Getting Back to Abnormal

PBS Premiere: July 14, 2014Check the broadcast schedule »

In Context

The racial and political climate in New Orleans shifted dramatically again when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on August 29, 2005, killing at least 1,836 people and causing an estimated 81 billion dollars in damage. The population of the city decreased from nearly 450,000 residents in 2005 to roughly 210,000 in 2006 after the storm. At the same time, the white population increased from 28 percent in 2005 to 42.7 percent in 2006, while the black population decreased by over 30 percent. The areas hit the hardest by Hurricane Katrina were predominantly low-income, black neighborhoods with poor infrastructure situated near the water. The population of St. Bernard parish decreased by half. Many of these residents were renters and not homeowners, and it became nearly impossible for them to find new housing in order to return after the floods cleared. Less than a quarter of the 5,000 families living in public housing in New Orleans before the hurricane have returned.

At the same time, population grew in suburban wealthy neighborhoods located in more elevated areas, such as St. Tammany Parish, where the population increased by 25 percent. The changes extended beyond white and African-American residents; as the city struggled to rebuild itself, a wave of migrant workers from Mexico and Central America moved to New Orleans seeking jobs in construction and manual labor. As a result, the city's Latino population more than doubled.

This change in the city's demographics had impact in the political arena as well. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, African-American voters consistently turned out at the polls in greater numbers than white voters. As that gap closed, a greater number of white candidates successfully sought seats long held by African Americans. Since 2004, black majority representation has been altered significantly.


» Democracy Now. "Battle over Right to Return: Housing Advocates Occupy New Orleans Public Housing Office."

» Eggler, Bruce. "Katrina Changed Racial Landscape of Orleans Politics." The Times-Picayune, October 18, 2008.

» Fussell, Elizabeth. "Constructing New Orleans, Constructing Race: A Population History of New Orleans." Journal of American History 94 (December 2007).

» LiveScience. "Hurricane Katrina: Facts, Damage & Aftermath."

» Robertson, Campbell. "Smaller New Orleans After Katrina, Census Shows." The New York Times, February 3, 2011.