Full Text Political Transcripts August 28, 2015: President George W. Bush’s Speech at Warren Easton Charter High School on the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

BUSH PRESIDENCY:

Remarks by President George W. Bush at Warren Easton Charter High School on the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Source: Bush Center, 8-28-15

Friday, August 28, 2015

New Orleans, Louisiana

(August 28, 2015)

Thank you all.  As has been mentioned, in 2006 Laura and I came here to Warren Easton Charter High School a year after Katrina hit, and we are honored and pleased to be back on the tenth anniversary of that devastating storm.  I can’t think of a better place to come here in New Orleans, except for some of the restaurants.  (Laughter.) The slogan that guided the school when we first visited is true today:  “We believe in success.”  And because of the success that schools like this have achieved, you have given all Americans reason to believe that New Orleans is back and better than ever.

Mr. Mayor, thank you for your hospitality.  You and the First Lady have been so gracious to us, and we want to thank you for your leadership.  If enthusiasm and a good strategy count, New Orleans is in good hands.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

By the way, I do bring greetings from one of the co-chairmen of the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund:  41.  (Laughter.)  He had one of the great lines of all time.  He said, “Who would have thought that getting out of bed at age 91 would be more dangerous than jumping out of an airplane at age 90?”  (Laughter.)

I want to thank David Garland, President of the Warren Easton Charter Foundation Board.  I want to thank all the folks who have shown up.  As Laura said, we had a roundtable discussion.  Many of our friends were there, people who we worked with.  I think of Norman Francis for example, one of the great leaders of New Orleans, one of the great minds of New Orleans.  (Applause.)

In spite of the devastation, we have many fond memories.  I remember sitting with [General Russel] Honore on top one of those big ships, strategizing.  I think you were drinking; I wasn’t of course.  (Laughter.)  It is great to see you.  We’re honored that you took time to come.

Members of Congress, Members of the State House, Superintendent White, on and on:  thank you for coming.

I really want to thank the leadership of the school.  I’m going to talk about them here in a minute, although I must confess, the Principal is always a teacher.  So she tried to teach me how to Second Line with the band here at Warren Easton.  (Laughter.)  I know she didn’t say it, but she was thinking, this boy needs a lot of work.  (Laughter.)  So we’re thrilled we’re here.  Thanks for your hospitality.

In a cruel twist, Hurricane Katrina brought despair during what should have been a season of hope – the start of a new school year.  Students who had recently gone back to school suddenly had no school to go back to.  Many had nowhere to live.  The floodwaters, as you all know better than most, claimed schools and homes alike.  As Laura mentioned, the ground we’re on today was underwater.  All of us who are old enough to remember will never forget the images of our fellow Americans amid a sea of misery and ruin.  We will always remember the lives lost across the Gulf Coast.  Their memories are in our hearts – and I hope you pray for their families.

Hurricane Katrina is a story of loss beyond measure; it is also a story of commitment and compassion.  I hope you remember what I remember, and that is 30,000 people were saved in the immediate aftermath of the storm by U.S. military personnel, by Louisiana law enforcement, and by citizens who volunteered.  I hope you remember what I remember, and that  is the thousands who came here on a volunteer basis to provide food for the hungry and to help find shelter for those who had no home to live in.  There are people all around our country who prayed for you, many of whom showed up so they could say they helped a fellow citizen who was hurting.

One of the groups that stepped forward to serve were the educators of New Orleans.  At a time when it would have been easy to walk away from the wreckage, the educators here today thought of the children who would be left behind.  You understood that bringing New Orleans back to life required getting students back to school.  And even though some of the educators had lost almost everything you owned, you let nothing stand in your way.  Today, we celebrate the resurgence of New Orleans schools – and we honor the resilience of a great American city whose levees gave out but whose people never gave up.

Out of the devastation of Katrina, you vowed to do more than just open the schools.  You vowed to challenge the status quo.  Long before the great flood, too many students in this city drifted from grade to grade without ever learning the skills needed for success.  Parents lacked choices and the power to intervene.  Principals and teachers lacked the authority to chart a more hopeful course.  It was a system that stranded more than sixty percent of students failing in schools.  It was what I called the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The decisions you made in the dark hours after Katrina sparked a decade of reform.  Rather than just reopen the schools, you reorganized many into charter schools that are independently operated but publicly accountable for achieving high standards.  More than nine in ten public school students in this city now call a charter school home.  Administrators at these schools have the freedom to slice through red tape and the freedom to innovate.  Parents at these schools have choices if dissatisfied.  And the results at these schools have been extraordinary.  The reason we know is because we measure, and any attempt to undermine accountability our school system is a huge disservice to the students who go to the schools in New Orleans.  (Applause.)

According to a new report by the Cowen Institute, the percentage of New Orleans’ students graduating on time has soared since Katrina.  The percentage of students who attend schools that score better than the state average almost doubled.  And so has the percentage of students meeting basic standards.  You’ve got to ask, why?  It just didn’t happen.  A lot of it’s structural, and a lot of it requires strong leadership – people who stared into the eye of a storm and who refused to back down.  And so Laura and I are here in New Orleans to remind our country about what strong leadership means, and we’re here to salute the leaders.

I think of Jenny Rious here at Warren Easton.  After Katrina, Jenny was forced to leave New Orleans; she started Warren Easton in Exile. The site reunited students scattered across the country around a vision for returning to New Orleans, and reopening this school.  When Jenny returned to New Orleans, the first place she went was not her house.  It was this school.  And as she put it, “I would rather see my own house burn down than this school.”  Jenny would give anything for Easton – and today, we give teachers like her our sincere thanks.  (Applause.)

It’s amazing what happened in this city after a storm wiped out the school system.  Educational entrepreneurs decided to do something about the devastation, and the failure.  I met a lot of them when I was President, and subsequently.  Neerav Kingsland is one such person.  After Katrina, Neerav took a leadership role at an organization called New Schools for New Orleans, where he worked with others to help launch dozens of new schools and to turn ideas for reform into reality.  In other words, this isn’t just a theoretical exercise.  It’s important for people for our country to look at New Orleans and realize this is an exercise in implementing a plan which works.

Neerav was so encouraged by what he saw here, he was talking up the reforms that worked in New Orleans to other cities across the country.  Isn’t that amazing – the storm nearly destroys New Orleans, now New Orleans is a beacon for school reform. (Applause.) Neerav represents the virtues that Bill Clinton and I had in mind when we announced the new Presidential Leadership Scholars program – and we are honored that Neerav was among the first class of scholars.

Achieving these results took librarians who salvaged their collections from the watery wreckage.  Listen, I know something about librarians.  (Laughter.)  I married one.  (Laughter.)  I’m really proud of the Laura Bush Foundation.  She talked about the grants; she talked about Pam and Marshall.  These are citizens who supported this Foundation who, like many around the country, they care deeply about the future of this city.  I hope the students here – and I’m really thrilled you’re here by the way, thank you for staying awake (laughter) – I hope you realize the compassion of others in helping you realize a good education.

It turns out that every good school that’s succeeding – and we know it’s succeeding, because we measure against other standards – requires strong principals.  And there’s no doubt that Lexi Medley is a strong leader.  (Applause.)  I love when she says, “If you fail, we fail.  The student is our product.  We don’t believe in putting out anything but the best.”  In order to succeed, in order to lead properly, you’ve got to set high goals and high expectations.  And that’s what Lexi and this school have done.  As you heard, this school has graduated 100 percent of its seniors for the past five years.  (Applause.)  Lexi, you’ve earned our admiration and our gratitude, along with our best wishes for a happy birthday tomorrow.  (Laughter and Applause.)

In the stories of schools like yours, we see a determination to rebuild better than before.  It’s a spirit much stronger than any storm.  It’s a spirit that has lifted communities laid low by tornadoes or terrorist attacks.  It’s a spirit that I saw in New Orleans ten years ago, and that is very evident today.

We see that spirit in a population that has ticked back up as families settle back down.  We see it in tourists who are drawn not only by this city’s rich heritage but by the new hotel rooms and restaurants.  And we see that spirit in Lauren LeDuff.  As Lauren mentioned, Laura and I first met her in 2006 when she was a senior at Easton.  She was happy to be back at the school she loved at the time – and you know what she told me?  She said, “I want to be a teacher.”  And here she is as a member of this faculty, teaching English.  I probably needed her when I was in high school.   (Laughter.)  When asked how students have overcome adversity, Lauren says, “We teach our kids to be resilient.  That’s in the culture of the city.”

Lauren is right.  The resilience you teach at Warren Easton is the same resilience that this city showed the world in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  On this anniversary, the work of making a stronger and more hopeful New Orleans goes on.  We have achieved a lot over the past ten years.  And with belief in success and a faith in God, New Orleans will achieve even more.  The darkness from a decade ago has lifted.  The Crescent City has risen again.  And its best days lie ahead.   Thank you for having me.  (Applause.)

END

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Full Text Obama Presidency August 27, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the Ten Year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Source: WH, 8-27-15

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE TEN-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF HURRICANE KATRINA
Andrew Sanchez Community Center
New Orleans, Louisiana
4:00 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Everybody, have a seat.  Hello, everybody!  Where y’at?  It is good to be back in the Big Easy.  And this is the weather in August all the time, right?  (Laughter.)  As soon as I land in New Orleans, the first thing I do is get hungry.  When I was here with the family a few years ago, I had a shrimp po-boy at Parkway Bakery and Tavern.  I still remember it — that’s how good it was.  And one day, after I leave office, maybe I’ll finally hear Rebirth at the Maple Leaf on Tuesday night.  (Applause.)  I’ll get a chance to “see the Mardi Gras,” and somebody will tell me what’s Carnival for.  (Laughter.)  But right now, I just go to meetings.

I want to thank Michelle for the introduction and, more importantly, for the great work she’s doing, what she symbolizes, and what she represents in terms of the city bouncing back.  I want to acknowledge a great friend and somebody who has been working tirelessly on behalf of this city, and he’s following a family legacy of service — your mayor, Mitch Landrieu.  (Applause.)  Proud of him.  And his beautiful wife, Cheryl.  Senator Bill Cassidy is here.  Where did Senator Cassidy go?  There he is.  (Applause.)  Congressman Cedric Richmond.  (Applause.)  Where’s the Congressman?  There he is over there.  We’ve got a lifelong champion of Louisiana in your former senator, Mary Landrieu in the house.  Mary!  (Applause.)  I want to acknowledge a great supporter to the efforts to recover and rebuild, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries from New York, who has traveled down here with us.  (Applause.)

To all the elected officials from Louisiana and Mississippi who are here today, thank you so much for your reception.

I’m here to talk about a specific recovery.  But before I begin to talk just about New Orleans, I want to talk about America’s recovery, take a little moment of presidential privilege to talk about what’s been happening in our economy.    This morning, we learned that our economy grew at a stronger and more robust clip back in the spring than anybody knew at the time.  The data always lags.  We already knew that over the past five and a half years, our businesses have created 13 million new jobs.  (Applause.)  These new numbers that came out, showing that the economy was growing at a 3.7 percent clip, means that the United States of America remains an anchor of global strength and stability in the world — that we have recovered faster, more steadily, stronger than just about any economy after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

And it’s important for us to remember that strength.  It’s been a volatile few weeks around the world.  And there’s been a lot of reports in the news, and the stock market swinging, and worries about China and about Europe.  But the United States of America, for all the challenges that we still have, continue to have the best cards.  We just got to play them right.

Our economy has been moving, and continues to grow.  And unemployment continues to come down.  And our work is not yet done, but we have to have that sense of steadiness and vision and purpose in order to sustain this recovery so that it reaches everybody and not just some.  It’s why we need to do everything we can in government to make sure our economy keeps growing.  That requires Congress to protect our momentum — not kill it.  Congress is about to come back from a six-week recess.  The deadline to fund the government is, as always, the end of September.  And so I want everybody just to understand that Congress has about a month to pass a budget that helps our economy grow.  Otherwise, we risk shutting down the government and services that we all count on for the second time in two years.  That would not be responsible.  It does not have to happen.

Congress needs to fund America in a way that invests in our growth and our security, and not cuts us off at the knees by locking in mindless austerity or shortsighted sequester cuts to our economy or our military.  I’ve said I will veto a budget like that.  I think most Americans agree we’ve got to invest in, rather than cut, things like military readiness, infrastructure, schools, public health, the research and development that keeps our companies on the cutting edge.

That’s what great nations do.  (Applause.)  That’s what great nations do.  And you know, eventually, we’re going to do it anyway, so let’s just do it without too much drama.  (Laughter.)  Let’s do it without another round of threats to shut down the government.  (Applause.)  Let’s not introduce unrelated partisan issues.  Nobody gets to hold the American economy hostage over their own ideological demands.  You, the people who send us to Washington, expect better.  Am I correct?  (Applause.)

So my message to Congress is:  Pass a budget.  Prevent a shutdown.  Don’t wait until the last minute.  Don’t worry our businesses or our workers by contributing unnecessarily to global uncertainty.  Get it done, and keep the United States of America the anchor of global strength that we are and always should be.

Now, that’s a process of national recovery that from coast to coast we’ve been going through.  But there’s been a specific process of recovery that is perhaps unique in my lifetime, right here in the state of Louisiana, right here in New Orleans.  (Applause.)

Not long ago, our gathering here in the Lower 9 probably would have seemed unlikely.  As I was flying here today with a homegirl from Louisiana, Donna Brazile, she was — she saved all the magazines, and she was whipping them out, and one of them was a picture of the Lower 9th right after the storm had happened.  And the notion that there would be anything left seemed unimaginable at the time.

Today, this new community center stands as a symbol of the extraordinary resilience of this city, the extraordinary resilience of its people, the extraordinary resilience of the entire Gulf Coast and of the United States of America.  You are an example of what is possible when, in the face of tragedy and in the face of hardship, good people come together to lend a hand, and, brick by brick, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, you build a better future.

And that, more than any other reason, is why I’ve come back here today — plus, Mitch Landrieu asked me to.  (Laughter.)  It’s been 10 years since Katrina hit, devastating communities in Louisiana and Mississippi, across the Gulf Coast.  In the days following its landfall, more than 1,800 of our fellow citizens — men, women and children — lost their lives.  Some folks in this room may have lost a loved one in that storm.

Thousands of people saw their homes destroyed, livelihoods wiped out, hopes and dreams shattered.  Many scattered in exodus to cities across the country, and too many still haven’t returned.  Those who stayed and lived through that epic struggle still feel the trauma sometimes of what happened.  As one woman from Gentilly recently wrote me, “A deep part of the whole story is the grief.”  So there’s grief then and there’s still some grief in our hearts.

Here in New Orleans, a city that embodies a celebration of life, suddenly seemed devoid of life.  A place once defined by color and sound — the second line down the street, the crawfish boils in backyards, the music always in the air — suddenly it was dark and silent.  And the world watched in horror.  We saw those rising waters drown the iconic streets of New Orleans.  Families stranded on rooftops.  Bodies in the streets.  Children crying, crowded in the Superdome.  An American city dark and under water.

And this was something that was supposed to never happen here — maybe somewhere else.  But not here, not in America.  And we came to realize that what started out as a natural disaster became a manmade disaster — a failure of government to look out for its own citizens.  And the storm laid bare a deeper tragedy that had been brewing for decades because we came to understand that New Orleans, like so many cities and communities across the country, had for too long been plagued by structural inequalities that left too many people, especially poor people, especially people of color, without good jobs or affordable health care or decent housing.  Too many kids grew up surrounded by violent crime, cycling through substandard schools where few had a shot to break out of poverty.  And so like a body weakened already, undernourished already, when the storm hit, there was no resources to fall back on.

Shortly after I visited — shortly after the storm, I visited with folks not here because we couldn’t distract local recover efforts.  Instead, I visited folks in a shelter in Houston — many who had been displaced.  And one woman told me, “We had nothing before the hurricane.  And now we have less than nothing.”  We had nothing before the hurricane — now we had less than nothing.

And we acknowledge this loss, and this pain, not to dwell on the past, not to wallow in grief; we do it to fortify our commitment and to bolster our hope, to understand what it is that we’ve learned, and how far we’ve come.

Because this is a city that slowly, unmistakably, together, is moving forward.  Because the project of rebuilding here wasn’t just to restore the city as it had been.  It was to build a city as it should be — a city where everyone, no matter what they look like, how much money they’ve got, where they come from, where they’re born has a chance to make it.  (Applause.)

And I’m here to say that on that larger project of a better, stronger, more just New Orleans, the progress that you have made is remarkable.   The progress you’ve made is remarkable.  (Applause.)

That’s not to say things are perfect.  Mitch would be the first one to say that.  We know that African Americans and folks in hard-hit parishes like Plaquemines and St. Bernard are less likely to feel like they’ve recovered.  Certainly we know violence still scars the lives of too many youth in this city.  As hard as rebuilding levees are, as hard as —

PARTICIPANT:  (Inaudible) mental health.

THE PRESIDENT:  I agree with that.  But I’ll get to that.  Thank you, ma’am.

As hard as rebuilding levees is, as hard as rebuilding housing is, real change — real lasting, structural change — that’s even harder.  And it takes courage to experiment with new ideas and change the old ways of doing things.  That’s hard.  Getting it right, and making sure that everybody is included and everybody has a fair shot at success — that takes time.  That’s not unique to New Orleans.  We’ve got those challenges all across the country.

But I’m here to say, I’m here to hold up a mirror and say because of you, the people of New Orleans, working together, this city is moving in the right direction.  And I have never been more confident that together we will get to where we need to go.  You inspire me.  (Applause.)

Your efforts inspire me.  And no matter how hard it’s been and how hard and how long the road ahead might seem, you’re working and building and striving for a better tomorrow.  I see evidence of it all across this city.  And, by the way, along the way, the people of New Orleans didn’t just inspire me, you inspired all of America.  Folks have been watching what’s happened here, and they’ve seen a reflection of the very best of the American spirit.

As President, I’ve been proud to be your partner.  Across the board, I’ve made the recovery and rebuilding of the Gulf Coast a priority.  I made promises when I was a senator that I’d help.  And I’ve kept those promises.  (Applause.)

We’re cutting red tape to help you build back even stronger.  We’re taking the lessons we’ve learned here, we’ve applied them across the country, including places like New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

If Katrina was initially an example of what happens when government fails, the recovery has been an example of what’s possible when government works together — (applause) — state and local, community — everybody working together as true partners.

Together, we’ve delivered resources to help Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida rebuild schools and hospitals, roads, police and fire stations, restore historic buildings and museums.  And we’re building smarter, doing everything from elevating homes to retrofitting buildings to improving drainage, so that our communities are better prepared for the next storm.

Working together, we’ve transformed education in this city.  Before the storm, New Orleans public schools were largely broken, leaving generations of low-income kids without a decent education.  Today, thanks to parents and educators, school leaders, nonprofits, we’re seeing real gains in achievement, with new schools, more resources to retain and develop and support great teachers and principals.  We have data that shows before the storm, the high school graduation rate was 54 percent.  Today, it’s up to 73 percent.  (Applause.)  Before the storm, college enrollment was 37 percent.  Today, it’s almost 60 percent.  (Applause.)  We still have a long way to go, but that is real progress.  New Orleans is coming back better and stronger.

Working together, we’re providing housing assistance to more families today than before the storm, with new apartments and housing vouchers.  And we will keep working until everybody who wants to come home can come home.  (Applause.)

Together, we’re building a New Orleans that is as entrepreneurial as any place in the country, with a focus on expanding job opportunities and making sure that more people benefit from a growing economy here.  We’re creating jobs to rebuild the city’s transportation infrastructure, expanding training programs for industries like high-tech manufacturing, but also water management, because we’ve been building some good water management around here and we want to make sure everybody has access to those good, well-paying jobs.  Small businesses like Michelle’s are growing.  It’s small businesses like hers that are helping to fuel 65 straight months of private sector job growth in America.  That’s the longest streak in American history.  (Applause.)

Together, we’re doing more to make sure that everyone in this city has access to great health care.  More folks have access to primary care at neighborhood clinics so that they can get the preventive care that they need.  We’re building a brand new VA Medical Center downtown, alongside a thriving biosciences corridor that’s attracting new jobs and investment.  We are working to make sure that we have additional mental health facilities across the city and across the country, and more people have access to quality, affordable health care –- some of the more than 16 million Americans who have gained health insurance over the past few years.  (Applause.)

All of this progress is the result of the commitment and drive of the people of this region.  I saw that spirit today.  Mitch and I started walking around a little bit.  Such a nice day outside.  And we went to Faubourg Lafitte, we were in Tremé, and we saw returning residents living in brand new homes, mixed income — new homes near schools and clinics and parks, child care centers; more opportunities for working families.

We saw that spirit today at Willie Mae’s Scotch House.  After Katrina had destroyed that legendary restaurant, some of the best chefs from the country decided America could not afford to lose such an important place.  So they came down here to help — helped rebuild.  And I just sampled some of her fried chicken.  (Laughter.)  It was really good.  (Laughter.)  Although I did get a grease spot on my suit.  (Laughter.)  But that’s okay.  If you come to New Orleans and you don’t have a grease spot somewhere — (applause) — then you didn’t enjoy the city.  Just glad I didn’t get it on my tie.  (Laughter.)

 

 

We all just heard that spirit of New Orleans in the remarkable young people from Roots of Music.  (Applause.)  When the storm washed away a lot of middle school music programs, Roots of Music helped fill that gap.  And today, it’s building the next generation of musical talent — the next Irma Thomas, or the next Trombone Shorty, or the next Dr. John.  (Applause.)  There’s a Marsalis kid in here somewhere.  How you doing?

 

And I saw it in the wonderful young men I met earlier who are part of “NOLA for Life,” which is focused on reducing the number of murders in the city of New Orleans.  (Applause.)  This is a program that works with the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative to make sure that all young people, and particularly our boys and young men of color who so disproportionately are impacted by crime and violence, have the opportunity to fulfill their full potential.

In fact, after the storm, this city became a laboratory for urban innovation across the board.  And we’ve been tackling with you, as a partner, all sorts of major challenges — fighting poverty, supporting our homeless veterans.  And as a result, New Orleans has become a model for the nation as the first city, the first major city to end veterans’ homelessness — (applause) — which is a remarkable achievement.

You’re also becoming a model for the nation when it comes to disaster response and resilience.  We learned lessons from Katrina.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed stricter standards, more advanced techniques for levees.  Here in Louisiana, we built a $14 billion system of improved levees and pump stations and gates — a system that stood the test of Hurricane Isaac.

We’ve revamped FEMA — and I just have to say, by the way, there’s a man named Craig Fugate who runs FEMA — (applause) — and has been doing extraordinary work, and his team, all across the country, every time there’s a disaster.  I love me some Craig Fugate.  (Laughter.)  Although it’s a little disturbing — he gets excited when there are disasters — (laughter) — because he gets restless if everything is just quiet.  But under his leadership, we’ve revamped FEMA into a stronger, more efficient agency.  In fact, the whole federal government has gotten smarter at preventing and recovering from disasters, and serving as a better partner to local and state governments.

And as I’ll talk about next week, when I visit Alaska, making our communities more resilient is going to be increasingly important, because we’re going to see more extreme weather events as the result of climate change — deeper droughts, deadlier wildfires, stronger storms.  That’s why, in addition to things like new and better levees, we’ve also been investing in restoring wetlands and other natural systems that are just as critical for storm protection.

So we’ve made a lot of progress over the past 10 years. You’ve made a lot of progress.  That gives us hope.  But it doesn’t allow for complacency.  It doesn’t mean we can rest.  Our work here won’t be done when almost 40 percent of children still live in poverty in this city.  That’s not a finished job.  That’s not a full recovery.  Our work won’t be done when a typical black household earns half the income of white households in this city.  The work is not done yet.  (Applause.)

Our work is not done when there’s still too many people who have yet to find good, affordable housing, and too many people — especially African American men — who can’t find a job.  Not when there are still too many people who haven’t been able to come back home; folks who, around the country, every day, live the words sung by Louis Armstrong, “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?”

But the thing is, the people of New Orleans, there’s something in you guys that is just irrepressible.  You guys have a way of making a way out of no way.  (Applause.)  You know the sun comes out after every storm.  You’ve got hope — especially your young people reflect hope — young people like Victor York-Carter.  Where’s Victor?  Victor York-Carter.  Stand up, Victor.  I was just talking to Victor.  I had some lunch with him.  He’s this fine young man that I just met with.  (Applause.)  Stand up — everybody.  See, these are the guys who I ate chicken with.  (Applause.)  Really impressive — have overcome more than their fair share of challenges, but are still focused on the future.  Yes, sit down.  I don’t want you to start getting embarrassed.  (Laughter.)

So I’ll just give you one example.  Victor grew up in the 8th Ward.  Gifted art student, loved math.  He was 13 when Katrina hit.  And he remembers waking up to what looked like something out of a disaster movie.  He and his family waded across the city, towing his younger brother in a trash can to keep him afloat.

They were eventually evacuated to Texas.  Six months later, they returned, and the city was almost unrecognizable.  Victor saw his peers struggling to cope, many of them still traumatized, their lives still disordered.  So he joined an organization called Rethink to help young people get more involved in rebuilding New Orleans.  And recently, he finished a coding bootcamp at Operation Spark; today, he’s studying to earn a high-tech job.  He wants to introduce more young people to science and technology and civics so that they have the tools to change the world.

And so Victor and these young men that I just met with, they’ve overcome extraordinary odds.  They’ve lived through more than most of us will ever have to endure.  (Applause.)  They’ve made some mistakes along the way.  But for all that they’ve been through, they have been just as determined to improve their own lives, to take responsibility for themselves, but also to try to see if they can help others along the way.

So when I talk to young men like that, that gives me hope.  It’s still hard.  I told them they can’t get down on themselves.  Tough stuff will happen along the way.  But if they’ve come this far, they can keep on going.  (Applause.)

And Americans like you — the people of New Orleans, young men like this — you’re what recovery has been all about.  You’re why I’m confident that we can recover from crisis and start to move forward.  You’ve helped this country recover from a crisis and helped it move forward.  You’re the reason 13 million new jobs have been created.  You’re the reason the unemployment rate fell from 10 percent to 5.3.  You’re the reason that layoffs are near an all-time low.  You’re the reason the uninsured rate is at an all-time low and the high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, and the deficit has been cut by two-thirds, and two wars are over.  (Applause.)  And nearly 180,000 American troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have now gone down to 15,000.  And a clean energy revolution is helping to save this planet.

You’re the reason why justice has expanded and now we’re focused on making sure that everybody is treated fairly under the law, and why people have the freedom to marry whoever they love from sea to shining sea.  (Applause.)

I tell you, we’re moving into the next presidential cycle and the next political season, and you will hear a lot of people telling you everything that’s wrong with America.  And that’s okay.  That’s a proper part of our democracy.  One of the things about America is we’re never satisfied.  We keep pushing forward.   We keep asking questions.  We keep challenging our government.  We keep challenging our leaders.  We keep looking for the next set of challenges to tackle.  We find what’s wrong because we have confidence that we can fix it.

But it’s important that we remember what’s right, and what’s good, and what’s hopeful about this country.  It’s worth remembering that for all the tragedy, for the all images of Katrina in those first few days, in those first few months, look at what’s happened here.  It’s worth remembering the thousands of Americans like Michelle, and Victor, and Mrs. Willie Mae and the folks who rallied around her — Americans all across this country who when they saw neighbors and friends or strangers in need came to help.  And people who today still spend their time every day helping others — rolling up their sleeves, doing the hard work of changing this country without the need for credit or the need for glory; don’t get their name in the papers, don’t see their day in the sun, do it because it’s right.

These Americans live the basic values that define this country — the value we’ve been reminded of in these past 10 years as we’ve come back from a crisis that changed this city, and an economic crisis that spread throughout the nation — the basic notion that I am my brother’s keeper, and I am my sister’s keeper, and that we look out for each other and that we’re all in this together.

That’s the story of New Orleans — but that’s also the story of America — a city that, for almost 300 years, has been the gateway to America’s soul.  Where the jazz makes you cry, the funerals make you dance — (laughter) — the bayou makes you believe all kinds of things.  (Laughter.)  A place that has always brought together people of all races and religions and languages.  And everybody adds their culture and their flavor into this city’s gumbo.  You remind our nation that for all of our differences, in the end, what matters is we’re all in the same boat.  We all share a similar destiny.

If we stay focused on that common purpose, if we remember our responsibility to ourselves but also our responsibilities and obligations to one another, we will not just rebuild this city, we will rebuild this country.  We’ll make sure not just these young men, but every child in America has a structure and support and love and the kind of nurturing that they need to succeed.  We’ll leave behind a city and a nation that’s worthy of generations to come.

That’s what you’ve gotten started.  Now we got to finish the job.

Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

4:36 P.M. CDT

 

History Buzz January 3-6, 2013: American Historical Association 127th Annual Meeting in New Orleans Recap: Historians Look Back, and Inward, at Annual Meeting

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

127th Annual Meeting

Source: AHA 2013

New Orleans, January 3–6, 2013

2012 Logo

General Information

The 127th annual meeting of the Association will be held January 3–6, 2012, in New Orleans at the New Orleans Marriott and Sheraton New Orleans. With 272 sessions, the program is one of the largest ever assembled by the Program Committee. The AHA has previously met in New Orleans two times, in 1903 and in 1972. More than 1,500 scholars will participate in AHA sessions, and four dozen specialized societies will meet in conjunction with the AHA. William Cronon (Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison) will deliver the presidential address the evening of January 4 during the General Meeting. At the same event, the AHA’s book prizes, the Awards for Scholarly Distinction, and other awards will be announced. Many of the profession’s most distinguished members will be present to deliver papers and more than 1,500 scholars will participate.

Historians Look Back, and Inward, at Annual Meeting

Source: NYT, 1-4-13
 
Sessions at American Historical Association conference look at storytelling, used goods, and the relationship between horses and humans across three continents.

Some 4,000 historians descended on New Orleans on Thursday for the American Historical Association’s four-day annual meeting, replacing the chants of departing Sugar Bowl revelers with more sober talk of job interviews, departmental politics, and — at least in the official panels — the past itself.

As usual, the meeting’s 300-plus sessions touched on contemporary issues like climate change, the 2012 presidential election, and the Arab Spring, along with more purely scholarly topics big (“Horstory: Equines and Humans in Africa, Asia and North America”) and small (“Trash and Treasure: The Significance of Used Goods in America, 1880-1950″). But for many in attendance, the most urgent question was the state of the historical profession itself in an era of budget cuts and declining humanities enrollments….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency July 25, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the National Urban League Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana Focused on the Economy, Education & Gun Control Laws

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

President Obama Speaks to the National Urban League

Source: WH, 7-25-12

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Urban League Convention President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Urban League Convention at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, La., July 25, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) 

President Obama Speaks at the National Urban League Convention

President Obama Speaks at the National Urban League Convention

Remarks by the President at the National Urban League Convention

Source: WH, 7-25-12

Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
New Orleans, Louisiana

7:00 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Urban League!  (Applause.)  Thank you.  It is good to be with the Urban League.  (Applause.)  And it’s good to be in the Big Easy.  (Applause.)

Now, I don’t know if the fact that this is called the Morial Convention Center had anything to do with folks coming down to New Orleans — (laughter) — but it is good to be with all of you.  And I’m glad I caught you at the beginning of the conference, before Bourbon Street has a chance to take a toll on you.  (Laughter.)  All right.  You all stay out of trouble now.  (Laughter.)

Everybody please have a seat.  Have a seat.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Four more years!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  A couple of people that I want to acknowledge.  Obviously, first of all, I want to acknowledge your outstanding president and CEO who has shown such extraordinary leadership for so many years — Marc Morial.  (Applause.)  Just like we’ve got an outstanding former mayor of New Orleans, we’ve also got the outstanding current mayor of New Orleans — Mitch Landrieu is in the house.  (Applause.)  Fine young congressman from this area — Cedric Richmond, is here.  (Applause.)  And one of the best mayors in the country — we’re glad he came down from his hometown of Philadelphia — Mayor Michael Nutter is in the house.  (Applause.)

And all of you are here, and I am grateful for it.  (Applause.)  And we love the young people who are in the house.  (Applause.)  Mitch, don’t you — I wasn’t referring to you, man, I was talking to those folks over there.  (Laughter.)  Mitch is all waving, “thank you.”  (Laughter.)

For nearly a century, the National Urban League has been inspiring people of every race and every religion and every walk of life to reach for the dream that lies at the heart of our founding — the promise that no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you came from, no matter how modest your beginnings, no matter what the circumstances of your birth, here in America, you can make it if you try.  (Applause.)

Of course, this dream has never come easy.  That’s why the Urban League was formed.  In the aftermath of the Civil War, with the South in the grips of Jim Crow, the waves of men and women who traveled north to urban centers discovered that even in their new homes, opportunity was not guaranteed.  It was something you had to work for, something you had to fight for –- not just on your own, but side-by-side with people who believed in that same dream.

And so the white widow of a railroad tycoon and a black social worker from Arkansas founded what would become the Urban League, to strengthen our cities and our communities brick by brick, and block by block, and neighborhood by neighborhood, life by life.

Decades later, I arrived in one of those cities my hometown of Chicago.  (Applause.)  South Side!  (Applause.)  And I was driven by this same cause.  Like many of my classmates, I felt, I understood, the pull of a hefty paycheck that might come from a more conventional job.  But ultimately the pull to serve was even stronger.

So I moved to the South Side of Chicago, and I took a job with a group of churches, mostly Catholic parishes, working to help families who had no place to turn when the local steel plants shut down, and when panic-peddling had led to enormous turnover in these communities.  And we worked with laypeople and local leaders to rebuild neighborhoods and improve schools, and most of all, to broaden opportunity for young people, too many who were at risk.

And I confess that progress didn’t come quickly and it did not come easily.  Sometimes, it didn’t come at all.  There were times where I thought about giving up and moving on.  But what kept me going, day in and day out, was the same thing that has sustained the Urban League all these years, the same thing that sustains all of you, and that is the belief that in America, change is always possible; that our union may not be perfect, but it is perfectible; that we can strive over time through effort and sweat and blood and tears until it is the place we imagine.

It may come in fits and starts, at a pace that can be slow and frustrating.  But if we are willing to push through all the doubt and the cynicism and the weariness, then, yes, we can form that more perfect union.  (Applause.)

Now, the people I worked with in those early days in Chicago, they were looking for the same thing that Americans everyplace aspire to.  We’re not a nation of people who are looking for handouts.  We certainly don’t like bailouts.  (Laughter.)  We don’t believe government should be in the business of helping people who refuse to help themselves, and we recognize not every government program works.  But we do expect hard work to pay off.  We do expect responsibility to be rewarded.  We do expect that if you put in enough effort, you should be able to find a job that pays the bills.  (Applause.)  You should be able to own a home you call your own.  You should be able to retire in dignity and respect.  You should be able to afford the security of health care and you should be able to give your kids the best possible education.  (Applause.)

That idea that everybody should have a fair shot, not just some — that this country is special because it has grown this magnificent middle class and has provided ladders of access for those striving to get into the middle class — that’s the idea that drove me.  That’s the idea that has driven the Urban League, That idea that everyone should have equal opportunity — that’s what brought me to Chicago.  That belief that this country works best when we are growing a strong middle class and prosperity is broad-based — that’s what led me into politics.  And it is those values that have guided every decision that I have made as President of the United States.  (Applause.)

Now, today we’re battling our way back from a once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis.  And make no mistake, we’ve made progress in that fight.  When I took office, we were losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month.  Our auto industry was on the brink of collapse.  Factories were boarding up their windows. We’d gone through almost a decade in which job growth had been sluggish, incomes had declined, costs were going up — all culminating in the financial system coming close to a breakdown.

Today, three and a half years later, we’ve had 28 straight months of private sector job growth.  (Applause.)  Three and a half years later, the auto industry has come roaring back.  (Applause.)  Three and a half years later, companies are beginning to bring thousands of jobs back to American soil.  (Applause.)

We still have much more work to do.  There’s still too many out of work, too many homes underwater, too many Americans struggling to stay afloat.  So the greater challenge that faces us is not just going back to where we were back in 2007, not just settling to get back to where we were before the crisis hit.  Our task is to return to an America that is thriving and growing out from our middle class, where hard work pays off — where you can make it if you try.  (Applause.)

And, Urban League, I want you to know what’s holding us back from meeting these challenges is not a lack of ideas or solutions.  I have no patience with people who say our best days are behind us, because the fact of the matter is we still have the best workers in the world, the best universities in the world, the best research facilities in the world, the most entrepreneurial culture in the world.  (Applause.)  We have all the ingredients to make the 21st century the American Century just like the 20th.

What’s holding us back is a stalemate in Washington — (applause) — between two fundamentally different views about which path we should take as a country.  (Applause.)  And it’s up to the American people to decide what direction we should go.

Let me tell you what I believe.  I believe that strong communities are places that attract the best jobs and the newest businesses.  And you don’t build that kind of community by giving tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas.  (Applause.)  You build it by giving tax breaks to companies that create jobs in Detroit and in Cleveland and in Chicago and right here in New Orleans, right here in America — (applause) — using American workers, making American products that we sell around the world, stamped with three proud words — Made In America.  (Applause.)

You build it by investing in America’s manufacturing base and providing the dollars for research so that we have the most advanced products in the world.  You do it by investing in small businesses — the way we’ve provided 18 tax breaks to small businesses since I’ve been in office.  And if you’re a company that wants to relocate in a community that’s been particularly hard hit when a factory left town, I believe you should get help financing that new plant or equipment, or training for your workers — because we can’t leave anybody behind if we want to grow America the way it can grow.  (Applause.)

We also believe that every entrepreneur should have the chance to start a business –- no matter who you are, no matter what you look like.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’ve supported financing and assistance and exporting to small businesses across the board.  That’s why we’ve helped African American businesses and minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses gain access to more than $7 billion in contracts and financing — (applause) — that allowed them to grow and create jobs.

That’s why we’ve emphasized helping our veterans create small businesses — because if they fought for us, they shouldn’t have to fight to get financing when they get home.  (Applause.)  They shouldn’t have to fight for a job when they come home.  They shouldn’t have to fight for a roof over their heads when they come home.  We should honor them the way they’ve honored us with their service.  (Applause.)

I believe strong communities are places where people can afford to buy what their local businesses sell.  So I ran for President promising to cut taxes for the middle class -– and regardless of what you hear during silly political season, I have kept that promise.  (Applause.)  Today, taxes are $3,600 lower for the typical family than they were when I came into office.  (Applause.)

Just a few hours ago, the Senate moved forward a bill that we had promoted to keep middle-class tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans next year.  (Applause.)  I will add that we didn’t get a lot of Republican votes — but that’s okay, they’ve got time.  We passed it through the Senate and now is the time for the House to do the same.  They should not be holding middle-class tax cuts hostage just to get more tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.  (Applause.)  At a time when so many people who have a job can barely keep up with their bills, we don’t need another trillion-dollar tax cut for folks like me.  We need tax cuts for working Americans, not for folks who don’t need it and weren’t even asking for it.  (Applause.)

Millions of Americans — including more than 2 million African American families — are better off thanks to our extension of the child care tax credit and the earned income tax credit — (applause) — because nobody who works hard in America should be poor in America.  That’s how strong communities are built.  (Applause.)  And by the way when working folks have money in their pockets, businesses do well because they’ve got customers, and all of us grow.  That’s been the history of this country.

I believe strong communities are built on strong schools.  (Applause.)  If this country is about anything, it’s about passing on even greater opportunity to the next generation.  And we know that has to start before a child even walks into the classroom.  It starts at home with parents who are willing to read to their children, and spend time with their children — (applause) — and instill a sense of curiosity and love of learning and a belief in excellence that will last a lifetime.

But it also begins with an early childhood education, which is why we’ve invested more in child care, and in programs like Early Head Start and Head Start that help prepare our young people for success.  It’s the right thing to do for America.  (Applause.)

Our education policy hasn’t just been based on more money, we’ve also called for real reform.  So we challenged every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and for learning.  And three years later, nearly every state has answered the call.  We have seen the biggest transformation in terms of school reform in a generation, and we’ve helped some of the country’s lowest-performing schools make real gains in reading and math, including here in New Orleans.  (Applause.)

We’ve made it our mission to make a higher education more affordable for every American who wants to go to school.  That’s why we fought to extend our college tuition tax credit for working families — (applause) — saving millions of families thousands of dollars.

That’s why we’ve fought to make college more affordable for an additional 200,000 African American students by increasing Pell grants.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’ve strengthened this nation’s commitment to our community colleges, and to our HBCUs. (Applause.)

That’s why, tomorrow, I’m establishing the first-ever White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans –- (applause) — so that every child has greater access to a complete and competitive education from the time they’re born all through the time they get a career.

And that’s why we’re pushing all colleges and universities to cut their costs — (applause) — because we can’t keep asking taxpayers to subsidize skyrocketing tuition.  A higher education in the 21st century cannot be a luxury.  It is a vital necessity that every American should be able to afford.  (Applause.)  I want all these young people to be getting a higher education, and I don’t want them loaded up with tens of thousands of dollars of debt just to get an education.  That’s how we make America great. (Applause.)

Of course, that means all of you all have got to hit the books.  (Laughter.)  I’m just saying.  Don’t cheer and then you didn’t do your homework.  (Laughter and applause.)  Because that’s part of the bargain, that’s part of the bargain — America says we will give you opportunity, but you’ve got to earn your success.  (Applause.)

You’re competing against young people in Beijing and Bangalore.  They’re not hanging out.  (Laughter.)  They’re not getting over.  They’re not playing video games.  They’re not watching “Real Housewives.”  (Laughter.)  I’m just saying.  It’s a two-way street.  You’ve got to earn success.  (Applause.)

That wasn’t in my prepared remarks.  (Laughter.)  But I’m just saying.  (Applause.)

I believe strong communities are places where you and your family can work and save and buy your home.  That’s why we’ve helped more than a million responsible homeowners — these are folks who were making their payments — refinance their mortgages at these historically low rates, saving thousands of dollars every year.  Because people who did everything right shouldn’t pay the price for somebody else’s irresponsibility.  (Applause.)
So now we want to expand that refinancing opportunity to every homeowner who’s making their payments on time.

And while we’re at it, let’s put construction workers back on the job — because they’ve been hit by the housing bubble bursting.  Let’s put them back on the job not only rebuilding roads and bridges and ports, but also rehabilitating homes in communities that have been hit by foreclosures, businesses that have been hit hardest by the housing crisis.  (Applause.)  That creates jobs.  It raises property values, and it strengthens the economy of the entire nation.

Strong communities are healthy communities.  Because we believe that in the richest nation on Earth, you shouldn’t go broke when you get sick.  (Applause.)  And after a century of trying, and a decision now from the highest court in the land, health care reform is here to stay.  (Applause.)  We’re moving forward.

Insurance companies will no longer be able to discriminate against those who are sick.  Prescription drug prices will be lower for our seniors.  We’re going to close that doughnut hole. Young people will be able to stay on their parent’s insurance until they’re 26 years old.  (Applause.)  Thirty million Americans without health insurance will finally know the security of affordable care.  (Applause.)

We’ll improve any aspect of this law, and any recommendations and suggestions that those who actually know the health care system and aren’t just playing politics put forward. But we’re going to implement this law and America is going to be better for it.  (Applause.)

Now, I’ve got to say that I recognize we are in political season.  But the Urban League understands that your mission transcends politics.  Good jobs, quality schools, affordable health care, affordable housing — these are all the pillars upon which communities are built.  And yet, we’ve been reminded recently that all this matters little if these young people can’t walk the streets of their neighborhood safely; if we can’t send our kids to school without worrying they might get shot; if they can’t go to the movies without fear of violence lurking in the shadows.  (Applause.)

Our hearts break for the victims of the massacre in Aurora.  (Applause.)  We pray for those who were lost and we pray for those who loved them.  We pray for those who are recovering with courage and with hope.  And we also pray for those who succumb to the less-publicized acts of violence that plague our communities in so many cities across the country every single day.  (Applause.)  We can’t forget about that.

Every day — in fact, every day and a half, the number of young people we lose to violence is about the same as the number of people we lost in that movie theater.  For every Columbine or Virginia Tech, there are dozens gunned down on the streets of Chicago and Atlanta, and here in New Orleans.  For every Tucson or Aurora, there is daily heartbreak over young Americans shot in Milwaukee or Cleveland.  Violence plagues the biggest cities, but it also plagues the smallest towns.  It claims the lives of Americans of different ages and different races, and it’s tied together by the fact that these young people had dreams and had futures that were cut tragically short.

And when there is an extraordinarily heartbreaking tragedy like the one we saw, there’s always an outcry immediately after for action.  And there’s talk of new reforms, and there’s talk of new legislation.  And too often, those efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying and eventually by the pull of our collective attention elsewhere.

But what I said in the wake of Tucson was we were going to stay on this, persistently.  So we’ve been able to take some actions on our own, recognizing that it’s not always easy to get things through Congress these days.  The background checks conducted on those looking to purchase firearms are now more thorough and more complete.  Instead of just throwing more money at the problem of violence, the federal government is now in the trenches with communities and schools and law enforcement and faith-based institutions, with outstanding mayors like Mayor Nutter and Mayor Landrieu — recognizing that we are stronger when we work together.

So in cities like New Orleans, we’re partnering with local officials to reduce crime, using best practices.  And in places like Boston and Chicago, we’ve been able to help connect more young people to summer jobs so that they spend less time on the streets.  In cities like Detroit and Salinas, we’re helping communities set up youth prevention and intervention programs that steer young people away from a life of gang violence, and towards the safety and promise of a classroom.

But even though we’ve taken these actions, they’re not enough.  Other steps to reduce violence have been met with opposition in Congress.  This has been true for some time — particularly when it touches on the issues of guns.  And I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms.  And we recognize the traditions of gun ownership that passed on from generation to generation -– that hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage.

But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals — (applause) — that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.  I believe the majority of gun owners would agree that we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons; that we should check someone’s criminal record before they can check out a gun seller; that a mentally unbalanced individual should not be able to get his hands on a gun so easily.  (Applause.)  These steps shouldn’t be controversial.  They should be common sense.

So I’m going to continue to work with members of both parties, and with religious groups and with civic organizations, to arrive at a consensus around violence reduction — not just of gun violence, but violence at every level, on every step, looking at everything we can do to reduce violence and keep our children safe -– from improving mental health services for troubled youth  — (applause) — to instituting more effective community policing strategies.  We should leave no stone unturned, and recognize that we have no greater mission as a country than keeping our young people safe.  (Applause.)

And as we do so, as we convene these conversations, let’s be clear:  Even as we debate government’s role, we have to understand that when a child opens fire on another child, there’s a hole in that child’s heart that government alone can’t fill.  (Applause.)  It’s up to us, as parents and as neighbors and as teachers and as mentors, to make sure our young people don’t have that void inside them.

It’s up to us to spend more time with them, to pay more attention to them, to show them more love so that they learn to love themselves — (applause) — so that they learn to love one another, so that they grow up knowing what it is to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes and to view the world through somebody else’s eyes.  It’s up to us to provide the path toward a life worth living; toward a future that holds greater possibility than taking offense because somebody stepped on your sneakers.

That’s the difference that we can make in our children’s lives and in the lives of our communities.  That’s the legacy we must leave for the next generation.  (Applause.)

Now, this will not be easy.  Even though it’s called the Big Easy, this proud city and those who call it home, they know something about hardship.  They’ve been battered again and again in this new century:  One of the worst natural disasters in our history, the worst environmental disaster in our history, the worst economic crisis most of us have ever known.  So sometimes being from the Big Easy means knowing hardship and heartbreak.  (Applause.)

But what this city also knows is resilience, and determination, and heroism.  (Applause.)  That’s one of the reasons it is one of America’s jewels.  It’s quintessentially American because of its resilience.

There is no shortage of citizens in this city who’s stepped up in the darkest of times.  And one person I want to end with is somebody that many of you know — the superintendent of schools in St. Bernard’s Parish, Doris Voitier.  Now, when Katrina’s waters rose, Doris and the faculty and staff of Chalmette High School saved the lives of hundreds of their neighbors, many of them old and sick, by moving them to shelter in the school’s second floor.

Two days later, they led 1,200 people to safety.  (Applause.)  The day after that, with her community in ruins, the superintendent was on her way to Baton Rouge to make sure her schools would open that fall.  “Failure is not an option” became her motto.  When some government officials gave her the runaround, she plowed ahead on her own — secured loans, finding portable classrooms and books, and doing everything it took to make sure her kids -– our kids -– could return to some semblance of normalcy.

When an official told her a gas line wouldn’t be repaired in time for school to reopen, and that her kids might have to eat MREs, she hired a local restaurant owner to cook hot lunches on a barge and sent FEMA the bill.  (Applause.)  On the first day of school, less than three months after Katrina swept ashore, she heard a young child, who’d endured nearly three months of suffering and hardship, yell out loud, “Real food!  Real food!”

Of that first night she said, “There were no riots; there were no disruptions; there were just hundreds of people just like you and the person sitting next to you, in the blink of an eye, having lost everything they had worked for over their entire lifetimes, who now looked to us for rescue.  And we accepted that responsibility because that’s what school people do.”  (Applause.)

Now, obviously, the superintendent is an exceptional educator and an exceptional citizen.  But as I’ve traveled around the country, what I’ve discovered is that’s not just what school people do.  That’s not — that’s what Americans do.  (Applause.) That’s what Americans, at their best, do.  When I traveled to Joplin, Missouri, that’s what folks in Joplin do.  When I go to Aurora, that’s what people in Colorado do.  (Applause.)  In urban communities all across America, that’s what you do.

For more than two centuries, our journey has never been easy, and our victories have never come quickly.  And we have faced our share of struggles and setbacks and climbs that have seemed too steep -– just like we do today.  But we know what we’re fighting for.  We can see the America we believe in –- a country where everybody gets a fair shot and everybody is doing their fair share, where everybody is playing by the same set of rules.  And if we don’t keep fighting as hard as we know how for that America, if we don’t keep fighting for better jobs and better schools and a better future, who will?  (Applause.)

That’s our challenge.  We don’t quit.  Folks in New Orleans didn’t quit.  Americans don’t quit.  (Applause.)  We accept responsibility.  We keep on going.  We keep marching.  We keep moving forward.  Failure is not an option.  (Applause.)  This is not a time for cynics.  It is not a time for doubters.  It is time for believers.  It is time for folks who have faith in the future.

I still believe in you.  And if you still believe in me, I ask you to stand with me, march with me, fight with me.  (Applause.)  And as I do, I promise we will finish what we started, turn this economy around, seize our future, and remind the world why the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

Thank you, Urban League.  God bless you.  (Applause.)  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
7:40 P.M. CDT

Full Text Campaign Buzz July 25, 2012: President Barack Obama Speech at Campaign Event at the House of Blues, New Orleans, Louisiana

CAMPAIGN 2012

CAMPAIGN BUZZ 2012

THE HEADLINES….

Remarks by the President at Campaign Event — House of Blues, New Orleans, LA

Source: WH, 7-25-12

House of Blues
New Orleans, Louisiana

5:49 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  How’s it going, Big Easy?  It is good to be in New Orleans.  Now, I’ve got to admit I was thinking about just blowing everything off and going and getting something to eat.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Where we going?

THE PRESIDENT:  Say where we’re going, huh?  (Laughter.)  I don’t know — you tell me, this is your town.  (Laughter.)  (People start yelling out places to go.)  All right.  Well, let me tell you, the next time I come down, drinks are on me.  We’ll all go party.  (Applause.)  But until then we’ve got a little work to do.  (Laughter.)

A couple of folks I want to acknowledge.  First of all, your outstanding Mayor, Mitch Landrieu in the house.  (Applause.)  Congressman Cedric Richmond is in the house.  (Applause.)  State Senator Karen Carter Peterson is in the house.  (Applause.)  One of my favorite actors, a great friend, and a big booster of New Orleans — Wendell Pierce is here.  (Applause.)  Give it up for Terence Blanchard and his band.  (Applause.)  And I’m not the only out-of-town visitor here today — we also have the outstanding Mayor of Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter is here.  Give him a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  And your volunteers!

THE PRESIDENT:  And your volunteers — my volunteers are all here.  (Applause.)  And you are all here.  (Applause.)  We’re happy about that.  Thank you.

Now, this is my last political campaign.  You know I’m term limited — you only get two of these.  (Laughter.)  But it has made me a little nostalgic.  It makes me think about some of my first political campaigns.

AUDIENCE:  Fired up!  Ready to go!

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, when I first started in politics, I was a law professor, I was practicing civil rights law, and then I decided to run for the state senate in my area.  And I didn’t have a lot of backup so we’d have to go to Kinko’s and print up fliers.  (Laughter.)  And Michelle and me and some friends, we’d just go knocking on doors.  And then when I ran for the United States Senate — Illinois is a big state so we had to drive around all over the place.  But I didn’t have Marine One or Air Force One or a motorcade.  We had me — (laughter) — in my car.

I’d usually have a staff person with me — and the young people, you wouldn’t understand this, but back then we had to use these things called maps.  (Laughter.)  So they’re pieces of paper and you had to unfold them and try to figure out where you were going, and then you’d have to try to figure out how to fold them back.  (Laughter.)

And we would travel all across the state and I’d go to inner-cities and farm towns and suburban areas, and you’d meet people from all walks of life, all income levels.  And what was interesting, what inspired me, what made me realize that this might be a worthy pursuit was the sense that wherever I went, no matter how different people looked on the surface, there was a common thread to their story.  And it connected with my story.

So if I saw an elderly couple, they’d remind me of my grandparents.  And I’d about my grandfather, who fought in World War II, and then came home.  My grandmother, during the war, worked on a bomber assembly line, like Rosie the Riveter.  But when my grandfather came back he was able to get a college education because of the GI Bill, and they were able to buy their first home with the help of an FHA loan.  And I’d think about the journey they had traveled and everything that that generation had done for America, but also what America had done for them.

And sometimes I’d meet a single mom and I’d think about my mom.  My dad left and I didn’t know him.  So my mother didn’t have a lot of money — she had to work, put herself through school, but with the help of scholarships and grants, she was able to get ahead and then she was able to pass on a great education to me and my sister.  And I’d think about how in America, unlike a lot of other countries, she could make something out of herself even in those circumstances.

And then I’d meet a working couple and I’d think about Michelle’s parents.  Her dad, by the time I met him, could barely walk — he had multiple sclerosis.  So he had to use two cains, and he had to wake up an hour early — earlier than everybody else because that’s how long it took him just to get dressed and get ready and get to the job.  But he didn’t miss a day of work, because he believed in his responsibilities and looking after his family.  And Michelle’s mom worked as a secretary at a bank.  And so they never had a lot of money, but they had a lot of love, and they understood the concept of hard work and responsibility, and so they were able to pass on an extraordinary life to Michelle and her brother.

And as I traveled around the state of Illinois, it was clear to me that my story wasn’t unique and the stories of people I was meeting weren’t unique — it was the American story.  It was this idea that here in this country, we don’t believe in handouts, we don’t believe in bailouts, we believe in people earning what they get.  We believe in people working hard, we believe in people looking after their own families and taking responsibility and taking initiative.  But we also believe that in this country, hard work should pay off, that responsibility should be rewarded.  (Applause.)  And we believe that in this country, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, you should be able to make it if you try.  (Applause.)

That has been the central notion that built this country.  That has been our hallmark.  That’s been the core idea that drove America — this idea that in this country, you can get a fair shot, and everybody does their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same set of rules, and so, if you work hard, you can get ahead.  And that’s what created this economic superpower, and that’s what created the greatest and largest middle class in the history of the world.  (Applause.)

Now, in 2008, when I was first running for President, we came together and a lot of you supported me in that race because we believed in those values and we believed in those ideas, and we had seen that, for almost a decade, that idea that built America’s middle class seemed as if it was slipping away.

We had gone through a decade in which hard work wasn’t always rewarded.  Middle-class folks saw their incomes actually going down.  So while their paychecks are shrinking, the cost of everything from health care to a college education kept on going up.  A few people were doing really well, but the vast majority was struggling.  Meanwhile, in Washington, we financed two wars on a credit card, turning a surplus into a deficit.  And because nobody was making sure that folks on Wall Street were doing what they were supposed to be doing, all this culminated in the worst financial crisis and the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes.
We didn’t know all that when I started to run.  But what we understood was what we were fighting for was the kind of change that would once again make real this idea that if you work hard you’ll be rewarded and you can get ahead.  We were fighting for policies that would grow the middle class and provide them with that sense of security.

And, by the way, it’s not just a matter of how much money you have in your bank account when we talk about being middle class, it’s the idea that if you work hard you can find a job that supports your family, and you can maybe get a home you call your own, and you’re not going to go bankrupt if you get sick.  You’re going to be able to retire with dignity and respect —  (applause) — and, most importantly, that your kids and your grandkids can do even better than you did, that they can achieve what you didn’t even imagine.

For the last three and a half years, everything I have done as President has been focused on that principle.  And, obviously, as we saw this economic crisis unfold, we understood that the change we believed in would take more than one year, more than one term and probably take more than one President.  But over the last three and a half years, we’ve started to steer things in the right direction.  (Applause.)

We were losing 800,000 jobs a month when I was sworn in.  Now, we’ve seen more than two years of job growth every single month.  We’re at 4.5 million new jobs.  (Applause.)  An auto industry on the brink of collapse — we made sure that we bet on American workers and American manufacturing.  And it’s come roaring back.  (Applause.)  We moved to make sure that college was more affordable for young people, and that more Americans had access to health care. (Applause.)

And so, over the last three and a half years, everything we’ve done has been focused on how do we create an economy that is built to last — is not built on speculation, that doesn’t just benefit the few, but that consistently builds the middle class so that they can achieve their dreams.

Now, for all the work that we’ve done, we know we got more work to do, because there are still millions of people out there out of work.  Too many people still have homes whose values have dropped because of this housing bubble bursting.  So we understand that we’ve got more work to do.  But sometimes, particularly during political season, when I hear cynics who say that our best days are behind us, I tell them, you don’t know the American people.  You don’t know their grit and you don’t know their determination.  (Applause.)

You haven’t met the small business owners who decide to keep everybody on payroll, even if they couldn’t pay themselves, because they believed in doing the right thing.  (Applause.)  You haven’t talked to some of these autoworkers in these plants that folks thought would never build another car again and now can’t build them fast enough.  (Applause.)  You haven’t met folks who at the age of 50 or 55, went back to community college, sitting next to a bunch of 20-year-olds, because they believed in retraining themselves, and now are finding jobs in biotechnology or clean energy.  (Applause.)

When you travel around this country, you understand that the American people are tougher than any tough times.  And although there are no quick fixes or easy solutions, there’s no doubt that we can solve every challenge that we face.  What’s holding us back right now is not the lack of solutions.  What’s holding us back is a stalemate in Washington.  (Applause.)  What’s holding us back is a few folks who say, we are going to take the uncompromising view that the only path forward is to go back to what we were doing that got us into this mess in the first place — the same top-down economics that we are now debating in this campaign.

Now, let me be specific here.  Now, this afternoon the Senate passed a bill that says if you earn $250,000 or less your taxes should not go up next year.  This is something I deeply believe in, because the middle class is still struggling, recovering from this recession.  You don’t need your taxes to go up and we could give you certainty right now.  But, of course, we’re dealing with Washington.  So Republicans in the House, they’ve said, we’re going to hold the middle-class tax cut hostage unless they get another trillion dollars’ worth of tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.

AUDIENCE:  Booo —

THE PRESIDENT:  Now, I’ve got to tell you this makes no sense.  If Congress doesn’t act, the typical middle-class family is going to see their tax bill go up about $2,200.  Small businesses will also see their taxes go up.  So I’ve called on the House Republicans to drop their demands for another trillion-dollar giveaway for millionaires and billionaires so that we can make sure that middle-class families and small businesses have the financial security and certainty that they need.

But so far they don’t see it that way.  Governor Romney doesn’t see it that way.  Because they’ve got a fundamentally different vision about how we move this country forward.  They believe in top-down economics.  Their plan is to cut more taxes for the wealthy, cut more regulations on banks and corporations, cut more investments in things like education, job training, science, research — all with the thought that somehow that’s going to help us create jobs.  That’s what Mitt Romney believes. That’s what Washington Republicans believe.

I think they’re wrong.  That’s not what I believe.  That’s not what you believe.  That’s not what most Americans believe.  We believe not in top-down economics; we believe in middle-class-out economics.  We believe in bottom-up economics.  That’s what we’re fighting for.  That’s what I have fought for, for three and a half years.  That’s why I’m running for a second terms as President of the United States of America.  (Applause.)

So the good thing is you’ve got the power to break this stalemate.  But you need to understand there are two fundamentally different visions about how we move forward.  There’s a real choice.  I believe that hard work should be rewarded, and I believe that although all of us have to take individual initiative, there are also some things that we have to do together as a country to make sure that we grow.

I don’t believe that tax cuts for folks like me who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them is going to grow the economy.  But I do think that if we invest in outstanding education for every child in New Orleans and every child across America, that will help grow the economy.  (Applause.)

So what I’ve said is let’s help local school districts hire the best teachers, especially in math and science.  Let’s help folks go to — 2 million more people go to community colleges so that they can retrain for the jobs that businesses are hiring for right now.  (Applause.)  Let’s make sure, building off the work we’ve already done, to expand Pell grants and to provide tuition tax credits for middle-class families.

Let’s make sure that college tuition goes down instead of up — because in the 21st century, a higher education is not a luxury, it’s an economic necessity that everybody should have access to.  That’s one of the reasons I’m running for a second term as President of the United States — to make sure everybody gets a great education.  (Applause.)

Here’s another difference:  I don’t believe in giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas.

AUDIENCE:  Booo —

THE PRESIDENT:  I want to give tax breaks to companies that invest right here in New Orleans, right here in Louisiana, right here in the United States of America, hiring American workers to make American products to sell around the world, stamped with three proud words:  Made in America.  (Applause.)  That’s a difference in this campaign.  (Applause.)

My opponent has got different ideas.  He says he’s qualified to turn around the economy because of all his private sector experience.  Turns out that experience is investing in companies that have been called “pioneers” of outsourcing.  I don’t believe in being a “pioneer” in outsourcing.  (Laughter.)  I want some insourcing.  I want to bring jobs back to the United States, not send them someplace else.  (Applause.)  That’s a choice in this election.

Back in 2008, I said I would end the war in Iraq — and I did.  (Applause.)   Thanks to the extraordinary service of our men and women in uniform — (applause) — not only have we given Iraqis an opportunity to determine their own destiny, but we were able to refocus our attention on al Qaeda, the folks who actually carried out the 9/11 attacks.  (Applause.)  So we’ve got them on their heels and decimated their leadership, including Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  And now in Afghanistan we’re starting to transition and bring our troops home so that Afghans can take a lead for securing their own country.

So after almost a decade of war, I think it’s time to do some nation-building here at home.  (Applause.  I want to take half the money that we are saving and put people back to work rebuilding roads and bridges and ports and new schools.  That’s good for the construction industry, it’s good for the construction workers, but it also means that those folks have some money in their pockets and they can come down to New Orleans and spend some of that money, and help this local economy.  (Applause.)  And it lays the foundation for economic growth for decades to come.

Mr. Romney has got different ideas.  And we tried those ideas, and they didn’t work.  I believe that we did the right thing in providing health care to every American.  (Applause.)  I don’t think you should go bankrupt because you got sick.  I don’t believe that children should not be able to get health insurance because of a preexisting condition.  I think we did the right thing to make sure that young people could stay on their parent’s plan until they’re 26.  I think we did the right thing to make sure that seniors have lower prescription drug costs.

The Supreme Court has spoken.  We are going to implement this law.  We’re not going backwards, we’re going forward.  That’s the choice in this election.  That’s why I’m running for a second term as President.  (Applause.)

We’re not going back to the day when you had to scramble and try to figure out how you were going to care for your loved ones if they got sick.  We’re not going to go back to the day when whether you could serve the country you loved depended on who you love.  We ended “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  That was the right thing to do.  We’re not going back.  (Applause.)

We passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act to make sure that women got equal pay for equal work — because I’ve got two daughters and think that they should be treated just like somebody else’s sons.  (Applause.)  And we’re not going to go back to the days when women did not have control of their health care choices.  (Applause.)  We are moving forward, we’re not going backwards.  (Applause.)

On almost every issue there is a choice.  And you see it in terms of how we deal with the deficit.  The deficit is a real problem — we have to reduce it.  I inherited a big deficit, and we’ve got to now bring it down.  But we can’t bring it down just on the backs of the poor.  We can’t bring it down on the backs of the middle class.  (Applause.)  We can’t bring it down in a way that prevents us from making investments in the future.

So what I’ve said is, look, we’ve already cut a trillion dollars in programs that we don’t need, and I’m willing to do a little bit more but I’m not going to do more if we’re not asking folks who have been most blessed by this country — like me — to just pay a little bit more in taxes, to go back to the rates that existed under Bill Clinton.  And by the way, we’ve tried that and that worked — (applause) — 23 million new jobs; surplus instead of deficits.  (Applause.)

And here’s the thing, New Orleans — here’s the thing.  We created a lot of millionaires then, too.  Because what happens is when people in the middle and at the bottom have a chance and are doing well, then lo and behold, folks at the top got more customers.  Everybody does better.  Everybody benefits.  We all grow.

So those are the choices that we have in this election, and you’re going to be the tiebreaker.  You will break the stalemate.
I’ve got to tell you, over the next four months you are going to hear a lot of stuff.  (Laughter.)  That’s what it is — stuff.  (Laughter.)  And sometimes, they will play around with things I say.  They’ll take out whole sentences.  (Laughter.)  They’ve got an ad right now where they just spliced it and diced it, make it seem like I don’t appreciate the incredible work of small business people.  And I say, look, everything I’ve done over the least three and a half years has been focused on how do we create greater opportunity for entrepreneurs and small business people
— cutting their taxes 18 times.

I understand the sacrifice and the sweat and the tears that they put in.  But that’s not going to be how it’s presented because that’s the nature of politics these days.  We’re going to see more money spent on negative ads than we’ve ever seen before. You’ve got folks writing $10 million checks.  And the message in all these ads is going to be the same.  There will be variations on it, but it’s all going to be the same message, which basically is:  The economy is still struggling, and it’s Obama’s fault.  It’s a very succinct message.

And the reason that that’s their message is because they know that their actual ideas won’t sell, that their approach is not one that’s going to work and the American people have rejected in the past.  So all they can do is try to argue that just by getting rid of me somehow everything is going to be solved.

And, look, when folks who are writing $10 million checks are going after you, you think about it.  (Laughter.)  You think about it.  But here’s the thing.  The reason I stand before you feeling good and feeling confident about America’s future, not just about this election, is because I’ve been the underdog before, I’ve been counted out before, I’ve been outspent before  — but what I learned in those very first campaigns, and has been confirmed for me ever since, is that when the American people really started focusing and paying attention, when they started cutting through the nonsense, when they start listening to what folks actually have to say, and when the American people start reflecting on their own lives — they think about their parents and their grandparents and their great-grandparents, and the story of how some of them maybe came to this country as immigrants, some came in chains, but all of those forebears of ours understood there was something about this country where we could make it.

It might be hard sometimes.  There might be times where we have setbacks.  But if we applied ourselves, we could pass on a better America to the next generation.  (Applause.)  That idea — that idea that led me into politics, that idea that is true for all of our families — when we focus on that idea, when we remember that we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, when that idea comes to the fore, the American people can’t be stopped.  (Applause.)  It doesn’t matter how many negative ads are out there.  It doesn’t matter how much money is spent.  Change happens when the American people are focusing on those things that are best in us.

And so, over these next four months, I will be carrying your stories with me, and it will give me confidence and it will give me inspiration, just like it did in 2008.  (Applause.)

And I have to tell you, New Orleans, back in 2008, I tried to not make promises that I couldn’t keep.  So I promised to end the war in Iraq — I kept that promise.  I said I’d cut taxes for middle-class families, average families — taxes are $3,600 lower than when I came into office — kept that promise.

One of the other promises I kept was I said, you know I’m not a perfect man — Michelle will tell you that — (laughter) — and I won’t be a perfect President, but what I can promise is that I’ll always tell you what I think and I’ll always tell you where I stand, and most importantly, I will wake up every morning and fight as hard as I know how for you.  (Applause.)

Because I see myself in you.  In your grandparents, I see my grandparents.  In your children, I see Malia and Sasha.  I see my own story in your story.  And so I’ve kept that promise, New Orleans.  I’ve been fighting for you.  I believe in you.

And if you still believe in me — (applause) — and you’re willing to stand with me, and fight with me, and organize with me, and make phone calls with me, and knock on doors with me, if you see what I see — a bold, generous, optimistic America where all people have a fair shot at success and everybody is doing their fair share — I promise you, we will finish what we started and we will remind the world just why it is that the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
6:20 P.M. CDT

Full Text August 29, 2011: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Hurricane Katrina’s 6th Anniversary

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Statement from President Obama on the Six Year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Source: WH, 8-29-11

Six years ago today, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, upending families and ravaging communities – and no one will forget the tragic events of those days.  But what’s required of us is more than remembrance – what’s required of us is our continued efforts to make sure that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast fully recover, and to make sure that our response to such disasters is the best it can possibly be.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen what Americans are capable of when tested.  We’ve seen the grit and determination of people on the Gulf Coast coming together to rebuild their communities, brick by brick, block by block.  At the same time, we’ve made sure the federal government is doing its part to help.  We’ve cut through red tape to free up funding for recovery efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi.  We’ve taken steps to help school systems get children the tools and resources they need for a proper education.  We’ve broken through gridlock on behalf of tens of thousands of displaced families, making sure they have long-term housing solutions. And we’ll keep at it until these communities have come back stronger than before.

When it comes to disaster response, we’ve worked very seriously to enhance our preparedness efforts so that Americans are ready before disaster strikes, and to strengthen our recovery capabilities so that we’re more resilient after disaster strikes.  Over the last week, we have experienced the power of another storm, Hurricane Irene.  Before the storm made landfall, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA worked closely with our state and local partners to preposition supplies and teams of first responders, and support their response efforts. Those response efforts are ongoing and we will continue that partnership, responding as quickly and effectively as possible, for as long as necessary, until the affected communities are back on their feet.

Today is a reminder of not just the immediate devastation that can be caused by these storms, but the long term needs of communities impacted by disasters – whether in Mississippi or Alabama, Tennessee or Missouri, North Dakota, or the east coast states impacted by Hurricane Irene. This Administration will stand by those communities until the work is done.

JBuzz: Hanukkah Special, Party at the Obama White House

JBuzz

http://jbuzz.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/jbuzzheader.jpg?w=500

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of JBuzz. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Judaic Studies at Concordia University.

Menorah Lighting

Ben Retik lights the Menorah as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama take part in the Hanukkah Candle Lighting ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Dec. 2, 2010 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

HANUKKAH 2010

IN FOCUS

  • The first night of Chanukah at the National Menorah Washington, DCLubavitch.com
  • The Festival of Lights: Hanukkah Stories From Across the Nation – PBS Newshour, 12-3-10

THE HEADLINES….

  • White House hosts Hanukkah party: President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hosted a party Thursday marking the second day of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Obama offered condolences to those who have died in a forest fire in northern Israel before recounting the story of the Maccabees fighting in the Temple in Jersualem watching a day’s worth of oil burn for eight.
    “That miracle gave hope to all those who had been struggling in despair,” Obama said. “As the Talmud teaches us, so long as a person has life, he should not abandon faith.”
    Among those attending was Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew, who replied, “we’re still talking,” when asked about the status of tax-cut legislation. When asked what night of Hanukkah a deal would be reached, Lew replied: “Aren’t we lucky to have a whole week?”
    The party featured a menorah from Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans, which was found caked in dirt and mold after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Obama said. Its candles were lit by Susan Retik, whose husband died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and her family…. – Politico, 12-3-10
  • President Obama’s Hanukkah Celebration: The President and First Lady hosted a little gathering Thursday night in the East Room to celebrate Hanukkah. Included on the list of 500 guests, one-third of the Supreme Court justices- Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan. Several Jewish members of Congress and other elected officials and members of the military were there too. The menorah for the event was loaned to the White House by New Orleans’s Congregation Beth Israel. It was one of very few items to survive Hurricane Katrina. It was found by cleanup crews in horrible condition but was restored and re-lit for the first time three years ago…. – CNN, 12-3-10
  • Menorah retrieved from Hurricane Katrina muck in Lakeview is part of White House Hanukkah celebration: Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of Jewish survival, and on Thursday, President Barack Obama and some 500 notables, mostly Jewish, celebrated the second of the holiday’s eight nights by lighting a menorah fished from the muck of Congregation Beth Israel’s flooded synagogue in Lakeview after Hurricane Katrina.
    Describing the Hanukkah candles as tiny reminders of “the importance of faith and perseverance,” the president told the festive assemblage in the East Room that “the menorah we’re using tonight, and the family who is going to help us light it, both stand as powerful symbols of that faith.” “This beautiful menorah has been generously loaned to us by Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans,” Obama said. “Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water. Later, as the cleanup crew dug through the rubble, they discovered this menorah, caked in dirt and mold. And today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future.”… – The candles were lit by Susan Retik and her family…. – Times-Picayune, 12-2-10
  • White House Hanukkah ceremony features menorah salvaged from Lakeview: President Barack Obama and dozens of guests tonight will celebrate the second night of Hanukkah by lighting a menorah fished from the muck of Congregation Beth Israel’s flooded synagogue in Lakeview. But for a few bits of ornamental silver that once decorated its ruined Torahs, the blackened menorah was the only sacred object in ritual use the congregation was able to save, said Rabbi Uri Topolosky, who will attend the ceremony with his wife, Dahlia.
    At Beth Israel, the restored menorah has become precious — the sign of their own ordeal and recovery, Topolosky said. The congregation also saved a display menorah, now at the Presbytere, Topolosky said. But the 53-year-old restored menorah at the White House — technically, it is a nine-branched “hanukiah” — is the one the congregation uses to commemorate ancient Jews’ recovery and reconsecration of their temple in Jerusalem…. – NOLA, 12-2-10
  • Gov. Schwarzenegger Joins Chanukah Celebration at Capitol Menorah Lighting Ceremony: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and local leaders of the Jewish community today joined Chabad of Sacramento to celebrate Chanukah at the 17th Annual Capitol Menorah Lighting Ceremony.
    “The message of Chanukah is ‘light’ and is about optimism and hope, even in the face of darkness and crisis. That is especially meaningful to me because I am a big believer in the spirit of optimism and hope,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “We all know there is darkness in the world, especially in these challenging times, but one tiny candle can light a room, and one act of kindness can change a life. It is so important that we reach out and help each other through these tough times.”
    This year, guests at the Capitol Menorah Lighting Ceremony participated in a “reverse toy drive.” The Governor joined West Coast Chabad Director Rabbi Shlomo Cunin in passing the gifts out for the toy drive during today’s ceremony. Chabad has asked guests of the ceremony to present these gifts to children in need…. – Lubavitch, 12-3-10

QUOTES

  • President Obama Hosts A Hanukkah Celebration at the White House: Remarks by the President at a Hanukkah Reception:
    Now, tonight, we gather to celebrate a story as simple as it is timeless. It’s a story of ancient Israel, suffering under the yoke of empire, where Jews were forbidden to practice their religion openly, and the Holy Temple — including the holy of holies — had been desecrated.
    It was then that a small band of believers, led by Judah Maccabee, rose up to take back their city and free their people. And when the Maccabees entered the temple, the oil that should have lasted for a single night ended up burning for eight.
    That miracle gave hope to all those who had been struggling in despair. And in the 2,000 years since, in every corner of the world, the tiny candles of Hanukkah have reminded us of the importance of faith and perseverance. They have illuminated a path for us when the way forward was shrouded in darkness.
    And as we prepare to light another candle on the menorah, let us remember the sacrifices that others have made so that we may all be free. Let us pray for the members of our military who guard that freedom every day, and who may be spending this holiday far away from home.
    Let us also think of those for whom these candles represent not just a triumph of the past, but also hope for the future — the men, women and children of all faiths who still suffer under tyranny and oppression.
    That’s why families everywhere are taught to place the menorah in public view, so the entire world can see its light. Because, as the Talmud teaches us, “So long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith.”
    This beautiful menorah has been generously loaned to us by Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans. Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water. Later, as the cleanup crew dug through the rubble, they discovered this menorah, caked in dirt and mold. And today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future.
    And that feeling is shared by Susan Retik. It’s a feeling they know all too well. After her husband, David, was killed on September 11th, Susan could have easily lost herself in feelings of hopelessness and grief. But instead, she turned her personal loss into a humanitarian mission — co-founding “Beyond the 11th,” a group that reaches out to Afghan widows facing their own struggles.
    So on this second night of Hanukkah, let us give thanks to the blessings that all of us enjoy. Let us be mindful of those who need our prayers. And let us draw strength from the words of a great philosopher, who said that a miracle is “a confirmation of what is possible.” –
    WH, 12-2-10WH, 12-2-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Gil Troy: This Hanukka let’s celebrate Liberalism and Zionism: Let’s face it. Although Hanukka’s basic plot has not changed for 2,000 years, the Hanukka we know and love is a twentieth-century invention. Hanukka’s themes of heroism and power, both physical and spiritual, were Zionist ideas; traditionally, the Rabbis thanked God for the eight-day oil miracle. When the Zionist revolution reevaluated Judaism a century ago, the Maccabees’ story proved that Jewish history was not just about anti-Semites oppressing us and rabbis teaching us but our own warriors defending us. The Maccabees were hometown heroes, rooted in Israel’s ancient soil, willing to fight, if necessary, for their homeland, their beliefs, their freedom. At the same time, our festival of lights became our popular response to the seasonal malady of Christmas envy. Boasting eight nights, meaning eight gift-giving opportunities, Hanukka helped Jews trump their Christian neighbors.
    Considering that pedigree, this Hanukka we should celebrate the happy marriage of liberalism and Zionism. We can fight the trendy claim that liberalism and Zionism are increasingly incompatible without doing violence to the Maccabean story. Emphasizing a liberal-Zionist rift, in a world fighting the dark clouds of Islamic totalitarianism, ignores the shared enlightenment past of both Zionism and liberalism, as well as the light liberal Zionism can generate today….
    There is yet another added bonus that can result from rededicating our commitment to both liberalism and Zionism this Hanukka. Both modern liberalism and modern Zionism struggle with the tension between materialism and altruism, the selfishness of the “I” and the self-sacrifice of the “us,” the desire to take and the need to give. As Hanukka, like its seasonal partner Christmas, has degenerated into what the historian Daniel Boorstin called “festivals of consumption,” the question “what did you get” has eclipsed the more important holiday questions “what does this mean?” and “did you grow?”
    Traditionally, during Hanukka Jewish communities rededicated themselves to Jewish education. In that spirit, parents gave children “gelt” or coins to sweeten the experience of Torah study. In the early 1900s, many Jews used Hanukka as an opportunity to donate the modern equivalent of the “shekel,” the Biblical coin representing the power of responsibility, the importance of being counted, to the Zionist cause. This Hanukka let’s remember the best of both the liberal and Zionist traditions. This Hanukka, let’s look for opportunities to give not just get. This Hanukka, by doing that, we can redeem not just these two noble movements, but ourselves. – Jerusalem Post, 12-3-10
  • HOWARD JACOBSON: Hanukkah, Rekindled: TONIGHT, Hanukkah begins. The word — Hanukkah — is lovely, but what’s the festival itself for? What does it do? But Hanukkah?
    Everyone knows the bare bones of the story. At Hanukkah we celebrate the Maccabees, also known as the Hasmoneans, who defeated the might of the Syrian-Greek army in 165 B.C., recapturing the desecrated Temple and reconsecrating it with oil that ought to have run out in a day but lasted eight. Indeed, Hanukkah means “consecration,” and when we light those candles we are remembering the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
    But how many Jews truly feel this narrative as their own? I’m not asking for contemporary relevance. History is history: whatever happens to a people is important to them. But Hanukkah — at least the way it’s told — struggles to find a path to Jewish hearts.
    Those Hasmoneans, for example …. The Maccabees are fair enough: they sound Jewish. Scottish Jewish but still Jewish. There was a sports and social club called the Maccabi round the corner from where I was brought up in North Manchester, and as a boy I imagined the Maccabees as stocky, short-legged, hairy men like the all-conquering Maccabi table tennis team. But “Hasmoneans” rang and rings no bells.
    Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Hanukkah doesn’t draw on events described in the Hebrew Bible. The Book of Maccabees, from which the story comes, is in the Apocrypha, the non-canonical, more esoteric books of sacred scripture. There’s a reason it never made it out of there: I won’t say it’s spurious, but it doesn’t quite feel authentic…. – NYT, 12-1-10
  • Latke vs. Hamantaschen: An Age-Old Debate: It’s a debate that’s spanned the centuries – at least about half of one – and brought professors, writers and philosophers to the table to argue their cases on one of the most essential questions in modern scholarly discourse. Which one is better: the latke or the hamantaschen?
    The famed latke-hamantash debate first launched at the University of Chicago in 1946, and since then it’s been argued at such esteemed academic institutions as Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins. First conceived as a way to shore up a sense of Jewish community, nowadays the debate is as a way for scholars to blow off some steam, poke fun at academia and support their favorite potato- or flour-based foodstuff…. – Patch.com, 12-3-10
  • Hanukkah in public spaces: Although many people have come to identify public menorahs with Hanukkah itself, a recently published book argues that the holiday’s celebration today has been largely defined by just one slice of the Jewish population.
    “Whatever people associate with Hanukkah in the public space is Chabad,” says Maya Balakirsky Katz, associate professor of art history at Touro College in New York and author of The Visual Culture of Chabad. “In the last few decades, Chabad has provided the public image of Hanukkah in America, possibly in the world.” According to Katz, many Jews balk at Chabad’s conspicuous display of religion in the diaspora and consider it “embarrassing, if not also dangerous.” “They pushed religion into the public space and presented it as the Jewish image,” Katz says. “Before Jews even had a chance to react, it became the Jewish holiday image. I think the only people really invested in challenging Chabad’s right to light are other Jews.”
    “Chabad emissaries take comparisons between their giant menorahs and Christmas trees in stride,” Katz says. “Comparisons between their menorahs and the Israeli national symbol make them more nervous.” Katz’s book devotes an entire chapter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s decision to promote menorahs with diagonal branches in sharp contrast to the arced, half-moon branches of the menorah on the Israeli national emblem. The Rebbe claimed his inspiration was an argument by the medieval theologian and physician Maimonides that the original Temple menorah had diagonal branches.
    “For Houston Jews and Jews everywhere, I think the Rebbe initiated a rebirth to diasporist culture; you can proudly be a diaspora Jew and have a whole other material culture that’s not only connected to Israel,” Katz says. “That is definitely going to be part of his legacy. He gave birth to a very proud religious diaspora material culture.”
    Whereas Katz’s book addresses Chabad’s appropriation of Hanukkah as a means to forge an American-Jewish religious material culture, Zaklikofsky focuses on the mitzvah, commandment, of lighting the menorah as a testimony to what he considers a historically documented miracle…. – Houston Chronicle, 12-2-10
  • Southern Jews Put Their Spin On Soul Food: The eight-day Jewish holiday of Hannukah began earlier this week and with it comes culinary traditions of the season. A new book describes how Jews in the American south have blended traditional Jewish fare enjoyed around the holidays with southern cuisine. Host Michel Martin speaks with Marci Cohen Ferris, author of “Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South”…. – NPR, 12-3-10 Download MP3
  • Dianne Ashton: American Hanukkah Traditions Focus on Children: Newswise — Hanukkah isn’t a hugely important holiday on the Jewish calendar, but modern day celebrations of the Festival of Lights do work to get today’s children–and adults–excited about Judaism, according to Dianne Ashton, a professor of religion studies at Rowan University. Author of a book on Hanukkah in America to be released next year by New York University Press, Ashton says two Cincinnati rabbis led a movement to “Americanize” Judaism in the 1860s. That movement included promoting the idea of a fun holiday festival for Jewish children.
    “One of the rabbis said Jewish children shall have a grand and glorious Hanukkah, a festival as nice as any Christmas, with songs, dramatics, candle lighting, ice cream and candy,” says Ashton, whose book examines Hanukkah from 1860-2000. “This really shifted Hanukkah from primarily an observance of Jewish adults to a festival seen as particularly important for Jewish children, a way to keep them interested in Judaism.”… – Newswise, 11-30-10
  • Rethinking the “Jewish Christmas”: Hanuka is back! Perhaps some wonder when it ever was gone. According to Jenna Weissman Joselit, the Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies and professor of history at George Washington University, “Well into the 1880s, Chanukah fared poorly in America, a victim of neglect.” She quotes the despairing voices of 19th century American rabbis, in an article for Reform Judaism magazine (Winter 2008): “‘The customary candles disappear more and more from Jewish homes,’ lamented Rabbi Gustav Gottheil in 1884. ‘Kindle the Chanukah lights anew, modern Israelite!’ declared Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler just a few years later. ‘Make the festival more than ever before radiant with the brightness and beauty of love and charity.’” Instead of kindling Hanuka candles, Americans “were adorning their homes with greenery and parlor illuminations and eagerly exchanging gifts in the spirit of Christmas. The purchase of Christmas gifts, commented the Jewish Daily Forward in 1904, ‘is one of the first things that proves one is no longer a greenhorn,’” the Jewish studies professor writes….
    The historian continues her survey of the festival’s rise, noting that in the 1950s, “American Jews no longer had to dread the ‘cruel month’ of December. Chanukah’s accoutrements had grown to include paper decorations, greeting cards, napkins, wrapping paper, ribbons, and phonograph records. And in the years following World War II, the outside world increasingly freighted Chanukah with the same cultural and social significance as Christmas, yoking the two together in demonstration of America’s ‘cultural oneness.’ Public school educators in particular convened a ‘holiday assembly’ on a ‘compromise date’ in December in which a Christmas tree and a ‘Menorah candle’ as well as the singing of Chanukah hymns and Christmas carols figured prominently.”… – American Jewish World, 11-26-10

On This Day in History… June 30-September 11, 1862: Eugenia Phillips is sentenced to Ship Island by Gen. Butler

June 30-September 11, 1862: Confederate Eugenia Phillips is sentenced to Ship Island by “the Beast” General Butler

By Bonnie Goodman, HNN, 8-19-08

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University. She blogs at History Musings

On this day in history…June 30, 1862 to September 11, 1862, Eugenia Levy Phillips, an ardent Confederate was arrested and sentenced to time on Ship Island, Mississippi because she laughed during a Union soldier’s funeral procession in New Orleans.

Eugenia Levy Phillips in her later yearsEugenia Levy Phillips in her later years

During the Civil War, women in the South contributed on many levels to the cause through volunteer work, as war supply collectors, seamstresses and nurses, but the far more committed chose to rebel against the Union officials. Many Southern women took advantage of the new politicizing position the war granted women by demonstrating their loyalty to the South through fiercer methods, often through illegal means including, smuggling, espionage, and belligerency. Phoebe Pember summed up Southern women’s devotion best when she wrote, “women of the South had been openly and violently rebellious from the moment they thought their states’ rights touched. They incited the men to struggle in support of their views, and whether right or wrong, sustained them nobly to the end. They were the first to rebel – and the last to succumb.” (Rosen, 44)

The South’s small Jewish population adamantly sided with their Southern neighbors and so did their women. The majority of these Jewish women were not recent immigrants, but American born and shared the lifestyle and values of their Christian counterparts. As Hasia Diner and Beryl Lieff Benderly write, “Rosana [Osterman], the Levy sisters, and the Natchez M[a]yer daughters were not, of course, recent immigrants but rather the American-born descendants of earlier migrant generations. But they, like Jews throughout the country, both newly arrived and long established, saw themselves as wholehearted Americans and fashioned their lives and identities in response to an American reality quite unlike anything Jews had ever experienced elsewhere.” (Diner and Benderly, 106) These women were Jewish southern belles and lived their lives accordingly.

These Southern Jewish women were integrated in Southern society, and were attached to a lifestyle they had become accustomed to, and as the war demonstrated Southerners and the Confederacy were more tolerant of Jews than the Union army that ravaged the South, Southern Jews recognized this and devotedly aligned themselves with their beloved South at all costs. As the doyen of American Jewish history Jacob Rader Marcus writes, “The Southern Jewesses were fanatically, almost hysterically, passionate in their sympathies for their new regime. Were they trying to prove that they were more ardent than their neighbors? Why?” (Marcus, 31)

The Levys were a prominent Southern Jewish family. When the Civil War broke-out they became loyal supporters of the Confederate cause. Two of the sisters, Eugenia Levy Phillips and her younger sister Phoebe Yates Levy Pember, would be remembered in history as ardent Confederates, expressing their devotion at opposite extremes. Phoebe Pember nursed the wounded Confederates. She was one of the South’s most remembered female hospital matrons and a nurse in the largest military hospital in the Confederacy during the Civil War. She was the chief matron at Hospital Number Two at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, from 1862 to 1865. Pember’s older sister Eugenia, however, was such an ardent Confederate that her devotion to the cause showed no boundaries, and she is remembered for supposedly serving as a Confederate spy and for her hostility to one of the Union’s fiercest generals, Benjamin Butler, who was known for his hatred of the Confederacy as much as his anti-Semitic attitudes.

Eugenia Levy Phillips, born in Charleston in 1819, was the daughter of Jacob Clavius Levy, a merchant, and Fanny Yates Levy, an actress. She married U.S. Congressman Philip Phillips of Mobile, Alabama when she was 16, and went on to have nine children. Phillips was a leading figure in Alabama politics from the 1830s to the 1850s when he was elected to the United States Congress in 1852. After one term in Congress, he established a law practice in Washington, D.C. Eugenia and her husband differed greatly in their political beliefs; Phillips was a Unionist, while Eugenia was probably one of the fiercest secessionists in the District of Columbia. Eugenia also socialized with other secessionists and women suspected of spying on the Union for the Confederacy, particularly Rose O’Neal Greenhow, well-known Confederate spy. Eugenia Phillips writing in her journal claimed, “American women knew nothing of war, believed less in the cruelties and fearful vindictiveness of the Federal governm[en]t. Thus the Southern women gave free expression to the feelings which habit had made but second nature, and spoke of their hatred and determination to sustain their rights by encouraging in their husbands, sons, and fathers every resistance to tyranny exhibited by the Republicans.” (Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862)

Eugenia’s associations and excessive antagonism toward the Union made her a target for government surveillance. On August 24, 1861, Federal officers came into Eugenia and Phillip Phillips’ home arresting both of them. Phillip remained under house arrest for a week, but Eugenia and two of their daughters, Fanny and Caroline as well as Eugenia’s sister, Martha Levy, where taken to Rose Greenhow’s house to be imprisoned. The Union had arrested Greenhow the previous day for relaying plans for the first Manassas Campaign to Confederate General McDowell. There all five women remained imprisoned in two rooms in Greenhow’s attic with hardly any amenities. Eugenia Phillips described it in her journal, “The stove (broken) served us for table and washstand, while a punch bowl grew into a washbasin. Two filthy straw mattresses kept us warm, and Yankee soldiers were placed at our bedroom door to prevent our escape.” (Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862)

Despite the fact that Union officers had no evidence against her and her family, they remained imprisoned, though Phillip Phillips was allowed to visit and bring food baskets, albeit under strict Union supervision. Eugenia believed her loyalty to her country should not be considered a crime to imprison her for, writing in her memoir, “Again I ask what is my crime? If an ardent attachment to the land of my birth and expression of deepest sympathy with relatives and friends in the South constitute treason than I am indeed a traitor. If hostility towards black Republicanism, its sentiment and policy-it is a crime-and I am self-condemned…!” (Rosen, 288) Southern women were outraged at the North’s treatment of women with no reason, especially the imprisonment of Eugenia’s two daughters. Phillips had to use his influence with Edward Stanton, Senator Reverdy Johnson from Maryland, and Supreme Court Justice James M. Wayne, the former mayor of Savannah, to secure his family’s release. However, the Union exiled the Phillips family from the nation’s capital, forcing them to relocate to the Southern states. The whole family was also required to take an oath as a condition of their parole to “not to take illegal actions against the Union.”

It would not very long for Eugenia to again to breech the agreement. After leaving Washington the couple first traveled to Norfolk, Virginia and then on to Richmond through Savannah, eventually settling in New Orleans in the closing weeks of 1861. Although conditions were unfavorable for Phillips’s law practice, the family settled there because it appeared to be safe from Union army invasion. By April however, the Union army was closing in on the Mississippi River. News Orleans surrendered on April 29, 1862.

By May 1, 1862, Major General Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts took over command of the city. Butler tried to control the city with an iron fist. The historian Bertram Wallace Korn describes Butler as a “conniving careerist and political opportunist of major proportions, who was given the title of ‘Beast’ by the Confederacy for his severity during the early military occupation of New Orleans.” (Korn, 164) While historian Robert Rosen writes ” ‘Beast’ Butler was the worst, the Union Army had to offer. He was nicknamed spoons for thiefery of spoons and silverware imputed to him and his soldiers.” (Rosen, 290)

In addition to this reputation as a beast, Butler was also a known anti-Semite, who throughout the war openly expressed his hatred for Jews, many of whom had settled in the South. Korn transcribes Butler’s sentiments toward Jews, “They were a tightly-knit and highly-organized nation who set themselves apart and defended themselves against others even when one of their group was wrong. They were all ‘traders, merchants, and bankers.’ He said that the only Jews he ever knew had “been principally engaged in the occupations [i.e. smuggling] which caused the capture which has occasioned this correspondence.” They were supporting the Confederacy with whole heart – ‘two of them certainly are in the Confederate Cabinet.'” (Korn, 164)

When General Butler occupied New Orleans in May 1862, the Southern population treated the Yankees with such contempt that they refused to comply with Federal orders. Southerners formed mobs to attack Union soldiers; they refused to serve Yankees in their businesses; priests refused to pray for the president of the United States, and one man was even sentenced to be hung for burning the Union flag. Despite the harsh punishments the Yankee soldiers issued to New Orleans natives, the women believed these rules did not apply to them and that they were exempt from all harsh treatments because of their gender. Many of New Orleans’ women expressed extreme belligerency toward Union officials.

The majority of the women who acted in this manner were upper class. As historian Drew Gilpin Faust writes, Butler “recognized that the perpetrators were generally young, often ‘pretty and interesting,’ and frequently socially prominent, the kind of individuals who would attract both attention and sympathy if harsh measures turned them into martyrs.” (Faust, 209) At the same time, however, Butler knew he had to control their actions, for as he recalled in his memoir, “a city could hardly be said to be under good government where such things were permitted.” (Butler, 417) On May 15 in retaliation to the women’s disrespectful behavior Butler issued his infamous General Order No. 28, known as the “Women order”:

General Order No. 28. As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans . . . it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation. (Butler, 421, 418; Faust, 210).

The order put Eugenia Phillips in danger of yet again being imprisoned because of her fierce loyalty to the Confederacy, and her utter disregard and respect for the Union. Phillips was vulnerable to Butler’s wrath because she was both Jewish and a member of the city’s Confederate aristocracy. In an attempt to avoid Butler’s anger Eugenia and the Phillips family remained for the most part at home. However, Eugenia still managed to attract Butler’s fury. The Phillips’s house was situated next to city hall. The day of Union Officer Lieutenant DeKay’s funeral procession passed by the street, Butler caught Eugenia blurting out in laughter and cheering on the terrace of her home. As Benjamin Butler biographer Hans L. Trefousse writes, “High spirited and intensely loyal to the Confederacy, she had been in trouble before when she was apprehended for espionage in Washington. This time, not espionage but merriment was to prove her undoing.” (Trefousse, 118)

Eugenia denied she had laughed at the funeral procession. There have been two accounts explaining why she was laughing. First Eugenia’s daughter Caroline claims it was because Eugenia heard of a Confederate victory and was in a celebratory mood, while other accounts including Eugenia’s own excuse, claim she was laughing at the antics of her younger children at a party. At first when Butler called her to the Customs House, as Rosen writes, “Eugenia, active in raising money for the widow of a man executed by Butler for having hauled down the flag from the federal mint, believed she was being prosecuted for her pro-Southern beliefs.” (Rosen, 291) At the Customs House Butler screamed at Eugenia, “You are seen laughing and mocking at the remains of a Federal officer. I do not call you a common woman of the town, but an uncommonly vulgar one, and I sentence you to Ship Island for the War.” Eugenia’s reply further angered Butler as she wrote, “Again my insolence aroused this son of liberty, particularly as in reply to his accusation I had said: ‘I was in good spirits the day of the funeral.'” (Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862)

Eugenia’s response and her refusal to plead and beg for freedom led to her harsh punishment rather than her original crime. As she explained in her journal, “I noted that he took a mighty long time to write my sentence, and I suspected that he hoped by delay I would throw myself on his mercy, or beg his pardon, or promise never to do so again. Nothing of this kind ever crossed my brain, and, full of holy indignation and determination to meet with silent contempt this outrageous insult, I quietly folded my arms and looked on him while he wrote. Not a word of appeal or explanation broke the ominous silence. My accuser had made the charge and sentenced me without judge or jury.” (Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862)

Butler wrote in Special Order No. 150 delineating Eugenia Phillips’ sentence: “…having been once imprisoned for her traitorous proclivities and acts at Washington, and released by the clemency of the Government, and having been found training her children to spit on officers of the United States, for which act of one of those children both her husband and herself apologized and were again forgiven, [she] is now found on the balcony of her house during the passage of the funeral procession of Lieut. DeKay, laughing and mocking at his remains, and upon being inquired of by the Commanding General if this fact were so, contemptuously replies, “I was in good spirits that day.” (Korn, 164; Special Order No. 150)

Butler ordered Eugenia to remain on Ship Island, a known yellow fever quarantine station situated off the coast of Mississippi. The island was infested with mosquitoes. In the summer the heat could be fatal while hygiene and proper food was hard to come by. Butler allowed Eugenia to have one servant to accompany and attend to her during her imprisonment, and she took her loyal servant Phebe with her. She was also not allowed to communicate with anyone but Butler and her maid; any letters she wrote her family were reviewed by Union guards, and only after she was freed did her family truly learn about her living conditions on the island.

On June 30, 1862 Eugenia commenced her imprisonment, first living in a former railroad boxcar and then in an abandoned post office building. Butler allowed Mr. Phillips to send Eugenia some food, mostly beans and spoiled beef. The harsh conditions took a heavy toll on Eugenia Phillips; the deprivation of food nearly destroyed her health, and Eugenia suffered from brain fever, which was considered nervous exhaustion. Her continued pride and loyalty to the Confederacy was the main reason Butler did not release Eugenia earlier. As she wrote in her journal, “The ‘great’ Gen. Butler sent once a week to inquire after my health. He, no doubt, hoped I would at last cringe and beg. Thank God, who gave me strength and patience to keep me from this black stain.” (Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862)

September 11, 1862, after nearly three months on Ship Island, Butler finally released Eugenia. When she arrived home and her husband opened the door, she believed he was seeing a ghost as believed as he was not certain she was still alive by that point. Publicly while she was imprisoned her whereabouts were vague. (Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862)

Throughout her time on the island, Eugenia was able to send out a few letters to her family, which described the “gruesome” and inhumane conditions she was forced to live in; these letters according to George Rable “made her imprisonment a cause célèbre.” Eugenia’s imprisonment caused an uproar from Southerners. The press throughout the country carried the story. Most people believed the sentence was too harsh for the crime. Korn explains, “The war which Butler waged upon this Jewess and other Southern women made him the Confederacy’s ‘Public Enemy Number One,’ with a price upon his head.” (Korn, 164) The citizens of New Orleans visited the Phillips family home as a sign of support.

The Jewish community and other Southern women abhorred the treatment that Eugenia was receiving at the hands of Butler. Mary Chesnut, a Christian friend of Eugenia Phillips, wrote in A Diary from Dixie, “Mrs. Phillips, another beautiful and clever Jewess, has been put in prison again by ‘Beast’ Butler for laughing as a Yankee funeral procession went by.” (Chesnut, 266) There was even talk of Southerners planning to rescue Eugenia. According to Trefousse, “It was a sentence as harsh as it was sensational. Southerners talked of rescuing the lady, but they lacked the necessary ships and found it impossible to carry out their chivalrous plan. Butler pardoned her in September, two and a half months after her arrest, but this action did not dispel the popular belief that he was a cruel tyrant.” (Trefousse, 118)

Butler regretted that Eugenia’s imprisonment had the opposite effect than he intended. He wanted to make Eugenia’s treasonous behavior toward the Union an example of what happened to women who display such behavior. Instead, as Rable writes, Butler turned “an irksome rebel into a martyr,” which was the main reason he chose to release her from Ship Island early. Eugenia Phillips, according to Rable, “had shown considerable public relations acumen, and her prison journal reveals an ironic sense of humor, especially in her wry proposal to use a steam device to pump moisture into the rock-hard bread. Though not exactly besting Butler, she had played the wily Massachusetts politician to a draw.” (Clinton, 142) Despite the cruel punishment that awaited her, Eugenia remained loyal to the Confederacy. As William Garett noted, “her proud Southern spirit never quailed and she remained firm to the last in the opinions she had expressed.” (Rosen, 293)

Eugenia Levy Phillips’s devotion to the Confederacy appeared “unquestionable,” as Lauren Winner describes. Although Eugenia was a practicing Jew, she saw herself especially during the war as primarily a Southerner who would support her “country” at all costs, which she did. As Winner explains, Phillips “was so unswerving in her devotion to the Confederate cause that the Union suspected her of being a spy.” (Clinton, 195) Eugenia Phillips and her sister Phoebe Pember have been the Southern Jewish women most remembered by historians, and their devotion has been elevated beyond their religion, which was the hope of most of the Southern Jewish women that volunteered in support of the cause.

Sources and Further Reading

Benjamin F. Butler, Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major-General Benjamin F. Butler, (Thayer, 1892).

Mary Boykin Miller Chestnut, Ben Williams Ames, ed., A Diary from Dixie, (Harvard University Press, 1980).

Catherine Clinton, Nina Silber, eds., Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War, (Oxford University Press, 1992).

Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, (University of North Carolina Press, 1996).

Bertram Wallace Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, (Jewish Publication Society, 1951).

Jacob R. Marcus, The American Jewish Woman: A Documentary History, (Ktav Pub. House; American Jewish Archives, 1981).

Eugenia Phillips, Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862.

Samuel Proctor, et al., eds., Jews of the South: Selected Essays from the Southern Jewish Historical Society, (Mercer University Press, 1984).

Robert Rosen, The Jewish Confederates, (University of South Carolina Press, 2000).

Special Order No. 150, Headquarters Department of the Gulf, June 30, 1862.

Hans L. Trefousse, Ben Butler: The South Called Him Beast!, (Twayne Publishers, 1957).

Posted on Tuesday, August 19, 2008


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