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HURRICANE KATRINA AND NEW ORLEANIANS' SENSE OF PLACE: Return and Reconstitution or “Gone with the Wind”?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 August 2006

William W. Falk
Department of Sociology, University of Maryland
Matthew O. Hunt
Department of Sociology, Northeastern University
Larry L. Hunt
Department of Sociology, University of Maryland


This paper explores some implications of Hurricane Katrina, especially as it affected, and will continue to affect, African Americans. Our observations stem largely from our ongoing examination of the demography of African Americans, including motivations to leave the South historically, and recent changes generating a significant “return migration” of African Americans to the South. The specific case of Katrina-related migration requires examining issues of race and class—including the destinations to which Katrina's victims were displaced and key features of the place to which they might return. We leave for others the evaluation of ongoing political debates concerning responsibility for who did what, and why. Our focus is on New Orleans as a place, and what prospects exist for reconstituting that place in light of past, present, and prospective demographic trends. We first review recent work on place and identity, and describe the general features of past migration patterns of African Americans—both from the South and back to the South. We then identify important features of New Orleans as a distinctive place on the U.S. landscape, in part by comparing New Orleans with other southern cities using the 1% Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) sample of 2000 U.S. Census data. Finally, we assess the prospects of the reconstitution of New Orleans as a place resembling what it was prior to Katrina, by examining the intersecting factors of race, class, and ethnicity in shaping how, and by whom, the city may be resettled. We project that the city will be smaller, more White and Hispanic, more affluent, and more tourism/ entertainment-oriented than its pre-Katrina reality. Given the difficulty of making such projections, we conclude with an analysis of various demographic portraits of what the racial composition of New Orleans may become, depending on (1) its future size, and (2) relative rates of return migration by White and Black New Orleanians.

© 2006 W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research

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We thank Karen L. Hunt for her critical reading of the manuscript at several stages of its development.



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