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.

Questions remain on Jeff Sessions’ role in prosecuting Michael Donald’s Klan lynching in Mobile in the 1980’s

L to R: Michael Donald and Jeff Sessions

News Analysis by: Zack Carter and John Zippert

President Donald Trump has nominated his early supporter, Alabama U. S. Senator, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, for the position of Attorney General of the United States.
Questions remain about Jeff Sessions position on civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, hate crimes, criminal justice and many other issues that will face Sessions if he his confirmed as the nation’s chief prosecutor and law enforcement official.
The Democrat previously published in our December 28, 2016 issue an extensive statement by the Alabama New South Coalition and the SOS Movement for Justice and Democracy in opposition to Sessions nomination (see http://www.greenecodemocrat). This statement concentrates on Sessions role in the selective and unsuccessful prosecution of the “Marion Three” in 1985/86 as the beginning of a national Republican effort of voter suppression that continues to this day.
We have recently seen paid TV ads advocating the confirmation of Sessions as U. S. Attorney General in which he proclaims himself, “a champion of civil rights and an advocate of criminal justice”.
In this story, we look back at Sessions’ role as U. S. Attorney for the Southern District, based in Mobile, in the notorious case of the Klan lynching of Michael Donald in Mobile from 1981 to 1989.

The lynching of Michael Donald – March 20, 1981

On March 20, 1981, Michael Donald, a 19 yr. old African American trade school student was found hanging from a small ornamental “popcorn” tree on an old residential street, across the street from where several Klansmen lived. Michael’s body was crumpled from beatings and his neck slashed. The brutally slayed young man was hanging hideously about a mile from Mobile’s City Hall and the Courthouse – where a KKK cross had been burned on the lawn the same night. The same courthouse where the recent trial of an African American, Josephus Anderson, ended in a hung jury – he was on trial for killing a white policeman, and claimed it was in self-defense.
Over time, it was established that four Klan members participated in the killing of Michael Donald. They were Bennie Jack Hayes, a local Klan leader, his son Henry Hays (age 22 at the time of the lynching), James Knowles (age 17) and Frank L. Cox (age 25) Hayes son-in-law, who supplied the gun and the rope for the crime.
From the Court records, Knowles confessed to the crime and according to the record:

“… Henry Hays and Knowles got a rope, which they tied into a hangman’s noose, and a gun from fellow Klansmen. [Knowles testified it was Frank Cox]. The two then set out to look for a black man. They randomly found Michael Donald, pulled alongside him in their car, and asked for directions. They forced him into the car at gunpoint. Knowles made Donald empty his pockets; Knowles’s trial testimony indicates he wanted to be sure the victim was unarmed.”
Hays found a desolate area and parked; all three men got out of the car. Facing Hays and Knowles (who was holding the gun), Donald jumped Knowles in an attempt to escape. After a struggle, Hays and Knowles forced Donald to the ground. Hays retrieved the noose, and the two of them put it around Donald’s neck. Hays dragged Donald while Knowles beat him with a tree limb; and when Hays’s hands began to hurt, they switched. When Donald collapsed, the two men dragged him, face first, across the ground. Autopsy reports showed Donald probably died from asphyxiation during this time. Nevertheless, Henry Hays slashed Donald’s throat. Donald’s body was found later that morning, hanging from a tree on Herndon Avenue.” (http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-11th-circuit/1304129.html)”

According to testimony by Assistant U. S. Attorney, Thomas Figures, an African-American attorney, who was working in Sessions office, made to the Senate Judiciary Committee in its 1986 hearing on Sessions nomination to become a Federal District Judge, Figures says that Sessions was reluctant to take up the Michael Donald lynching case.
Based on pressure from Michael Donald’s family, their attorney, State Senator Michael Figures (Thomas Figure’s brother), work by FBI investigators and local law enforcement, Sessions changed his mind. Sessions says he then pushed for Henry Hayes and James Knowles to be tried in state courts, where they could receive the death penalty, because at that time there were no provisions for the death penalty in Federal cases.
The testimony of Thomas Figures and four other Assistant U. S. Attorneys was instrumental in causing the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 to refuse to confirm Sessions for a Federal judgeship.
Figures testified to examples of his former boss’s alleged racial insensitivity before the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying Sessions had called him a “boy” on several occasions and had once told him that “he believed the NAACP, the SCLC, Operation PUSH, and the National Council of Churches were all un-American organizations teaching anti-American values.” On one occasion, when Figures upbraided Sessions’ secretary over what he felt was an inappropriate personal comment she made to him, he said Sessions had summoned him to his office and admonished him to “be careful what you say to white folks.”
In their investigation of the Michael Donald case, local law enforcement found that the three men Knowles, Hays and Cox were regular users of marijuana. This prompted Sessions classic and often repeated statement, “ I used to respect the Klan, until I found out that many of them smoked pot.” An FBI agent confirmed hearing Session’s remark as well, albeit the FBI agent felt it was ‘just parlor humor’. But we all know that jokes, especially at the expense of others, usually reveal what is in a person’s heart!
In 1983, James Knowles was sentenced by a local Mobile Court to 99 years in state prison; Henry Hays was sentenced to death for murdering Michael Donald. After routine appeals, Henry Hays was the first white person executed in Alabama for murdering a Black person.

What happened to Bennie J. Hays and Frank Cox?
There were four people involved in the Michael Donald lynching. We have accounted for two, what happened to the other two – Cox and Bennie Hays. And what was Jeff Sessions role in their prosecution?
Sessions, who was reluctant to handle the case, turned the prosecutions over to Mobile D. A. Chris Galanos for local action. In 1985, Galanos indicted the two – Bennie Hays and Frank Cox for “conspiracy to commit murder”. When the case went to trial Mobile Circuit Judge Zoghby had to dismiss the case because conspiracy has a three-year statute of limitations and the case was filed after three years had passed. Bennie Hays died during the trial and Cox walked free.
Sessions has never been asked why he didn’t pay closer attention and supervision to the case and allowed the local D. A. Galanos to seek an indictment for conspiracy after the time had expired. Was this action deliberate on Sessions part? Did he allow the indictment on a lesser charge when he knew the statute of limitations had run? Does this call into question his sensitivity and skills as a prosecutor? What will this mean on other critical cases if he is confirmed as Attorney General?
Meanwhile Attorney Michael Figures assisted by the Southern Poverty Law Center brought a civil lawsuit against the Klan on behalf of Michael Donald’s mother. In 1987, they won a million dollar judgment against the United Klans of America and forced them to sell their office in Tuscaloosa with the proceeds going to the Donald family. The civil case also brought out more evidence against the perpetrators.
In 1989, Frank Cox was found guilty of murdering Michael Donald and sentenced to 99 years in state prison. Cox was released after only 11 years in 2000. Knowles was released in 2010 after 25 years in prison. What role did Jeff Sessions play in the early release of Frank Cox, who supplied the gun and the rope for Michael Donald’s lynching, has he ever been asked?
In addition to Jeff Sessions insensitivity on the murder of Michael Donald, we have many other instances where he showed little concern for the conditions of Black and poor people.
Jeff Sessions was the only Gulf Coast Senator to vote against Senator Richard Shelby’s bill for supplementary assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Paul Nelson, a 4th generation fisher from Alabama’s Gulf Coast and commended by a Mobile County’s administrator for for his key role in getting 301 homes rebuilt with Katrina CDBG funds said: “Senator Jeff Sessions did nothing for the people he represents who were devastated by Katrina! So how can he be trusted to represent justice for all in our courtrooms.”

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.. John Zippert is Co-Publisher of the Greene County Democrat.