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, 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.

No comments: