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Shirley Washington

Shirley Washington

New Orleans 9th Ward Commissioner & Hurricane Katrina Survivor

Born: New Orleans, LA, United States
Heritage: African American, Cajun

Stay in school and make sure you learn your lessons and pay attention to your teacher, and you will always come out ahead. It used to be that everybody wasn’t on an equal level. Everybody is looking to thrive in this world. You need an education for everything you do.

Shirley Washington

New Orleans 9th Ward Commissioner & Hurricane Katrina Survivor

My name is Mrs. Shirley Washington, and I was born December 19th, 1929, in New Orleans. I come from a good family. The way they brought me up is the way I brought my children up. My mother was a housewife and father provided for us. I was raised with a family of ten. I’m used to being around a lot of sisters and brothers and I had ten kids myself.

My grandfather was a black man and my grandmother was a Cajun white woman. I was raised in the days of segregation. When I was a child on the bus, we had to sit behind a screen. The white people would sit in front of us. If a person who was white wanted the seat you were sitting in, you had to move. Then they would move the screen farther back for you to sit behind.

I met my husband when I was a young girl taking a message to him from an older girl on the block. He was seven years older than me. After he went in the service in World War II, he started writing to me. I wrote back. We married in 1946 and stayed together until he died in 1982.

New Orleans? That was my home. I liked everything about that city. We lived a good piece from the French Quarter. As the children grew up I went into politics. I am a commissioner for the city and help with elections and any other political events they have. You have a voice when you are registered voter.

I’m a Hurricane Katrina survivor. I got scared because water was up on the porch. I watched how the wind was blowing the trees. When I got up the next morning I saw tree limbs and other things blown all over the streets. The cars couldn’t pass. I saw my car was underwater.

The water went up seven feet at my mother’s house. The dining room table was trying to make it into the bedroom. Her TV was floating around on the floor. CNN was flying all around the house. I saw a big ship coming down the water. They picked us up in the boat and took us straight down to Napoleon and St. Charles streets.

There were busses coming to take us to Houston. We rode so long, way into the night. In Houston they started complaining that they didn’t have any room for us. So we were taken on further. They wanted to take us to Dallas but they said they didn’t want us either. So I just got off the bus.

It’s a hurting thing to leave the place that you love. I brought my kids up there. I’ve seen the ups and downs there. My grandchildren really want to be in New Orleans. They talk about it every night. They wonder when I’m going back.

Notation: Download PDF

Honoring Shirley Washington

What Will Become Of New Orleans Town

The levee broke
The rain came down
What will become
Of New Orleans town

My name is Shirley Washington
From the 9th Ward I do come
From a good family
Way down south in New Orleans
It was my home. Loved everything there
Zydeco, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Blues filled the air
When that barge hit, that levee fell
The lives lost, none can tell
My grandfather he was black
He refused to step on back
My grandmother was Cajun white
Together they gave us life
The water rose seven feet
Sewage spilled out on the street
Saw it rise, had to go
Jumped in a boat to the Superdome
Fled to Georgia, got relief
Money for shelter, food to eat
Moved up north. Live with my son
And grandchildren, I do love
Keep on going never stop
Always give thanks for what you got
Family and friends are there for you
Together we will make it through

Words by LARRY LONG with Mr. Muata’s 4th Grade Class of FAIR SCHOOL
(Crystal, Minnesota)

© Larry Long 2006 / BMI