Literature and Music of the New South

Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris - Free at Loyal Books

Episode 23: Literature and Music in the New South

A New History of the American South

Dr Edward Ayers (2018)

Film Review

Following the Civil War, the US South gave birth to literary and musical traditions that influenced the entire world.

The earliest post-war literature depicted nostalgia around a lost way of life in which both Blacks and Whites were clear about the fixed role they played in society. Especially popular were books written from a Black perspective (by White authors). With the “mass-produced” culture (in the form of dime novels) that arose across the US during the 1880s and 1890s, this literature was just as popular in the North as the South. In fact “local color” fiction was one of the South’s major post-Civil War products. The best known books were Joel Chandler’s Uncle Remus stories first published in 1880. In them, an old slave (Uncle Remus) imparts knowledge to a small white boy through Brer Rabbit fables.

Southern feminist writers Kate Chopin and Ellen Glasgow also published during this period, to be rediscovered during the 1970s women’s liberation movement.

In 1906, Thomas Page published The Clansman, the basis of D W Griffith’s ground- breaking 2015 movie Birth of a Nation. The latter would inspire the 20th century rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.

Born in 1897, William Faulkner, one of the most celebrated authors of American literature, would come of age during the New South literary renaissance.

According to Ayers the new musical traditions (jazz, blues and country music) largely originated in churches. Much of of this new music was heavily influenced by African music, with its use of syncopation, call and response patterns, improvisation, falsetto and rough and slurred voice textures. The southern musical renaissance also benefited from the “mass production” frenzy that lowered the cost of sheet music and instruments (often costing as little as $1 apiece).

In 1897, ragtime became the first global musical phenomenon as former slave musician Scott Joplin incorporated Black church music and folk tunes into popular music.

New Orleans with its brass band-led funeral marches and diverse ethnic makeup was another important source of the new music. In general, new music incorporating significant improvisation was called “jazz,” whereas the moniker blues originated from slurred “blue notes,” played at a slightly different pitch from standard European music.

“Country music” was more a white phenomenon originating with northern “parlor” songs about themes of grief and loss overcome by love (of God). Many popular tunes derived from 18th century English hymns sung at revival meetings. The first country music was recorded in the 1920s.

Both Black and White musicians adapted some of this music as gospel quartets often performed as people waited their turn in barbershops.

Film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a library card.

Disaster Capitalism: New Orleans Abandons Its Low Income Residents Post Katrina

Getting Back to Abnormal

Louis Alverez and Andy Kolker (2013)

Film Review

This documentary looks at the changing ethnic demographic in post-Katrina New Orleans through the fractious re-election campaign of city councillor Stacey Head. Head is the first white person to represent District B (which is 60% Black) in over thirty years. The 2010 election also led to the election of New Orleans’ first white mayor in 30 years.

The catastrophic flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina (2005) caused a mass exodus of New Orleans’ poorest (mostly Black) residents, as it was mainly their housing that was destroyed. As of 2010, 50,000 of them hadn’t returned, owing to a deliberate decision not to rebuild the low income buildings that housed them. In fact, the most contentious issue in Head’s 2010 campaign was a unanimous city council decision to demolish four low income housing facilities that survived Katrina.

They would be replaced by Columbia Park, a “mixed” income building, that left many low income New Orleans residents with nowhere to live.

The film mainly focuses on the vivacious African American woman who served as Head’s chief of staff and campaign manager. It also examines New Orleans’ longstanding refusal to address pernicious poverty. In doing so, it allows an essentially class issue to manifest through extreme racial tensions, and then papers over those tensions by hosting community-wide parades, festivals and athletic events.

Anyone with a public library card can view this documentary free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine.

The Mysterious Death of JFK Assassination Witness Dorothy Kilgallen


Denial of Justice: Dorothy Kilgallen, Abuse of Power, and the Most Compelling JFK Assassination Investigation in History

by Mark Shaw

Post Hill Press (2018)

I found this book a big disappointment. Over the last decade Shaw has compiled a massive amount of evidence related to journalist Dorothy Kilgallen’s suspicious 1965 death (see The Dorothy Kilgallen Story/). His evidence includes the complete transcript of Jack Ruby’s trial, which mysteriously went missing for 50 years. That being said, Shaw sorely needs a  editor. The style in which Denial of Justice is written is extremely convoluted, repetitive, and filled with maudlin, hyberbolic and sensationalist prose that has no place in an investigative expose.

One of the main weaknesses of the book is its failure to incorporate the immense body of academic research into the JFK assassination. Calling Kilgallen’s investigation into the JFK assassination “the most compelling in history” is pretty silly, when you contrast it with New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s efforts to prosecute CIA co-conspirator Clay Shaw in 1967.  Kilgallen was essentially a gossip columnist who covered Broadway stars, murder trials, celebrity weddings, and political scandals.It wasn’t her investigative prowess that posed a threat to the who assassinated JFK – it was her prominent public profile and influence over popular opinion.*

Nowhere in the book does Shaw provide a clear timeline of events immediately following Kilgallen’s death on Sept 17, 1965. This is divided up between four long rambling chapters dedicated to the the personal history and psychological motivations of potential suspects.

There is no question the actions of the NYPD, FBI and New York medical examiner’s of the day of Kilgallen’s death were highly suspect. As best as I can reconstruct, Kilgallen’s butler James Clement was the first to discover Kilgallen’s body a little before 9 am. He found her, still dressed in the cocktail dress she wore the night before, in the third floor bathroom. We know this indirectly from information he related to his wife and daughter.

By 9 am, someone had moved the body from the bathroom to the master bedroom. This is where her hairdresser, who had come to do her hair for an appointment at her son’s school, found her. By this time, her dress and underwear had been removed, and she was dressed in a fancy peignoir. However she was still wearing her hairpiece, false eyelashes and full make-up.

For some reason, the police weren’t notified until 12.30. The FBI barged in before the police arrived, seizing multiple boxes of files that included her notes on Jack Ruby’s trial, her two interviews with him, and the information she obtained from sources in the Dallas police and a recent visit to New Orleans. Random House had agreed to publish a book she was writing about her investigation, which she claimed would “crack the case wide open.”

The NYPD detective assigned to investigating her death wasn’t notified until 3 pm

Her autopsy report concludes she died from “accidental overdose,” despite blood tests revealing she had ingested the equivalent of 15-20 100 mg tablets of Seconal, in addition to the presence of alcohol, Tuinal and Nembutal.

*This related mainly to her 15-year stint on the TV game show “What’ My Line?”



A Program to End Teen Homelessness


Vice Impact (2018)

Film Review

This film is about Covenant House, a remarkable teen homeless shelter in New Orleans. Although the founder James Kelly is Catholic and past co-president of Catholic Charities of New Orleans, the shelter is “Franciscan” in its refusal to impose religion or dogma on its staff or clients. It openly supports clients with LGBTQ issues, even though the Catholic Church condemns homosexuality and transgender identification.

Covenant House, in operation since 1988 caters to runaway, homeless and at-risk youth age up to age 22. Seventy percent of their clients have been physically and/or sexually abused and 80% have PTSD or some other mental illness. Twenty-five to thirty-nine percent are on psychotropic medication and some are overtly psychotic because they refuse to take medication. Some are single mothers who have their kids with them.

In addition to shelter and counseling, Covenant House also supports kids in attending local high schools, as well as offering GED, life skills and job readiness classes.

The documentary, which features moving vignettes of highly skilled counselors working with psychotic and highly troubled youth, is extremely moving.

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City

by Roberta Brandes Gratz

Nation Books (2014)

Book Review

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards is a remarkable account of how a loose knit network of citizens groups and organizations fought FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), city hall and the state of Louisiana to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the BP Oil Spill (2010). The grassroots rebuilding effort happened despite a federal/state/city conspiracy to use the storm (and flood) to rid New Orleans of black residents.

Prior to Katrina and the levee failure that flooded 80% of the city,* New Orleans was 67% black. Initially 250,000 of New Orleans 485,000 residents were forced to relocate to other cities and states. Thanks to grassroots efforts, by 2015 81% had returned – despite the best efforts of officials in charge of the recovery effort.

Specific examples of FEMA/city policies to discourage black evacuees from returning:

  • Unlike other areas, (mainly black) Lower Ninth War residents were forced to wait four months before they were allowed to return to their flooded properties.**
  • Homes in low income areas, in many cases, were red-tagged for demolition without notifying owners.
  • All New Orleans public housing was demolished, even though only one public housing building was slightly damaged, and FEMA funds were fraudulently funneled to private developers to build market rate housing.
  • Despite being returned to full function by volunteers, Charity Hospital was closed, with FEMA funds being channeled to build a new hospital serving private patients.
  • All New Orleans teachers were fired (in violation of the union contract) to enable the replacement of the Black middle class who previously ran the city schools with a white out-of-state corporate elite and publicly funded, privately run charter schools.
  • “Predatory demolition,” in which many poor residents were deliberately misinformed they had to demolish their homes due to “black mold.”
  • Systematic refusal of FEMA, insurance companies and Road Home*** to pay homeless residents enough to rebuild their homes.

The coming together of local and out-of-state volunteers and wealthy benefactors to assist New Orleans residents to rebuild and/or rehabilitate their homes is incredibly inspiring. The best known benefactor was actor Brad Pitt, who funded the construction of 150 sustainable, solar-power homes in the Lower Ninth Ward.

*Contrary to mainstream media reports, Katrina was a man-made disaster stemming from flawed construction (by the Army Corps of Engineers) of the city’s levees. Katrina was only a category 3 hurricane – not a category 4-5 as was widely reported.

**Despite its working class character, 60% of Lower Ninth residents were homeowners, the highest proportion in the city.

***Road Home is a federally funded disaster relief program administered by Louisiana.











The Psychological Trauma Inflicted by Predatory Capitalism

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Directed by Michael Winterbottom (2009)

Film Review

Based on Naomi Klein’s best-selling book by the same name, this documentary explores predatory capitalism’s use of psychological trauma to crush human rights and forcibly transfer vast sums of money  from the poor to the rich.

Like the book, the documentary begins with Dr Ewan Cameron’s CIA-funded research at McGill University into the long term  effects of shock therapy, sleep deprivation and other deliberately inflicted trauma. The Agency would incorporate Cameron’s findings in their Kubark counterintelligence interrogation (ie torture) manual. They went on to use Kubark to train fascist South American military officers at the School of the Americas and to interrogate random prisoners (the vast majority were never charged) at Guantanamo and Iraqi prisons.

The film also explores the “economic shock therapy” developed by the late University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman. Friedman was a master at exploiting natural and contrived disasters to impose the kind of extreme free market reforms that crush unions and wages, shut down or privatize public services and create massive unemployment – while simultaneously transferring obscene amounts of wealth from the working and middle classes to the rich.

Friedman and his cronies seized the opportunity to put their predatory theories into practice when the CIA helped overthrow democratically elected governments in Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina; during the neoconservative regimes of Thatcher and Reagan; in Russia after the Berlin Wall collapsed; in New Orleans after Katrina; in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami; and in Iraq after 9/11.