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, 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.

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