The Color Purple, a Tony Award-nominated Broadway production presented by Oprah Winfrey, opens tonight in New Orleans. Producers have taken the admirable step of fundraising to support the return of Gulf Coast families.
However, the producers have chosen to make their donations through an organization called the St. Bernard Project, which has invited controversy through their close relationship with the St. Bernard Parish government. Critics like Lance Hill, the executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University, have pointed out that the racial discrimination practiced by the local government in St. Bernard has actually set Gulf Coast recovery back, and that organizations like St. Bernard Project actually exacerbate the problem by refusing to take a stand against racial discrimination.
“The main reason that these relief groups have had to disproportionately rebuild Black rentals,” explains Hill, “is because the Parish is tearing down or blocking construction of affordable housing faster than the relief groups can rebuild.”
Last year, one of the only two members of the St Bernard Parish Council to speak out against the actions of the Parish told reporter Lizzy Ratner, "They don't want the blacks back… What they'd like to do now with Katrina is say, We'll wipe out all of them. They're not gonna say that out in the open, but how do you say? Actions speak louder than words. There's their action."
In September, a wide coalition of relief and recovery organizations and individuals concerned about this issue signed an open letter on this issue, designed to put pressure on both the Parish and on the St. Bernard Project. “It is time that we take a stand against housing discrimination in St. Bernard and throughout the Gulf Coast,” the letter states. “And make clear what the moral imperatives are for all organizations that seek to rebuild the Gulf Coast as a fair and just society.”