Geoffrey Glover, Retired Chemist (with comments from friend Myrtle Jones)
Bywater/New Orleans East
Interviewer: Abe Louise Young
Geoffrey Glover was interviewed by Abe Louise Young in the apartment of his friend Myrtle Johnson. Geoffrey and Myrtle were both relocated to Austin, Texas, and live in a new senior citizen’s housing complex. Riza Falk was present as photographer.
GEOFFREY: I was born in Los Angeles. We left there and when we came to New Orleans, I was four years old. And I’ve been there ever since. I left for a couple periods of time. My mother and my father split up when I was seven years old, and so my mother raised me from there on. I didn’t see my father again until I was eighteen. I stayed in New Orleans until I was about twelve. Then my mom sent me off to boarding school. I went there and graduated high school in Selma, Alabama and came back to New Orleans as I always do. I went to Florida to go to college, but I didn’t do too good. I was too young, and I wasn’t serious, so I didn’t make good grades there. Then I went back to New Orleans. I went to Southern on the Lake Front. That wasn’t too good. It was an interesting experience, but I didn’t do anything good. I didn’t learn anything. So, I just stayed in New Orleans. Then I went to Memphis for ten years. I stayed there and got in a war with the Ku Klux Klan.
AIT: Tell me about that.
GEOFFREY: Well that was one of the most revealing things about the white man’s system, to me. The time I did. I call it doing time in Memphis. But it started off, that he wanted to pay me a little bit of money, and all these white folks standing around drinking coffee, laughing at me, watching me do all the work. And so, when it came time for raise time, he said that he was going to give me because, when I left New Orleans I was making $9.50 per hour as a chemical analyst. And when I get there, I’m doing the same job, and he only wants to give me $4.25 per hour. So I had my back up against a wall because I was out 400-500 miles away from home and I needed some kind of income. So I took it. And he said he would raise me up in six months. So after I did the job satisfactorily for six months, I went in there for a raise. He told me he was going to give me a quarter, and if I didn’t like it, I could hit the gate. So, I told him I didn’t like it, and I wasn’t going to hit the gate. You don’t like me? You hit the gate. So, it started a war.
See, it started a war where, but we got a break, you see... See the way he did the war was, everyday you’d come in, he’d add another task to you. You understand, he’d give you another. You’d have to run another sample, see, which took up time. And this is what he did. He’d just keep adding on and adding on. Along about half way while he’s adding on, the union came in, and the lab had a chance to get in the union. Though, I’m really proud to say my vote was the deciding vote. He looked at me, and he wanted to hang me so bad, slobber was dribbling out of his mouth. But he’d lost his power, and we became unionized. So that meant that everybody had to do the same thing.
AIT: What was the name of this company?
GEOFFREY: WR Grayson Company right outside of Memphis, Tennessee. A little chemical plant. They make urea, fertilizer, plant fertilizer, you’ve seen like they use in plant fertilizers, those little round balls. So that taught me a lot because, you know, you hear a lot of “white people do this and white people do that”. But you don’t ever see it until you get into them situations and you understand how over the years, they’ve been able to interrupt the black man’s income at will, just by doing this. ‘Cause most black people would have quit, but I tell them, no, I ain’t quitting. You quit.
And so, I filed suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And what that did was that equalized the playing field. On the record, everything they did to me they had to do to the white people. See, so at that time there was four techs, one of them was an old man, no two of them were old men, and there was me and this guy named Howard, and this other girl named Ginger. Well she had a kind of advantage over us because she was pretty much a chemist herself. So she knew shortcuts and stuff like that to run the samples in the given amount of time, you know. But it worked Howard so bad, they added so much that Howard died. Howard actually went in the hospital, they operated on him, and he came out, tried to keep up, and he died.
So that left me and her. So it was on as far as I was concerned. But just about when that was working up to a battle between me and her, they closed the plant down. Then they got rid of all the undesirables like that, they closed the plant down. So that left me unemployed. Now at that time, that was the beginning of my service to Jesus. See what I’m saying. Like, from then on, everything is a service. I ain’t trying for myself, see? I made a deal with the Lord, and the Lord showed me that he was real, and because he kept his word, I’ll keep mine. I promised to serve Him.
AIT: What was the deal?
GEOFFREY: Well, the deal was this. I was in Memphis, Tennessee, and my son, he was having trouble down here, so he asked if he could come out here to live with me, out to Memphis. The plant had closed down, and I was just about to run out of this unemployment, see? So, I went down, and what I was trying to do was renew the shoe shine. The only thing I could think of doing. But I’d go down there in the plaza, where thousands of business people walk everyday, and I’d offer for shoe shines. So, that wasn’t going too good. I was getting $2-3 per day. So I went out there that day, and I started talking to Jesus. I said, “Jesus,” I don’t know what made me talk to him, but I said, “If you’re real, and you’re in control of all this, because I know that I’m not in control, cause if I were in control, I wouldn’t be unemployed 500 miles away from home. It wouldn’t happen. I said I realized that I’m not in control of this, so if you show me in a way that I can understand, that you’re real, and you’re in control of all this, then I’ll serve you.”
See what I’m saying? So, that day, I’m standing there shouting at all the people coming by, “Shoe shine! Shoe shine!” Nobody. Nothing. So about 9 o’clock, all the business people go on, so my first customer of the day was an Indian, an American Indian, with hair down his back and nothing but mud on his shoes. He was walking across America, see. So me and him start talking. I had to go get water and all that to wash off his shoes, and stuff, you know. We talked, and I found out that day that all Indians are Christians, they just call Jesus by another name. So, that was my first customer. I shined his shoes up and he went on. He gave me a dollar. I was hungry, so I went in there, and I bought me a cup of coffee and a honey bun. And so I came back out.
“Shoe shine! Shoe shine!” Nobody. Nobody wanted a shoe shine. About 11 o’clock, this woman comes by, and she starts telling me about Jesus. We talked for a minute, and she invited me to her church. I told her, yeah, I’d come. Ok, so she went on to work. So I’m thinking these two people want to talk about Jesus, bringing me a message or something. So, I didn’t get no more customers. I usually leave about 4 o’clock. So I didn’t get no more customers until then. At 4 o’clock, I remember talking to the Lord, and I said look, you know I usually leave here at 4 o’clock, but because we’ve got so much at stake here, I’ll stick around. So, I stuck around, and about 4:30, a man named Ryan Hart Elster came by, and he was the harpist for the metropolitan opera who was in town that day to do a gig.
And me and him, we started talking. He had a pair of snakeskin (?) shoes, he asked me what I could do with them, and I told him I could put a little oil on them, or something. So he sat down, and I shined and put the oil on his shoes. So, while we were talking, we talked about a lot of different things, you know. History, and tradition, and opera all this. And I guess it surprised him that I could talk with him about that. So he gave me five dollars, and when he gave me five dollars, that was what I needed for bus fare and to feed my son. So when he gave me that five dollars, I watched him go ahead, and I looked at the Lord and said, “You’ve got yourself a servant.” From that day to this one, all I do is, the way I live, I just say anytime, all day, everyday, “Lord, what am I supposed to do with today? And if you don’t tell me nothing, then I’ll just lay back here and chill.”
Kinda like, I used to call myself a gunslinger, you know? Because he sent me into some pretty rough places. I’ve been in a lot of rough places, know? But as always, I have to testify to who I was, and I had to be known, just because I’d be with violent people, murderers or someone might come by my house. But these are people that for some reason, I had a message to tell them.
AIT: How would you testify about who you are? What do you mean?
GEOFFREY: Just tell them my story. Why I’m a servant of Jesus, and why when you look at me, in the presence of all this desolation, I have peace and quiet. Because the Lord sets this up for me, and I’m used to it, and that’s the only deal that I don’t fool with. You know what I mean? I don’t fool with that connection. Because I want him all the time just let me know, when to make a move and what move I’m supposed to make.
AIT: So if you ask something to Jesus, he’ll talk back to you? He’ll tell you?
GEOFFREY: It’s like a chain of command, see? It’s like you talk to Jesus about stuff, but the only thing is you don’t ask for nothing. You ask to be a part of his will, see? So that you become a part of this whole thing. You know what I mean? You don’t ask, “Say, give me a car,” or something like that. It might not be in there for him to give you a car. He might not want you with no car. You get a car you might get killed. He don’t want that.
AIT: So you ask him, What does he need you to do?
GEOFFREY: Yeah, what he wants me to do. Exactly, and whatever word he sends me, I do. If he put it in my mind to move tomorrow, you’d see me packing up. I’ve done it like that, you know what I mean? If he told me, I’d go catch the bus.
AIT: What’s the strongest message you’ve ever gotten in that way?
GEOFFREY: The strongest message that I’ve gotten, was the first message. See after we made this deal, I caught the bus, and I went home. I went to the store, and I bought a chicken. I went back to the house and fried it up, and we were sitting on the bed, and we ate. My son went in the room to do his homework, and I got on my knees. I said, “Well, ok, Lord, this is your servant, Geoffrey Glover. What do I do now? How do I communicate? How do you let me know? What are you going to do?”
Cause I was new at this thing too, you know? This ain’t no divine revelation or nothing. This is just the way it happened. I didn’t know what was going on. So I was on my knees, and I’m praying. And then, in my mind, something said, “Quit Pearly.” Them two words: quit Pearly. And so, I was saying, “Wait a minute, Lord. Is this Jesus Christ talking to me, telling me to do this? Cause if this is Jesus Christ, let me know, because I promised to serve you. And He said, “Quit Pearly.” Well, see, Pearly was my girlfriend, and she was fine, and I liked her, you know, but twice he did that, so I asked him a third time. And I said, look, is this Jesus Christ telling me to do this? And the third time he said, “Quit Pearly.” So, I said, “Yes, sir,” and I got up off my knees, and I went to the corner telephone booth. And I called Pearly up, and I told Pearly I’m not going to be able to see her no more. I didn’t understand why, but I’m off on a different trail, you know. So, she’s crying and all this stuff, and I’m not knowing, I can’t tell her nothing, because I don’t know nothing, you know what I mean? But I did what I was told, see? That’s the most important thing. Even though I didn’t want to do it, see, not me, you understand, but I did what I was told. That was the most important thing.
From there, he laid out a road for me, and I stepped from there to working at the airport where I was shining shoes, but I was making good money. Then I left Memphis and came back to New Orleans, and he had a task for me to do there.
AIT: When was that?
GEOFFREY: That was in 1982, I think.
AIT: So you spent a lot of years in Memphis.
GEOFFREY: Yeah. 8 or 9.
AIT: Did you encounter any more serious racial injustice?
GEOFFREY: That’s all over Memphis. It’s the most hateful place I’ve ever been. You know the white folks hate the black folks. This man would look at me with such a look, I had one guy that introduced me to this guy. This guy had some real powerful hands, and when he introduced us, he went to shake my hand and put that power on. You know what I mean, just hateful! I’m just meeting this dude. He don’t even know me from Adam, and he puts this kind of break-hand pressure on me. So I got his hand and pushed it off, you know? I didn’t say nothing to that dude, but they hate you like that. They hate you.
I mean, that’s what a freedom rider was, you know what I’m saying? So, it all goes down to the basic nature of it. But they’ve got a lock on Memphis. I had a friend, one guy at the whole plant, a white guy. Me and him got to be friends. We’d go by each other’s house. When this shit went to getting thick, understand, me and that war with these people up there, they threatened his family. He told me, “You can’t talk to me no more.” You know what I’m saying? They threatened his family. I said, “Well, I understand that, bro.” So there I was by myself, but I didn’t care. I’m used to standing by myself. So it was on then, too, you know? So, it just escalated until, like I said, they closed the plant down. So, then I went to work at the airport, shining shoes, in Memphis.
AIT: What made you leave Memphis?
GEOFFREY: My son was graduating high school, and I wanted to go see his graduation. So, they had a party for him and everything.
AIT: Where did these children come from?
GEOFFREY: Well, when I was 20, when I was 21, I met this girl named Esmeralda. I had a choice, either go into the service, or marry Esmeralda. So, they took up a lot of time because, at that time, they didn’t want no blacks in the Navy. I wasn’t going into the Army, so they gave me a test, and I passed the test with an 88, so you know they had to let me in. But they went to fiddling around and looking into my police record, and two or three weeks went on, so I went on and married Esmeralda. And that’s where the babies start coming in, you know?
AIT: How many did you have?
GEOFFREY: I had four with her.
AIT: What are their names?
GEOFFREY: Geoffrey Jr., Rodney, Jerome, Adam Jerome, and a girl named Crystal. Crystal ? So I’ve got the four of them. Many of them are successful as many of you call it in America. Successful Americans, you know? One is a doctor. Another’s a lawyer. The third one is an engineer. And the girl runs her own home-help nursing agency. So, they’re all successful. I don’t deal with them no more because we got into a situation where, well, for some reason, I don’t know, maybe they hate me, I still don’t know. Maybe they hate me because I left their mother, or something, you know? But anyway, what my son did was he came along, and I was living at my mother’s house. When my mother died, I stayed there in the house in New Orleans.
AIT: Where was that in New Orleans?
GEOFFREY: That was Clouet St. 1816 Clouet St. You know the area?
AIT: Mm-hmm. (Yes.) [In the Bywater.]
GEOFFREY: So, my mother had a big double house, and I was just staying there to save it for the kids, you know? When they got old enough, and they could come in, and I could give it over to them. But it got into a legal altercation, because this lawyer that my mother hired, before she died, to write her will, he took everything. He took the property, the deeds to the property. He took the life insurance policies. All that, see? That shows you how crooked New Orleans is, see? Because this went on for ten years.
You know, they investigated for 2 or 3 years, and they said they found him guilty.
AIT: The Bar Association?
GEOFFREY: The Bar Association, yeah. They found him guilty, and they fined him $119, but they did nothing.
AIT: No reparations for you or your family?
GEOFFREY: Nothing. Nothing. To this date, we haven’t seen a penny of three life insurance policies. And the deeds to the property, this lawyer had them mixed up where somebody in Houston, TX had their name on the deed, and all of this stuff. He had some sort of trail, you know? A big old intricate thing. Like my son, when he got of age, and he was a doctor and he had money and everything, he came to take the property. He paid the taxes and he put me out. That’s something that stuck in my mind. I’ll never forget. That my son took and tricked me out of my house, out of my mother’s house. And when I got outside he put a lock, a cable lock, on the gate, so I couldn’t get in the gate. When I was walking around, I could see somebody at the front door fooling with my front door. I’m walking around, and I’m pretty much out of it, because I’m a sick man. I can’t be jumping across no fences, you know?
So I’m looking in there, and I saw him, and I say, “You put me out of my house?” And he said, “Excuse me?” And then he closed the door, and I could hear, vvvrt, vvvrt, vvvrt, you know, he’s putting screws in the door. So I’m standing out there in the cold, you know? Oh, Lord, what am I supposed to do now? (Laughs) So I knock on my neighbor’s door, and tell them what happened, and I used the phone. I called the police, that’s what I did. I called the police. The policeman came after about a half hour, and he was so unfeeling, he had me standing out there in the cold. I asked him, “Can I sit in the car?” because the wind was blowing, and I had shorts on and a light jacket.
AIT: When was this?
GEOFFREY: December the 19th, 2004. I’ll never forget it. But the policeman, he wouldn’t let me sit in the car.
AIT: That must have been quite painful and confusing:
GEOFFREY: It was kinda shocking, you know? Because I’d never done him a day’s harm. I’d never whooped him. I always tried to help him in his career. It’s kinda shocking. I still don’t know really what it was about. I still don’t know, but with me, I have to keep everything simple, you know? I had to wag it off my saggy, you know? That’s that.
AIT: Keep going.
GEOFFREY: Amen. My last words to him: “kiss my ass.” My whole family, you know? You and your whole crew can kiss my ass, and I meant that, you know? ‘Cause you know they ain’t nothing to me.
From there I went… My neighbor gave me a ride up to my wife’s house, and when I got there, I had a place to stay. I stayed there until we all decided to move to Tabor Lane down in the East. We had to get out of that apartment because it was too terrible, a dump, you know?
AIT: What was the neighborhood like at that time?
GEOFFREY: Crack-heads outside the door 24 hours a day, I mean, 3 o’clock in the morning, you go to the front door, and you can hear them out there scuffling and making deals and doing this. And the dealers was always in the house, most of the time, because my wife was a crack-head, see what I’m saying? So, you had all this movement, you know, it was just like a four-plex, a four-plex of activity. So it was right outside the door 24/7. It was interesting.
AIT: Was there a point in time when you saw that happening to your community?
GEOFFREY: Well, that wasn’t my community. That was at Carrolton and Banks, mid-city. That wasn’t my community. I was just there because my wife chose that place when I was in this little hospital, you know. I came out and that’s where she was, you know? I’d get pissed off, and I’d go back to Clouet St. periodically, you know? But I was up there. When he kicked me off Clouet St, then I went up there. And I stayed up there, until we moved about two weeks before Katrina came. We moved out in the East, out on Terra Lane, you know? Which is another drug haven that was found by my daughter. See, and it shows you how my daughter thinks of me, you know? My daughter. You know I can’t call her my daughter. ‘Cause she’s not my daughter, but I call all of my sons and daughters, you know? But, she picked a place that was on the second floor. It had no place to put my wheelchair, and I had to walk up two flights of stairs to go to bed. I thanked her for that. But anyway, that kind of stuff don’t phase me, you know what I’m saying? People try to do mean things to you, and be mean, but when you’re a servant of the Lord, that shit bounces off of you like raindrops. It’s not even significant. We stayed there for about two weeks. A lot of drug activity going on there. Police in and out all the time.
AIT: What was the address on Terra Lane? Where you all were living before Katrina?
GEOFFREY: That was 6758 Terra Lane.
AIT: And you were renting?
GEOFFREY: Apartment 207 or 208, upstairs on the second floor, which was a big blessing, you know, because… I was sitting up in bed listening to the radio and looking at the T.V., went to bed, and woke up in water. Water, water, just water. Just 6 to 8 feet of water. Just everywhere, so, you know, but being a servant of the Lord, the Lord takes care of me, see, so at no time was I hungry, at no time did I not have my medicine. You know what I’m saying? I could sleep whenever I got ready. So, I was taken care of, you know. Me and the rest of the people from downstairs, they came up to our apartment, and we all just survived together for four days.
AIT: Who were they?
GEOFFREY: I don’t even remember the lady’s name.
AIT: Well, what was it like to connect with them, these people, and be there in that space with them?
GEOFFREY: No problem at all. We were all in a desperate situation, so it was survival, you know. The younger kids went on, you know, and my wife waded through all that water a couple of blocks over to the store and got water and got whiskey, and just all kind of stuff. Eating. Stuff to eat. And they come back, and this other neighbor across from me, he took over the barbecue kit, because that’s all we had was a barbecue pit. We cooked everything on that. Grits and those little meats, you know, whatever we came up with. We survived. And it wasn’t, we didn’t have no problems, nobody got in any arguments or nothing. At night, everybody tried to find someplace cool to sleep, you know? And we survived. It was good. Yeah.
AIT: Did you have any knowledge of what was going on in the rest of the city, at that time?
GEOFFREY: No, we did not really know what was going on. The only contact we had, besides us there in the little complex, was they had one dude that kept shooting a gun off, about 300 yards away. Upstairs apartment, he was shooting for some reason. They was talking about, that when the police and the helicopters was coming to get us, at first they said they wasn’t coming back because the dude was shooting, you know? So, they didn’t come back for a little while.
AIT: How long were ya’ll there before they came and got you?
GEOFFREY: Four days.
AIT: Were there any children with you?
GEOFFREY: Yeah, yeah, all the children. A lot of children, you know? Children, grown folks, women, men. But we shared and shared alike, you know? It was a really beautiful experience, you know? Just to be there, you know?
AIT: Did you see any dead bodies around?
GEOFFREY: No, I didn’t see that, but I heard about them, but I didn’t see it, you know? Then the boat came, policemen and National Guard, or whatever. They came with a boat.
35:43 AIT: What did they bring you all?
35:44 GEOFFREY: They brought us to Chef Menteur, to a highway by a lumberyard. It was dry over there. Looked like the water came right up to Elysian Fields, too. And it was dry.
AIT: Did they give you a sense of where you should go after that, or what would happen next?
GEOFFREY: Not really, they just dropped us off. They were just bringing people to dry land and telling us about nothing. We heard about the Superdome, but the way we went, somebody had knocked down the fence around this lumberyard. So, we went over in the lumberyard, and we were sitting around, so my sons, they went with some other people. Then went down somewhere they had a store, you know? And they came back with cigarettes, water, food, cold drinks, and stuff, so we just hung around there.
We were there for, I’d say about 4 or 5 hours. Because by the time it got to be nighttime, my wife, somewhere she stole a car. From somewhere, I don’t know. But the car didn’t have no lights on it. So we decided we was going to pack up and we was going to go by her brother’s house, because her brother stayed in a high-rise. So we drove the car, I had a little pen light out. I had to stick my hand out the window. That’s the only light we had. But we made it to the high-rise, but we couldn’t find her brother. So, while we was at the high-rise, a truck came by there, and they said that they was going to the Convention Center. So, we threw our stuff on the back of the truck and we got to ride to the Convention Center. And from there, it was just another period of survival.
AIT: Had your wheelchair and everything?
GEOFFREY: No, I didn’t have my wheelchair.
AIT: How were you getting around?
GEOFFREY: I remember sitting down on the curb after the truck dropped us off outside, and then, we went inside. I must have been walking.
AIT: Did you have your oxygen tank with you?
GEOFFREY: No, I didn’t have no oxygen tank. I had nothing except the stuff that we looted along the way, you know?
AIT: What was your illness, or your disability?
GEOFFREY: I’ve got diabetes, and I’ve got a bad heart, you know, so I can’t walk too far. I remember I didn’t have no wheelchair. Just surviving, you know what I mean? Just surviving. We got inside, and we sat around there. My wife went to hustling because she had all this stuff that they had looted, you know, cases of cold drinks. And these people was buying it. She made about a hundred dollars just selling cold drinks and stuff like that. Being my wife, she kept it all herself, you know? So even though half of the stuff was mine, know what I mean?
AIT: So where did you end up?
GEOFFREY: Well we stayed in the Convention Center for another four days. Then, the helicopters came.
AIT: Would you mind telling me what a normal day would be like when you were in the Convention Center, from when you would wake up, if you went to sleep, from the morning to the night? What was it like while you were there?
GEOFFREY: Well, it was just people. Just people milling around all the time. Going from here to there, just walking and moving. Groups sitting down, you know. Sometimes some people would start singing some spiritual songs, you know, like them Baptist people do that, you know? They’d start singing “The Lord is Good” and that stuff, you know?
They’d bust out into song. They was just doing their thing. Nobody had nothing to do. There was nothing to do except just sit around there and curse the National Guard cause they’d come by and they’d be pointing their weapons. “They only want to save the white folks’ stuff, you know. They come through there and all of them have their machine guns and they’re marching.
MYRTLE: Are you prejudiced?
GEOFFREY: Am I prejudiced?
MYRTLE: Are you racially prejudiced?
GEOFFREY: I’m a realist. I mean, I like Abe [the white interviewer] just like I like anybody, but I’m a realist. I know that there are people that hate me and will do hateful things to me, so I kind of give my life to stand out of their way, you know?
MYRTLE: So it’s right to think that you’re not thinking and knowing that all white people, all Caucasians, are prejudiced, racially prejudiced?
GEOFFREY: No, I’ve got white friends. You know what I’m saying, I’ve got white people in my phone book.
AIT: How do you think race played out in Katrina? What kind of impact did it have.
GEOFFREY: It was there. It was like they dumped [black] 20,000 people in this one huge building. They had no supervision. That was one of the things. When we first got there, at the Convention Center, everybody was looting. They were finding tables and all this stuff in all these doors and places. You know, they’d line up a couple of chairs and a table around their little section. It was dangerous because the Convention Center had left all of these electric carts around the floor. They had about 6 or 8 of them, you see. It wasn’t no time until them youngsters had figured out how to hotrod them. You had to watch it. Cause they’d come through there full blast, maybe 20-25 mph. They’re hitting posts and everything. I saw one youngster almost get killed riding on the thing. They hit him with a building. Because, they had this little storage shed right in the middle of the floor, and that youngster was sitting on the side of the cart, his legs were hanging out. That dude whipping through there, almost hit that building, but his legs caught the building, and knocked him off. He laid there for a few minutes, and he was hurt. But they had all that wild stuff. They didn’t have no supervision, no authority. No nothing. No help at all. Just a bunch of people milling around, you know?
MYRTLE: Outside, they’d fight about territory.
GEOFFREY: Yeah, they was supposed to be shooting outside, you know, all that stuff, man. But the thing about it, there was no authority.
MYRTLE: And you had the influx of the Superdome people that were leaving and coming over to the Convention Center.
AIT: What kind of emotions were you feeling while you were there?
GEOFFREY: Well, I really, like I said, didn’t have too much to worry about. I was just waiting to see what was going to happen. I had no idea. I had no home, no nothing. Only half of my children were there, and I had no idea what was going to happen. I just knew we didn’t have nothing to go back to, you know. So, there was no need of looking back. But, just surviving, that was all that was on my mind. Just making it from one day to the next. Getting hungry, see whether you’ve got something to eat. Eat cornflakes, or whatever they’ve got. Take my medicine, and watch out for the carts, you know what I’m saying? (Laughs) Shit.
AIT: I’m interested in any interactions you might have had with the National Guard or the City of New Orleans Police. What were they doing at this time?
GEOFFREY: They passed through. They didn’t stop. They didn’t stop, yeah, not even one time. About thirty of them come marching through there, you know? But they didn’t stop. They didn’t say, “Here’s a bottle of water.” You understand? They just marched right straight through to the French Quarter.
AIT: Did anybody try and talk to them, or get their attention, get help from them?
GEOFFREY: The first time they passed after we had all gotten there. The first time we’ve had, everybody went to cheering, “Yay! Help!” (claps) They just marched right on past. They didn’t say, “We’re coming back,” or nothing. They just marched right on past us to the French Quarter. They was guarding the French Quarter against looters or something. They’d ride through there with their trucks sometimes, but after a while, everybody just knew that they weren’t going to help us, you know, so, they’d pass by and people started jeering at them.
AIT: Jeering at them?
AIT: Like what?
GEOFFREY: “Boooo,” you know, booing. The police were nonexistent. They’d show up in their cars and ride around. Nothing to help the people inside, you know?
AIT: Why, do you think?
GEOFFREY: Well, the most common perception is that George Bush don’t care about white people. That’s what Kanye [West] said. I mean, George Bush don’t care about black people.
Now, why? Why they would leave us for four days, just milling around in this gigantic building? I mean, why would they do that when, the people in the tsunami got blasted with this water thing, and they was over there the next day. They was Johnny-on-the-thing, everybody helping the tsunami victims, you know what I’m saying?
But with us, they ignore us for four days. Four whole days. Actually, eight days, because that was four days at the apartment, and four days at the Convention Center. Now, why? Who’s fault was that? I don’t know. I don’t have enough time in my life. I’m 62 and I want to enjoy the rest of my life. I ain’t even going to consider about why, or who was to blame. I just know George Bush is not my friend. All this stuff usually comes from the top down. Depends on who the President is. When George Bush became President for the second time, whatever happened to me just happened. I ain’t had no aspirations or thoughts or ideas about nothing, just survive. You know what I’m saying? So, I’ve got to put it on him. Because all this stuff comes from the top down.
If it wouldn’t have been him, he’d have pointed his finger and said, “Ok, go on down there to where Katrina wiped out that disaster area, and let’s get those folks aid,” and it would have been done. But he didn’t do that. But I didn’t elect him, you know, so I ain’t got nothing to say about it.
AIT: What part did Nagin play?
GEOFFREY: I don’t know what Nagin did. Nagin was cussing. I heard Nagin was cussing Bush and Blanco. Talking about how they didn’t help the people. Had the people down there at the Convention Center for all them days, and wasn’t no help coming. Nagin was cussing, that’s all I know. I heard him say damn or shit or something.
MYRTLE: What about Mr. Brown with FEMA?
GEOFFREY: I don’t know. See that’s all… I don’t know about the structure of government, and exactly who’s fault it was. I just know they were ineffective. The bottom line, they were ineffective. That’s why I’ve got to put it on Bush, because if Bush would have pointed his finger and said, “Do something,” they’d have done something.
MYRTLE: What part did your wife and you play in making a decision and talking to Jesus and seeing what to do?
GEOFFREY: No, I didn’t talk to my wife about Jesus, you know, because my wife has her own relationship with Jesus. She does things that I’d be terrified to do, you know? I don’t know, just because I’m a servant of Jesus doesn’t make her a servant of Jesus, you know. She don’t care about it the way I do. So, I was pretty much there by myself. I was trying to, you know, I didn’t have no backup, nobody agreed with me, you know? I’m not a crack head, so I didn’t go sit up in there and talk with them about whatever they talk about. I’d be back in my room listening to music or something. As always, I’m the only servant of Jesus that I know of. I met one.
AIT: How were you medically or physically affected by the storm?
GEOFFREY: Well, I had a lot of poison in my system from walking in that water. My bone got infected in my foot, so they had to operate and cut that out. After they cut that out, then they had to put me in the hospital for five weeks for intravenous antibiotics to get the poison out of my system. They locked me up for that. When I got out of there, (laughs) I was a good boy.
AIT: How are you a good boy?
GEOFFREY: (Laughs) I’m taking my medicine. I wouldn’t even take a bath sometimes because I didn’t want to get that foot wet. And I just did what I was supposed to do for 5 or 6 weeks until it healed up.
AIT: Can you walk alright on it now?
GEOFFREY: Yes. It healed up. I’m straight now. I’m straight.
AIT: Are you going to wear a special shoe for a while?
GEOFFREY: They gave me this yesterday. See I have an ulcer in my foot, and it got infected. They cut it out yesterday. But they gave me this thing because it’s supposed to keep the weight off the front of my foot.
AIT: You’re having a lot of work done on that foot.
GEOFFREY: Yeah, I’ve got diabetes, you know, and when you get diabetes, any corns or calluses you’ve got become threatening because they get infected if you don’t get them shaved off. They’ll grow and get infected, and they’ll be cutting off your foot.
AIT: Was the water toxic?
GEOFFREY: Yeah, yeah.
AIT: At what times were you walking in it?
GEOFFREY: I was walking in it only from the boat to the dry land, which was about a hundred yards, you know? So, it wasn’t that long, and that was the only time I got in the water, ‘cause I couldn’t swim around there by my apartment. I couldn’t get in the water there because it was too deep, and I couldn’t swim. But when I got in the boat, and when we got by the dry land, I had to jump out of the boat into the water. That’s when the infection came in.
AIT: Just from that short little time in the water?
GEOFFREY: Yeah, but I guess you just had to sit there and soak, because I still didn’t have the means to take a bath or clean up or anything, so it just stayed there and festered, you know? Really, until we got here in Austin, because we couldn’t take a bath at the Convention Center.
GEOFFREY: Shit, you couldn’t hardly pee at the Convention Center. Cause after a while, see, they figured that people had broken into the kitchen and was cooking food, so they cut all the lights off. Whoever the authorities were. They cut all the electricity off.
You know, it’s a lot of ugly things happening to black people (Cell phone goes off). I hate to see it, you know, all that racism and stuff. Excuse me. (Cell phone ringing.) I tell you, I’m trying to forget that. That was an unpleasant experience. Just living there was an unpleasant experience.