Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house’s entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure.
From Josee: Thanks Laura for a most insightful presentation. I thoroughly enjoyed your book and your presentation. One thing that has stayed with me from last night is the map of the reconstruction areas/zones. I understand the need to keep the ‘ touristic areas’ e.g., the French quarter open but as you pointed out Laura when the devastation and the need to rebuild are your impoverished and ‘fringe’ areas, it is with sadness that one again notices “the have and the have nots.” Thanks again Laura, and all for a good evening. May we one day go on a road trip and enjoy all the goodness that New Orleans, Louisiana and the surroundings has to offer… most especially the wonderful food.
From Jill: Thank you so much Laura for such a detailed and interesting presentation! I will enjoy reading the pdf file again (attached below), so much history to absorb. A deeply sensitive memoir, and also apropos as February is Black History month. The story brought back memories of my visit and tour of New Orleans in November ’92, but of course I cannot imagine the horrors of living through a hurricane and its aftermath. Some words from the last paragraph of the document you forwarded to us, deeply resonated with me. Being a post war baby, I remember seeing hardships within my own family, more so on my maternal grandparent’s side, and their struggles to manage their family with only the very basic and simple home needs. However, it was a special place to visit, like a second home because they were there, and the familiar objects, books and pictures never changed. No updating or renovating in those days! When I put my little hand into my grandpa’s big hand and we walked together, I felt as safe, secure and loved as I ever could be. Apologies for rambling, but the story, and our conversation about families last evening brought back so many special and detailed memories.
This is the quote from the last paragraph that I felt moved by: “Many people who have the hardest lives also possess the deepest levels of compassion and unwavering commitments to lifting others up. We must see people as they deserve to be seen and take care not to apply labels to them related only to the hardships they have endured. We must celebrate with them all the things that they have conquered despite these eternal forces”.
From Jeanne: Thanks for choosing this book, for your research and thoughtful presentation of the history of Louisiana and the corruption, cruelty and inequity that have persisted since the first explorers claimed land for their empires. The discussion was thoughtful and thought provoking. Definitely a book that stays in the memory long after the last page is turned.
It never ceases to amaze me that the doctrines of freedom, democracy and capitalism I had been inoculated to believe were underpinning our North American wealth and privilege (privilege presented as rights) when I was growing up through school and through until somewhere in midlife were based on outright lies and completely ignored that this wealth was bought with the exploitation and abuse of people and resources that were plundered to colonize and develop the ‘new world’.
Reading Sarah Broom’s story of The Yellow House was like peeling another layer and seeing the generational impact of slavery, discrimination and segregation. I visited Louisiana and New Orleans in 1996, and everywhere there were deep contrasts. I am glad I did not have all this information when I went or I do not think I would have enjoyed the luxury we stayed in. This was a personal story of a family that grew up with a very different reality than mine and a real life testament to the power of love, family, courage and hope no matter the circumstances, we all have that in common. She shows that music and food, common purpose and community are powerful and create a connection that is deep and humanizing. So much more I am thinking and will continue to … including relationship to House and home.
From Karen: Yes thanks so much Laura for suggesting the book and for taking the time to delve deep into its themes. I read that Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House is “a tribute to the multitude of stories one small home can contain, even one bursting with loss” I liked that quote. And based on last night’s excellent presentation, you made it clear that her family’s story is also one of social and political injustice. Your research reinforced the fact the Broom family’s misfortunes were not caused by a hurricane but were the result of an entrenched culture of racial injustice. Very sad and very disturbing especially since it continues today.
I agree with Josee that a trip to New Orleans would be enjoyable but after reading The Yellow House, maybe we should drive around the outlying areas to see what the “real” New Orleans looks like for the majority of its residents.