Before DNA testing and black pride, the South, not Africa, used to be the Old Country for African Americans. As W. Fitzhugh Brundage observed in The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory, because there were few physical memorials to the black past, this history was preserved in stories, which resulted in a feeling akin to ownership, if not of the land, then of place. That was in itself still a relatively new experience for me, not being afraid of being in a black place, not bracing myself for the anti-Tom vibe or the anti-queer vibe, which were often pretty much the same thing. Black New Orleans during Katrina V was extraordinarily friendly. Every single black person I passed on the street greeted me. Every one.
I bought a bag of fried chicken and some white bread at a cramped soul-food counter on Claiborne Avenue and sat to eat on a piece of concrete under the expressway. Not far away, black people were relaxing on lawn chairs beside their trucks, coolers at their feet. A vendor hawked fresh fruit to traffic paused at the lights. I thought of how my sisters and my parents would be astonished to see me, of all self-conscious black people, gnawing chicken in a public street. They would have laughed and teased me. I began to cry, it was a meal straight out of the distant down-home past, and I missed my family so much all of a sudden.
Congo Square, that meeting place of slavery and music, where Gottschalk came to get ideas, was still boarded up, locked away, but I went to hear the young brass bands in the neighborhood bars whenever I was asked. I danced in second lines; I danced in the streets, something I’d never been moved to do before.
—Darryl Pinckney, “Deep In The Bowl,” September 2011 Harper’s