A new episode of Points South is now playing!Subscribe today and never miss an episode. Episode Three features Arkansas’s “cemetery angel,” Ruth Coker Burks, John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “Three Encounters” + a performance by Los Texmaniacs. For more information visit oxfordamerican.org/pointssouth. | Oct, 2019
Lolis Eric Elie is a New Orleans-bred, Los Angeles-based writer whose work includes documentary film (Faubourg Treme), television (OWN’s Greenleaf, HBO’s Treme), and essays.
A Points South essay from the 100th issue.
He used “Niggertown” to make the hearer reconcile the word with the man using it: Lolis Edward Elie, this civil rights lawyer, this man of letters, this collector of fine art and old jazz records, this gourmand, this voracious reader of smart books and drinker of cold Champagne. He could easily have erased the old neighborhood from his biography. But what would be the fun in that? For my father, life began, and would always begin, in Niggertown.
I would like to tell the story of New Orleans. I would like to do so in simple, declarative sentences. I would like my narrative to be neat and linear, like I learned in school and on television. Do not think me unequal to the task.
What was the year? 1986? 2008? Does it matter? What was the great offense? Same as last time, more or less. Some white shit. What was the reaction? One Negro leader or another—fill in the blank—stood in front of the cameras and declared we would do such things he knew not what! This said with a walls will come tumbling down certainty, same as last time, more or less.
An open letter to the man who put together one of the many collections of America's Greatest Hits: "If you’re really going to anthologize America’s Greatest Hits—your title, certainly not mine—you’re going to need someone who has seen a lot more of the world than the Ivy-League American-Studies major I assume you think you’re looking for."