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Argument: Rebuilding New Orleans is key to improving US race relations

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Former Oregon State Rep. Chris Beck (D-Portland). "Why should we bother rebuilding New Orleans?". Oregonian. News 2007 - "New Orleans is where we are reminded of the great social struggle -- racial and class conflict -- that has plagued our nation since its inception. More slaves passed through New Orleans than any other American port. The lavish fortunes built in the 19th century off the backs of cheap labor are on proud exhibit in Uptown.

New Orleans is where African Americans of European descent (aka Creoles) had rights, received educations, owned businesses and where people of color even owned slaves, a legacy that plays out in complicated ways today.

New Orleans was the home of Homer Plessy, a light-skinned black man who was denied a seat on a train car in 1892. He appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided against him, cementing the "separate but equal" doctrine for more than 60 years and fostering discrimination to this day.

And now it is the place where Katrina landed to display America's enduring struggle for all on television.

If we can't, or don't want to, save New Orleans, then we are essentially abdicating our national responsibility to get it right when it comes to the most troubling parts of our history: slavery and its troublesome aftermath. Yes, of course, plenty of other cities have racial problems that can and should be dealt with. But New Orleans is where the best and worst of it has found voice, and it behooves us to save this cherished chunk of our past and present, to understand our past so we can be reminded we still have a lot of work to do.

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