damage you all suffered. What do you see the federal government’s response should be?”.https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4901931/user-clip-rep-maxine-waters-zack-carter
My response was based on the, detailed evidence Alabama Katrina survivors had initiated, and then collected from licensed housing inspectors and summarized in a letter a Mobile County Commissioner, co-signed with us activists on July 7, 2007– documenting that there was only enough federal funds to repair or rebuild 15 – 20% of 1200 CDBG applicants who were accepted; and thousands more who missed the unjust two week, and barely publicized, deadline. (Mobile County and AL activists letter to Sen Shelby documenting Katrina damage) https://alafishcoop.wordpress.com/2020/09/24/mobile-county-and-al-activists-letter-to-sen-shelby-documenting-katrina-damage/
Barbara Robbins helped lead a Multi-Racial Coalition of Alabama Katrina Survivors

On the 4th Anniversary of Katrina Celebrating a Victory: Barbara and Gertrude Robbins are pictured with several other activists in an article on the award-winning blog Bridge the Gulf : “…in front of one of the 300-plus homes that were repaired or rebuilt in south Mobile County because of the grassroots advocacy and determined unity of all cultures, races, and creeds in The Bayou’ “.

Pictured left to right: Earl Presley; Stella Mae Smith; Paul Nelson, Zack Carter, Becky Barbour, Ernest Montgomery, Gertrude Robbins, Neece Presley, Donna Hunt, Danielle McKenzie, Phyllis Johnson, Barbara-Jean Robbins, Michael Robbins, Rosie Robbins. (Photo by Stefanie Bosarge, August 29, 2009)

These activists also vowed to continue the fight for thousands of others who were left out in the cold, like the Robbins family. (“We Have Lost One of Our Own: Stella Mae Smith”, Posted by Bridge the Gulf /May 12, 2012.)
https://bridgethegulfproject.org/blog/2012/we-have-lost-one-our-own-stella-mae-smith

“Struggle for a Home Struggle for a Home in Alabama’s Bayou”

Barbara Robbins standing, her sister- in-law Rossie Robbins is seated to her right. Both had attended a meeting in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office previously in 2009. 

The 15-minute video “Struggle for a Home Struggle for a Home in Alabama’s
Bayou” documents how black, white, and Asian Alabama Katrina survivors joined in a
decade-long active struggle for their human right to rebuild after Katrina. https://vimeo.com/55330965

Barbara Robbins is seen often in the video — including the above photo of the blistering speech she gave to the corrupt director at Bayou La Batre’s Safe Harbor in 2012, for rent gouging and evicting residents from this 100-home neighborhood built with $18 million from HUD and FEMA for homeless Katrina survivors. The “Safe Harbor” director’s response was to call the police on all of the Katrina survivors and activists gathered at this public meeting.
Now in 2020, the same director and co-director recently resigned and are under investigation by the local sheriff’s office who told the press: ‘There is a substantial amount of money that comes in and not a dime has been used to improve or maintain the houses. there certainty appears to be a misappropriation of funds to put it nicely.’” (“Safe Harbor Landing raises concerns as MCSO launches investigation”, by Gaby Easterwood, WKRG, Sept. 20, 20. https://www.wkrg.com/local-news/safe-harbor-landing-raises-concerns-as-mcso-launches-investigation/
Ms. Robbins’s activism continues to this day, see the letter cited below to the present Mayor of Bayou La Batre from, Barbara Robbins, John Zippert, and me asking that he allow Ms. Robbins to place a trailer on her property as she continues to seek rebuilding assistance; and proposing a plan and for a housing cooperative that would restore the promise of affordable housing and rent-to-buy at “Safe Harbor”, dated Oct. 13, 2020. https://alafishcoop.wordpress.com/2020/10/25/letter-to-mayor-of-bayou-la-batre-from-barbara-robbins-john-zippert-and-zack-carter-oct-13-2020/

Barbara and Gertrude Robbins story is emblematic of the one million people who were displaced by the inhuman and racist policies that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which also and yet to be accurately calculated, greatly increased the initial death toll of some 2,000. And today, as we are hit with disasters from Coronavirus to Gulf Coast hurricanes Laura, Sally, Beta, and Delta to forest fires in California and Colorado, our human rights are increasingly trampled under Trump and the extreme racist influence of his senior advisor Steven Miller.
By April of this year Trump and Miller had already cut FEMA’s budget in half — our country’s main relief agency – as they increased funding for their southern border wall and war on immigrants and their children, even separating nursing babies from their mothers! See: “FEMA Joined Coronavirus Fight with Posts Unfilled and Parent Agency Shifting Funds to Immigration” (Wall Street Journal, April 2020); see also “In the Midst of a War on the Coronavirus, Trump and Stephen Miller Redirect Funding to Their War on Immigrants”. (yuba.net, April 20, 2020)
Trump and Miller are determined that survivors and victims of recent Gulf Coast Hurricanes will not be able to return to their homes in the same way that Hurricane Katrina survivors in Bayou La Batre and other Gulf Coast towns have not been able to return after a decade and a half. Many properties of Katrina survivors ended up in the hands of wealthy developers and casinos, a phenomenon documented in Naomi Klein’s 2007 book, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”.
Indeed, at the end of my interview with Barbara Robbins she told me a developer shamelessly offered a paltry amount for their property. Barbara rejected him and said: “I would rather see my home remain in ruins commemorating unjust Katrina policy”.
ACTION ALERT: Please call Bayou La Batre Mayor Terry Dowdy at 251 824 2171 and ask that he allow Barbara Robbins to place a trailer on their property so she and 95-year-old Gertrude Robbins can return to the home she bought and loves.


About the author: Zack Carter is a community organizer who helped bring national attention to unjust Katrina and BP recovery policies. He was trade union activist in Mobile during the 1980’s and advocated for Labor to speak out against the Klan lynching of Michael Donald. He currently serves on the Steering Committee of the SaveOurselves Movement for Justice and Democracy.

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