A Look Back at a Powerful Moment in New Orleans’s History

By Orissa Arend
Foreword by Charles E. Jones
Introduction by Curtis J. Austin

Showdown in Desire portrays the Black Panther Party in New Orleans in 1970, a year that included a shootout with the police on Piety Street, the creation of survival programs, and the daylong standoff between the Panthers and the police in the Desire housing development. Through interviews with Malik Rahim, the Panther; Robert H. King, Panther and member of the Angola 3; Larry Preston Williams, the black policeman; Moon Landrieu, the mayor; Henry Faggen, the Desire resident; Robert Glass, the white lawyer; Jerome LeDoux, the black priest; William Barnwell, the white priest; and many others, Orissa Arend tells a nuanced story that unfolds amid guns, tear gas, desperate poverty, oppression, and inflammatory rhetoric to capture the palpable spirit of rebellion, resistance, and revolution of an incendiary summer in New Orleans.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This photo of Althea Francois and Malik Rahim (from the book) was taken at the community forum held in 2003 at the Ashé Cultural Center. Both Francois and Rahim will serve as panelists for two forums in the next two weeks. The first is detailed below. More photos from the 2003 forum are available here.

Publication of the book became the catalyst for “Learning from our History,” a series of community forums and readings which began in March and continue through May and June. The readings and forums are designed to instruct and inform locals about a critical but little-remembered event in New Orleans history and to use the knowledge of that event to further the discussions of racial distrust and tensions in the city, in the hopes of working towards resolution and community reconciliation.

Reading and Booksigning--Tuesday, May 19, 4-6 PM: Arend and Robert Hillary King, former Black Panther, and author of From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King (Published by PM Press), will read from and sign their books on at Amistad Research Center, Tilton Hall, Tulane University. King’s book, also recently released, is the story of King’s New Orleans childhood and his 29-year incarceration in solitary confinement at Angola Prison where he became a Black Panther. King is the only one of the Angola 3 to have been released from prison.

Community Forum--Wednesday, May 20 at 7PM
“Free the Angola 3 and All Political Prisoners: Strategies, Insight And Wisdom”
Ashé Cultural Arts Center
1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd

Panelists will be:
• Robert Hillary King, the only freed member of the Angola 3, and author of From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King.
• Malik Rahim, cofounder of the Common Ground Collective, former Black Panther, community organizer on protection of the environment and rights of prisoners and their families, and founding member of The Coalition to Free the Angola 3.
• Althea Francois, a lead organizer with Safe Streets Strong Communities and former Black Panther who coordinated the New Orleans Chapter of the National Coalition to Free the Angola 3.
• Jackie Sumell, artist and co-creator with Herman Wallace of “The House that Herman Built.”
Ted Quant, Director, Loyola's Twomey Center for Peace through Justice will moderate. The historical context for the Angola 3 story will be set by Lance Hill, PhD, Carolyn Kolb, PhD, and Lawrence Powell, PhD.

A light supper will be served.

Host Partners for the forum are: Amistad Research Center, Ashé Cultural Arts Center, People's Institute For Survival & Beyond, Coalition To Free the Angola 3, Common Ground Health Clinic, Community Book Center, Community Futures Collective, Community Mediation Services, Craige Cultural Center, Critical Resistance, Garden District Bookstore, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Louisiana Weekly, The Porch, The New Orleans Tribune, Trinity Undoing Racism Network (TURN), Twomey Center For Peace Through Justice, and Safe Streets Strong Communities.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

From The Times Picayune

Two new books tell the story of the Black Panther Party in New Orleans

Posted by Susan Larson, Book editor, The Times-Picayune May 13, 2009

One thing led to another, one person led to another, and after 44 columns for The Louisiana Weekly, eventually published as a booklet in 2003, Orissa Arend has a fleshed-out, full-length book about Black Panthers in New Orleans.

This story begins with an unlikely friendship between an Uptown woman buying pralines for a Thanksgiving family gathering and a praline-maker who was freed from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola as one of the famous Angola 3.

Read more here

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Danger . . . read, and you may never think the same.

Showdown in Desire is reviewed by Mary LaCoste and published in the current issue of The New Orleans Tribune:
Don’t read this book unless you want to get angry at our society, the lawless and those who enforce the laws. Do not read Showdown in Desire if you want to remain ignorant of how New Orleans barely escaped what could have become the bloodiest chapter in the history of the city. All this happened less than 40 years ago but has somehow faded from public consciousness. Read more here. (Scroll down)

More Attendees with Stories to Tell

Upper photo: Attorney Robert Glass, who successfully defended the Black Panthers, along with Lolis Elie and others, against all charges, has his copy of the book signed.

Lower photo: Left, Robert Glass; right, Brod Bagert, whose grandfather, then Judge Bernard J. Bagert, evicted the New Orleans Black Panthers from their first headquarters near what was then the St. Thomas Projects. Brod tells the audience a family story of his father having to clean up the sand from sandbags the Panthers left spilt.

At the Maple Street Book Shop

The book signing and reading couldn't have been held on a more perfect Spring day in New Orleans. As usual, a lively question and discussion session followed the reading.

Here are some photos of the audience gathered in front of the Maple Street Book Shop for the reading, which was held on the front porch of the traditional New Orleans shotgun-turned-bookshop. In the lower right corner is former owner and founder of the MSBS, Rhoda Faust. Next to her is Carrollton neighbor, Dave Clements, owner of the Snake & Jake's, who told the crowd his memories of standing at NOPD headquarters protesting the attack on the Desire Projects as the police troops returned to the station after the "showdown." "They were furious," he reported, at having been forced to "back down."

Thanks to all who attended and special thanks to the staff and owner of the long-loved Maple Street Book Shop.

For more photos of this and other events, see publicist Beverly Rainbolt's Flickr site.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Garden District Book Shop reading and signing, New Orleans, March 7

As it was my very first reading and signing ever, and I’m much more comfortable writing than speaking, I was a little nervous as Saturday approached. Add to all that, that the Garden District, New Orleans’ most traditional well-heeled neighborhood is hardly Panther territory, so I wanted to make sure that I was well prepared for my discussion of Showdown in Desire: The Black Panthers Take a Stand in New Orleans.

I practiced a lot, because Melissa had warned me that some authors cry when they read their stuff. I invited the whole world (mostly my good friends came, which was fine with me). I put four little jars of hot pink azaleas on the book table to soften the effect of a black panther jumping out of a red cover.

Standing at the podium in a little mall outside of a quintessential New Orleans book shop surrounded by fine china and embroidered baby clothes and curious tourists waiting for their walking tour, I counted the puzzled expressions as people looked at the posters a win already. It brought back memories for a man named John, but he thought he’d skip the reading because it looked to be a pro-Panther thing.

I delivered my little speech about how I’d gotten involved in the story and I spelled out the dramatic outline. There were some great questions from the audience before I launched into a reading of the Piety street shootout from the point of view of a Panther and of a black cop (same age as the Panther). But before I began reading, the audience was wishing for the perspective of some of the white officers who had tried to evict the Panthers in 1970. The only one I had interviewed was the Chief.

As I was reading the quotes of the black officer, John returned from his walking tour and said to himself, “Hey, I know that guy.” He sat down and when I finished, he introduced himself to the group as a white police officer on the force in 1970, who had ridden in a squad car with Larry Preston Williams, the black officer. I said, “Well, we were just wishing you would show up.”

A spirited discussion ensued and John bought a copy of the book and promised to email me with his reactions.

New Orleans is a small town (smaller than it used to be). It was one of those dazzling spring days, a Saturday when everyone is out, and so you can hardly miss some mystical convergence of unlikely people that remind those of us who are still here why we stay.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Geronimo ji Jaga Says:

A must read for any serious student of the Liberation Struggles of the '60s. . .and the pernicious attacks on it's Vanguard Forces by Hoover's Hooligans. . .Orissa Arend has penned a Magnum Opus in her most salutatory expose into the Heroic Acts of Resistance from our Southern Freedom Fighters. A most welcome breath of fresh literary air so needed to clear out the concoctions of those expensive liars who have so craftily fouled the air with their vicious lies for too many years. Amandla!!!

ji Jaga, who was raised in Morgan City, Louisiana served two combat tours in the Vietnam War before becoming the Minister of Defense of the former Black Panther Party. He currently works as a human rights activist through an organization he founded, the Kuji Foundation Inc..

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Skeletons and Indians

New Orleans filmmaker Royce Osborn and Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief Tootie Montana’s last Mardi Gras, 2005. Montana and his devoted wife Joyce attended St. Augustine Church. He died June 27, 2005, of a heart attack as he was lambasting the police at a city council meeting for a recent disruption of Indian ceremonies. The chiefs, spy boys, flag boys, and queens of the assembled tribes launched into a somber rendition of “Indian Red,” a ceremonial Mardi Gras Indian song. He was eighty-two. (Gambit Weekly, July 5, 2005).

Photograph by Pat Jolly. Donated to the author’s archives by Royce Osborn.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

It's Carnival Time

Throw my baby out the window,
And let those joints burn down.
All because it’s Carnival Time.

Al “Carnival Time” Johnson and Malik Rahim at the Ernie K-Doe Mother-in-Law Lounge, Mardi Gras Day, 2004.

Photograph by author

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In Memory of Henry Ronald Faggen, Jr

Henry Faggen almost lived to see this book come out. He graces many of its pages as a primary hero. An original resident of the Desire Housing Project, where he was christened its “mayor,” he raised 14 children and participated in most aspects of its civic and social life.

Thank goodness he told his story (captured on tape) in 2003 at the Hubbard Mansion Bed and Breakfast. And what a loving, wise, funny, poignant story-teller he was! Putting that story on record at the Mansion, in a booklet, and then at a public forum allowed Mr. Faggen to share with his family (and many others) his involvement in the Black Panther confrontation with the police in 1970.

It was a story that had been so twisted, mangled, and ultimately suppressed (or repressed, I’m not sure which) that he had decided years ago to carry it as a secret all the way to his grave.

But here he is (in above photo by photographer Nifme Rinaldi Nun) at the 2003 forum at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, radiant, energized, and finally able to tell it all. As several of his (73) great grand children proudly took the booklet to school to present at assembly, he beamed. “You put me on the map,” he told me.

I spoke to Mr. Faggen a few weeks before he died, and he was his usual charming, interested, spirited self. He asked me to let Malik Rahim know that he felt bad about not having gotten down to the Ninth Ward to help with Common Ground as he had promised. His health just hadn’t been that good. Would I pass that on to Malik? So like Henry Faggen to be thinking about his friends and responsibilities right up until the end.

Mr. Faggen died on Feb. 3 and we buried him on Valentine’s Day. The obituary for the service stated:
“A pivotal event in the life of Henry Faggen, Jr. and in the life of New Orleans was the police raid on the Black Panther Party in Desire on November 19, 1970. During that confrontation, Henry Faggen was a real hero. He put his own life at risk to mediate and then to place himself bodily between the New Orleans Police Department, the Black Panthers and his beloved fellow residents of Desire. Without his intervention and the enormous fund of trust and goodwill he had earned from city officials and the people of Desire, a pivotal point in New Orleans race relations could easily have become a bloodbath.”
Thank you, Henry Faggen, for your enormous gifts to all of us. You served your Creator well and inspired many others to try to do the same.