“I’m leaving here today
Yes, I’m going back home to stay
Yes, I’m walking to New Orleans” Fats Domino
This is the first in a series about how one family is addressing inherited land. Taxes are current but the land is undivided among multiple families who left the South during the great migration. No clear ownership exists today.
As a child, I woke up every Saturday morning hearing my mother and father sing this Fats Domino song—Walking to New Orleans. As long as I can remember, my mother and father, both native Orleanians, planned to return to New Orleans one day—which they did after 30 years in Colorado. Daddy died in 1992 and 11 years ago, Hurricane Katrina sent Momma back to Denver.
“I’m ready to move back home—back to New Orleans,” my 94- year- old mother, Beatrice Jacques Scott, announced last year. Again, now? I was not surprised at the longing and announcement that she wanted to return. After some discussions, Mother decided she would settle for trip to New Orleans with her children.
“I feel someone calling my name, and I want you children to decide what to do with the Louisiana property before I go. I do not want you fighting over this land after I’m gone. It is time to make decisions,” Mother said. This trip would be different. Not the regular visiting family and long-term friends – it would be business first.
“California is Louisiana’s western most parish” is a common saying. Why? During the second Great Migration 1940 – 1970 historians estimate more than six million African Americans left the South. Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns” highlights the stories of these migrants.
“In the early 1900s to the ’30s life was hard. It is not easy to forget being in a store buying something and the clerk says ‘Oh, nigger wait while I go wait on Mrs. So and So—who was white.’ Then there were the lynchings; we heard about them all the time.”
My mother shared these Jim Crow experiences with me, explaining why our family followed Uncle Arthur and moved to California. However, she also said, “You have to forget the hurt, and have fun anyway, know that you are lucky to be alive.”
“Good to see you,” all love, kisses and joy to be together. Wednesday, January 4, 2017 was a day for travel and reunion. Sister Y.E. and Mother from Denver, Brother Jim and I, from Oakland, and Jim’s daughter Alison from Atlanta. At 9 o’clock Mother said, “OK let’s get to business and get this itinerary together—what are you going to do?”
The meeting began with a prayer for guidance, patience and peace. The schedule came together quickly. One day dedicated to New Orleans property, one day to travel to Vacherie in St James Parish – about 50 miles northwest of New Orleans on the Mississippi River. Saturday for family and friends and Sunday return home.
Mother surrounded by her children, Jim, Y.E. and me. Ready for our adventure to 2nd and Derbigny Street in mid-town New Orleans. New Orleans’ property located in the uptown/central city area is in what city zoning calls a Historic Urban Neighborhood, which means that it contains a traditional corner store that serves the immediate residents and is in proximity to commercial clusters of local businesses. Momma grew up in this type of neighborhood.
In the ’30s and ’40s, her family operated such a corner grocery store until she completed cosmetology school and opened a six-booth beauty shop. Her brother Charles operated a shoeshine stand until he joined the Marines to fight in WWII. Mother married my father, James Scott, a jazz drummer in the U.S. Navy and upon his honorable discharge, they moved to California.
In 1982 when Mom and Dad returned to New Orleans, the property was in disrepair and overgrown. They removed the run-down structure. Momma contacted neighborhood schools’ 4H programs; residents, some of whom she knew, turned the community eyesore into a community garden. A neighbor, Ms. Murray, who worked for the Public Works Department, got seeds for the neighbors who cultivated plots in the community garden.
Fast-forward to 2017 – here is Ms. Murray giving us the update on the neighborhood, which is in a developing mode. Located less than a mile from the Super Dome and three blocks from a cluster of new retail outlets, the neighborhood is slowing improving, even though one street over there are visible illegal activities.
Second & Derbigny is in the shadow of the Mercedes Benz Super Dome. However, our property is in disarray—overgrown vines, trash, a neighbor’s tree had fallen into our yard. Yet, there is a post-Katrina elevated duplex right next door.
First order of business, clean up the property. We spotted a sign on a neighbor’s home “Yard Care.” The neighbor, Melvin, and Jim surveyed the work and negotiated a fee for the cleanup and removal of debris.
Clean up in progress. We rode through the neighborhood evaluating the good and the bad, weighing our development or sale options.
Neighborhood tour and assessment complete, we busied ourselves with a more traditional New Orleans activity -searching for Po-Boys. We discovered On Faith Bakery and Donuts. As we purchased the Po-Boys, everyone said the donuts are even better.
After several trips back to 2nd and Derbigny, we agreed that Melvin had completed the clean-up work.
The day ended with a trip to see Daddy, his parents and sister at Mt Olivet Cemetery in Gentilly neighborhood. (A little known fact, any blood relative of someone buried in the ground or the new mausoleum possess the right to join the deceased only for the cost of reopening the grave. One condition is that the new death must be so many years after the last burial.)
A peaceful visit at dusk and a good way to say day is done.