New Orleans

Acid Church

A queer psychedelic ramble through the Crescent City

“Pulpit.” Sanctuary at the Mount Zion Baptist Church. Mossville, Louisiana. 2016. All photographs from the series Solastalgia by Courtney Desiree Morris.

It is really easy to fall in love with New Orleans. Especially when you are on drugs.

Ask me how I know.

“I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for acid. Acid saved my life.”

Alli Logout is a bona fide rockstar. A café con leche, butterscotch woman—down South, we’d call them a yellow bone—with a blonde Afro that floats around their head like a golden cloud. They are the ferocious frontperson of a rock group called Special Interest. The first time I saw them perform at the WITCHES party during Mardi Gras weekend, they roared through the crowd on a motorcycle wearing nothing but combat boots, a black thong, fishnets, a black bikini top and topped with a black feather cape and a Pocahontas wig. Then they climbed onstage and roared into the microphone, “Sodomy and LSD!”

That’s how you start a night in New Orleans off right.

• • •

We are standing in a backyard smoking cigarettes at a house party somewhere between the Seventh Ward and Bayou St. John. The party is winding down. The early morning air feels cool and good on my skin. Emotionally, I feel empty.

It’s been a hard night. It’s been a hard day. A day that started 200 miles away from New Orleans in Lake Charles, Louisiana at my grandmother’s house.

When I come into her bedroom that morning, she is already awake, propped up on a bunch of pillows watching some evangelical preacher on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and humming gospel songs to herself. I walk over to her bed, plant a kiss on her forehead and pull up a chair next to her.

“Good morning, Miss Bobbie. How you feeling?”

“Pretty good, baby. My arm’s a little bit sore this morning, but you know I’m feeling pretty good.”

Now that I am closer, I catch the faint odor of urine wafting up from the sheets, and I wince. I don’t like the idea of my grandmother stuck in bed sitting in her own piss.

“Hey Mamma, you ready to take a shower?”

“Yeah baby, that sounds good.”

“Alright then, honey, let’s get you out of these dirty clothes.”

I get up and slide my right arm behind her back; once she is upright, I slide her gently to the edge of the bed until her tiny feet are grazing the floor. Then I slide my arm behind her once more as she leans back so I can pull off the adult diaper she wears to bed each night. It is soaked with urine.

“This thing ain’t chafing you, Mamma?”

“No, baby, I’m fine.”

She’s being polite, but she’s lying. Nothing chafes the skin worse than piss. I used to get annoyed at these omissions, but I know that she doesn’t like us to worry or to seem needier than she actually is. Even now as she is dying, she is terrible at asking for help. I sigh. We are alike in so many ways.

I prop her back up, then turn around to grab the metalwalker tucked away next to her dresser. As I do this, I catch a glimpse of her in the mirror. She looks vulnerable and awkward sitting naked on the bed. I hurry back and place the walker in front of her. She grabs the handles and pulls herself forward. As she shifts her weight from the bed to the walker, she begins to pant as she struggles to find her balance.

“You good Mamma?”

“Yeah, baby. I’m good.”

She leans forward and begins to waddle towards her bedroom door. I position myself behind her just in case she begins to look too wobbly. I can feel her shivering as we walk the short distance down the hall to the bathroom. My uncle has already turned on the portable heater in the bathroom. I begin to sweat immediately when we step inside, but my grandmother continues to shiver. She complains about being cold all the time since she started the chemotherapy treatments.

She parks the walker up against the side of the sink while I turn on the hot water in the tub. Then we begin the awkward dance of maneuvering her into the bathtub. The narrow bathroom is not designed to accommodate an elderly, overweight, ill woman and an adult granddaughter trying to bathe her. I pull the detachable showerhead from its cradle. As the warm water pours out of the shower head I move it over my grandmother’s body, watching the water stream down over her shoulders, her wide breasts, sliding into the folds of her back and stomach, down her thighs and calves. Her body reminds me of the Venus of Willendorf. I linger over her neck, shoulders and back ‘cause I know she likes that, and she sighs quietly.

“Girl, that hot water feels good.”

“Yeah, I bet it does, Miss Bobbie,” I say and we both laugh.

In the beginning, she is still strong enough to soap up her own washcloth and scrub her upper body. By the end, when she is too weak to lift her arms, I take the rag and scrub her down like a baby, pulling the soapy rag around her neck, washing her armpits. The easy part finished, I turn my attention to her genitalia.

“Alright, Mamma. I gotta get in there and clean out your pocketbook.” At this, her face breaks into a toothless cackle.

In the beginning, I knew she was embarrassed having her grown granddaughter wiping her ass and soaping up her private privates. But I learned that if I breezed through it like it was no different from cleaning her armpits, then she would feel less embarrassed—and honestly, after the first two or three times, it really started to feel just like that. She leans back and spreads her legs, and I go to work, wiping between the folds and making sure she smells clean and fresh. After I rinse her off, she rolls her body to the side, exposing her bottom. She holds one cheek up while I scrub her behind vigorously until I am satisfied that she is clean.

“Alright, sugar. We done with that.”

I towel her off, help her out of the tub and get her back to her room. I powder her down, put on a fresh diaper, slide a pair of stretchy cotton sweatpants onto her and help her push her arms through a soft gray sweatshirt.

When she is dressed, she takes her walker and slowly makes her way to the living room. I follow her with a jar of Miracle Gro hair grease, a comb and a brush. Once she is settled, I slide myself between the recliner and the wall and gently begin parting her thick, gray hair with the comb. Even with the chemo, Bobbie got a full head of beautiful wavy hair. I cut pathways through her hair with the widetooth comb and then grease each row. She doesn’t need much product—her hair lies down with just a little bit of grease and water. After I wet her hair, I take that brush and pull it through and over her hair until it shines like polished silver. Once it’s smooth to the touch, I take her hair and twist it into a simple bun on top of her head and then secure it with a few bobby pins. I reach into my pocket and fish out some gray pearl earrings I bought at Wal-Mart for her. I place these in her ears and step back to admire my handiwork. She looks so good I can’t keep it to myself.

“The Queen Mother and One of Her Many Daughters.” The author with her grandmother, Mrs. Barbara Jean Freeman. Mount Zion Baptist Church. 2016.

“Damn, Bobbie, you still got it.”

She laughs, smiles at me, blushes and then waves me away like she’s shooing away a foolish young suitor.

“Go on now, girl!”

• • •

Ostensibly, I am in Louisiana to do research on environmental racism and my family’s displacement from Mossville, a small, historic freedmen’s community just north of Lake Charles. At least, that is what I told the Ford Foundation when they awarded me a fellowship to pursue the project. I spend entire days poring over old documents in the Frazar Archives at McNeese University, flipping through ancient, dusty ledgers of property records in the Calcasieu Parish Clerk of Court tracking the history of black land ownership and dispossession and interviewing my relatives and the small diaspora of former Mossville residents scattered across east Texas and southwest Louisiana. Southwest Louisiana is a forgotten pit stop on Cancer Alley, a marshy petrochemical landscape of oil refineries and natural gas processing plants.

As a kid, I always knew we had arrived when I saw the clusters of pine trees along I-10 and could taste the metallic, toxic air. Now, nearly 30 years later, I drive through the region and try to imagine what Black social life might have been like in this place before the arrival of the refineries more than 80 years ago. Or 200 years ago, when indigenous Atakapa peoples maintained their small, migratory settlements along the shores of Prien Lake before first the Spanish and then the French and then the British and white American settlers arrived and decimated their communities with disease, Christianity and alcohol. I go to Mossville to remember a history I do not fully know.

Mossville is a small place: an unincorporated town located just north of the industrial Port of Lake Charles in southwest Louisiana. Varying accounts of the town’s early formation suggest it was founded as early as the 1790s, potentially making it one of the oldest free Black communities in the South. The town flourished during Reconstruction as a safe haven for recently freed Blacks looking to escape the racial terror of the emergent Jim Crow social order. But since the 1930s, the community has been home to a cluster of petrochemical plants whose operations have irreversibly contaminated its air, soil and water. 14 petrochemical companies currently surround Mossville, including an oil refinery, a coal-fired power plant, several vinyl manufacturers and a chemical plant in a town that is approximately five square miles in area. In the 1940s, southwest Louisiana became a critical site in the international petrochemical industry. Today, its proximity to natural gas and oil fields in Texas and northern Louisiana as well as the Port of Lake Charles and the Gulf of Mexico, about 30 miles away, make the region a strategic location for the industry. The petrochemical industry drives the state’s economy; in 2019, it generated $73 billion of the state GDP and supported 249,800 associated jobs. But that wealth has come at a high cost, one that has been disproportionately borne by the people of Mossville.

In 2011, then-Governor Bobby Jindal announced that Sasol, a South African multinational petrochemical corporation, would begin construction of an ethane cracker complex that extended farther into the town than any of the plants in the area—actually, right across the street from the cemetery where my grandmother is now buried along with all her people. The ethane cracker facility breaks down natural gas into smaller molecules that are used to make ethylene, a chemical product used in a variety of everyday consumer products including cosmetics, detergents, adhesives, packaging materials and plastics used in laptops, cell phones, IV drip bags and faux leather vehicle interiors. Following the announcement of the expansion, Sasol launched a voluntary buyout program that left only 62 residents in the community.

But aside from the research, the truth is that I am really in Lake Charles to see my grandmother. Barbara Jean Freeman has a lot of names. Her husband and her sisters called her Bobbie. Her neighbors called her Mrs. Freeman. Her children called her Madear. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren called her Mamma, in a slight Anglicization of the French, maman. She was born in 1933 in the town of Westlake, just east of Mossville. Her father was from Westlake but her mother’s people, the Williams family, lived in Mossville and were among the founding families. She was a small child when the first plant, the Cities Services Corporation oil refinery, opened. She died in 2019, three years after the Sasol buyout.

“Domestic.” Mossville. 2016.

In the summer of 2014, I was driving with my husband as we made a cross-country move from Houston, Texas to State College, Pennsylvania when my grandmother called. The news was not good. She had been diagnosed with colon cancer, which quickly spread to first one lung and then the other. The cancer was tough, but Bobbie was tougher. When I saw her a few months later and asked her how she was feeling, she was defiant and unequivocal: “I’m gonna kick this cancer in the ass.” She proceeded to do just that. But by the time her cancer came back a few years later, things were different. It didn’t take long to notice how tired she was, how slowly she moved. I began to understand. This time, the cancer was going to kick her ass, and it wasn’t going to be pretty.

So I began going home to my grandmother and Lake Charles and Mossville as often as I could. Each time I came, I sat with my grandmother and asked her about her life: about growing up in Mossville, the arrival of the plants, her memories of life under Jim Crow, stories about her ancestors. At first, she was self-conscious about the camera recording her every word. But then she became used to it and started dropping dimes.

So I was not altogether surprised when I arrived in Lake Charles in October 2018 and she told me that her doctor had delivered more bad news: the latest round of chemotherapy had not yielded any results. Her cancer was terminal. When he asked her if she wanted to try another round of chemotherapy, she was as resolved as she had been four years earlier. “Why spend money when it’s not doing any good? So let’s just sit this out and do nothing.”

As she speaks, I listen quietly, hearing everything she isn’t saying. My people are deeply religious. My grandmother reads her Bible every morning, talks to God every day. She reminds me that Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” My grandmother is dying. Her speech is deliberate and certain. There is no fear. She is at peace and ready to face her Maker. My heart sits like a brick in my chest, and as she speaks, I feel a small knot tighten in my throat. The weight of her pending death feels like more than I can bear. I had planned to go to New Orleans the following day. Now, I am unsure if I should leave her. She is nonplussed. “No, baby. Go and see your friend. Have a good time. I’m not leaving yet.” She smiles. “I will see you when you get back.”

• • •

I make the drive from Lake Charles to New Orleans in a daze. I keep thinking about Mamma and the cancer tearing through her body. On the radio, a journalist on NPR is reporting that a lone gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people and wounding six others. They report several Holocaust survivors among the victims. My jaw clenches with rage and grief. Those folks survived Hitler but couldn’t survive America.

The bad news continues to pour in. Ntozake Shange, the Black feminist writer and author of for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, is dead.

By the time I reach New Orleans, I am exhausted with grief. I don’t know what to do with myself. So I check my phone and text my friend, Alix.

“Just made it to NO. What we doing tonight?” He writes back 15 minutes later, “Anything we want!”

I’m down.

There’s a house party happening, he says. It’s going to be a queer POC vibe, should be cute. Dancing sounds like a godsend right now. He sends me the address, and we make plans to meet up. I don’t know exactly what kind of evening I’m getting into, but with Alix—my black Adonis, good looking in the kind of way that makes people stop and stare at him on the street—in the mix, it will most certainly involve any number of mind-altering substances.

I arrive in front of a nondescript, white, double shotgun house. Before I step out of the car, I can hear the music pulsing from inside. I make my way along the side of the house to the backyard and find Alix there. “You made it,” he shouts before scooping me up in his arms and covering me in kisses.

“I just got some Molly. Want some?”

Without blinking, I say, “Yes.” He gives me a tiny capsule and a beer to wash it down with. After I swallow everything, he claps, takes my hand and we walk into the house like Hansel and Gretel.

The living room has been cleared out for a makeshift dance floor. I got a thing for DJs and musicians, and this one—a cute, extra thick, genderqueer, indigenous Hawaiian covered in tattoos—is working the turntable like a licensed massage therapist. The Molly starts to hit, and I feel my body open up and begin to vibrate with the bass pulsating through the speakers. Suddenly, the DJ drops the beat, and the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere” fill the dance floor. Can you hear me calling/Out your name?/You know I’m falling/And I don’t know what to say/I’ll speak a little louder/I’ll even shout/You know that I am proud/And I can’t get the words out.

My heart is beating in time with the song, and before I know it, I am rocking and bouncing on the balls of my feet and singing, “Oh I, I want to be with you everywhere.” I spin and see Alix dancing alongside me out of the corner of my eye. People flock to the dance floor, and soon, I am enveloped in a crush of vibrating flesh. The Molly is pulsing through me in waves, and I can feel the heat of the high spreading from my scalp down my back through my arms and into my feet. I realize the feeling is joy.

Suddenly, I feel sick. I rush to the bathroom. I barely have the door closed before I feel my stomach heave, and suddenly, I am on my knees retching into the toilet. I vomit over and over. I feel as though I am hacking up all the sorrow living in my body. As I puke, I wonder if I am dying. I am sad for a moment. Alix will have to tell my husband; I know it will hurt him to learn that I am dead. But I am not dying. Instead, I vomit until I am exhausted and sitting breathless on the floor. I have no idea how long I sat there. Eventually, I pull myself up to the sink, rinse out my mouth and stare at myself for a long time in the mirror.

When I finally stumble out of the bathroom, I look around and then plop down onto the nearest couch I can find. My body feels empty and clean. I am out of my head entirely, descending into myself as the Molly reverberates in my body. It takes me a minute to come back up for air. When I do, I realize that two women are fucking next to me. I hadn’t noticed them, and they don’t seem to mind that I am there. I feel strangely better. Like now the Molly can finally do its work.

I return to the dance floor and dance for the DJ for what feels like hours. I roll my hips like the Mississippi, joints loose and easy, feeling light and free. I cannot remember the last time I felt this way. That makes me sad. I accept this insight and let it go as quickly as it comes. I am here in my body right now, and I am dancing like a bad bitch. The beat drops into a smooth bassline as I sweat the grief out. I dance for my grandmother. I dance for the elders in the synagogue. I dance for Ntozake. I dance for all the Black women I know dying from cancer and strokes and stress and sadness. I dance and dance and dance and laugh and celebrate and feel my aliveness.

Later when I give the DJ, whose name—appropriately—is Heavy Pleasure, my gratitude for their set, they say, “I know. I was spinning for you.”

This isn’t my first time in New Orleans. I’ve come to New Orleans a handful of times over the past decade, usually for academic or activist conferences. Even though I am an anthropologist and I know better, I have moved through the city like a fucking tourist. I eat the beignets at Café du Monde and delicious fried chicken at Dooky Chase’s, admire the art at the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park, spend a few nights bar hopping on Frenchman Street. I do the things you are expected to do in New Orleans. But I haven’t really connected to the soul of the city. Tonight, however, feels different.

It’s late, and the party is winding down. Alix and I head out to the backyard. Most of the revelers have already left, and we are down to the party faithful. Alix introduces his friends: Juicebox, a stunning Black femme who reminds me a bit of Grace Jones and is elegantly dressed in a full length ball gown and bridal veil; Choux, a sweet and quietly hilarious day laborer, who shyly welcomes me to the group; and his partner, Pi, a stunning mixed-race Chamoru sex worker wearing an enormous curly wig and holding court like a bored monarch. I finally meet the DJ who saved my life: Kahelelani, AKA DJ Heavy Pleasure. And then, there is Alli. They remind me of my beautiful, silver grandmother who is dying, and suddenly, I feel homesick and sad.

Alix comes and snuggles next to me. We can feel each other’s pain from miles away, and in the moment, I feel more grateful for him than I ever have before.

Someone announces that they’ve got acid. Alix turns to me and says, “You want to take acid with me?” The Molly is wearing off in a clean, steady burn, and I am feeling relaxed and safe. Also, I am not quite ready for the night to end and am dreading going home to be alone with my feelings. We smile at each other as we swallow our tabs.

I am not sure when the acid starts to kick in, but I am suddenly having three conversations at once, not including the one that I am simultaneously having with myself. I am holding Kahelelani’s tiny dog, Maka, in my arms, and he licks my nose and sniffs at my hair. Alix is whispering something in my ear as Choux lights my cigarette, and I smoke and listen and laugh at everything and feel myself quietly expand.

I find that I am telling Alli about my grandmother. I don’t mean to—it just comes pouring out. They are quiet and listen thoughtfully. When they respond, they are gentle and sympathetic.

“When I’m sad, acid helps a lot.” I lift an eyebrow. “I’m serious! Acid is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” They’d been in a bad relationship that left them feeling raw and stripped. “I didn’t want to live,” they say. “The acid pulled me back from the edge and made me want to hold onto life. That’s when I knew that acid is medicine. That’s why they don’t want anyone to have it.” Everyone chimes in, sharing their own acid deliverance stories. They all agree: acid, like a good DJ, can save your life.

Pi says, “That’s why everyone needs to make a trip to Acid Church at least once in their lives.”

Alix turns to me and asks: You wanna come to Acid Church?

I don’t know what that means at all, but I love it, and without blinking, I say, “Yes, I do.”

And then the night really begins.

In a stroke of serendipity, Pi has a car that she borrowed from a friend. When she pulls up in front of the house, we pile into the SUV like the Brady Bunch. And we are off.

I feel warm and safe in the back seat, snuggled between Alix and Kahelelani and Maka. Alix puts a bounce track on, and the whole car feels as though it is rocking as we dance inside. When Pi stops at a traffic light, Alix jumps out and begins twerking on the hood of the car, in the crosswalk, in the lane next to us. He jumps back in the car just as the light turns green—this ain’t his first time stopping traffic like this.

We careen through the streets, flying down the city’s wide boulevards, the truck soaring like a spaceship. Suddenly, we hit a massive pothole that sends the truck’s nose up into the air before crashing back on the surface so hard that it blows out the headlights. Pi slams on the brakes, and the group swings into action. Every single last one of us is riding dirty, and driving through New Orleans at 4:00 in the morning with no headlights is a no-go. Pi pops the hood, and she and Alli begin inspecting the engine to see what is going on. Minutes pass in tense silence. It might be the end of the evening if we can’t get these fucking lights back on.

Alix: “Maybe try turning the car off and then on again?”

It works on computers, we reason. Why not? Pi shuts off the car and then cranks it back up. Miraculously, it works. Alix shouts, “CTRL + Alt + Delete!” We roar our approval, and the trip to the Acid Church continues.

Choux is fiddling with his phone and asks everyone and no one in particular, “What ya’ll want to listen to?” I don’t remember who recommends Fiona Apple, but it’s the perfect choice because she’s a funky white girl like Joni Mitchell, and I like that bitch. We settle on “Criminal,” and suddenly everyone is singing along:

I done wrong

And I wanna suffer for my sins

I come to you

Cause I need guidance to be true

And I just don’t know

Where I should begin

The entire group pauses dramatically along with Fiona before launching into the chorus:

What I need

Is a good defense

‘cause I’m feeling

Like a criminal

And I need to redeemed

To the one I sinned against

Because he’s all

I ever knew of love.

The city feels empty and peaceful as we barrel down St. Claude’s Avenue past the Bywater towards Pi’s house. When we cross over the canal into the Lower Ninth Ward, the sun comes up, breaking through the clouds with a brightness that I have never seen in my life and expect never to experience again. The clouds are fat and lush, tinged with a pink and orange glow that looks so warm that my cheeks feel hot. The acid is hitting me hard now, and I feel like weeping and laughing and dancing and fucking and kissing and twirling, and I feel a happiness that I have never known before. I’ve never seen a sunrise so bright. I’ve never felt this much joy rushing through every cell in my body. I feel as though my whole life before this moment has been muted shades of gray, and suddenly, my heart, my ears, my soul is flooded with technicolor. Acid is saving my life. I want to scream this epiphany at the top of my lungs. But instead I just sing.

I am falling in love with this queer tribe of brilliant freaks. I know it in real time. Singing in the warmth of the car, driving into the sunrise, they feel like the family I have always longed for, full of wounded, beautiful survivors who wear their scars proudly like the city. Smart and tough like New Orleans, they alchemize their trauma into art, music and dance parties, those sacred safe spaces big enough to hold all kinds of folks in their arms, including a lost little colored girl like me. That night, I felt held in a way that is hard to explain—it is like the old folks say: “Better felt than telt.”

• • •

“She Who Sits with the Dead.” Morning Star Cemetery. Mossville. 2019.

Pi is an elegant hostess. She offers us tea, coffee, a light breakfast, cuts neat lines of coke onto a mirror on a rickety coffee table. When she says make yourself comfortable, I know that she means it. This is the Acid Church.

I walk outside and sit in the garden. The grass is an otherworldly shade of green so vibrant it glows.

I hold this feeling of aliveness in my chest, look at my skin as it vibrates. It occurs to me that there is a lesson here. My grandmother is dying; in fact, one day, everyone I love will die. So will I. But today I am alive. She is dying, but I must live. I close my eyes and think of Mamma’s tired body, which I know almost as well as I know my own body. When she is gone, I will hold the feeling of her flesh in my hands forever. In accompanying her to the end, she is teaching me how to live—and how to die. I do not try to wipe away my tears as they fall to the ground. I am alive.

The rest of the group finds me there. Pi brings me a cup of coffee. We spend the rest of the morning lounging on Pi’s trampoline in her backyard. When Alix strips down to his underwear to enjoy the warmth of the rising sun, it suddenly strikes me as a brilliant idea, and I take off my top. The sun feels good on my skin. I snuggle with Maka, who is wrapped up with Kahelelani in a warm quilt. Pi takes a drag of a cigarette, offers it to me. I thank her, take a quick puff, hand it back. Already I feel that we are sisters and will be for a long time. We talk about everything and nothing. We talk about our families, where we grew up, where we come from. We debate the merits and mechanics of trying to have sex on a trampoline. We inquire about each other’s astrological signs. Pi, obviously, is a Pisces; but with her sexy ass, you’d swear she’s a Scorpio. We talk about music. We talk about art. We talk about drugs. When the conversation stops, it feels natural, as though we are all collectively exhaling while the sun works on our bodies. We all breathe quietly, slowly. Watch the sun climb into the sky. There is nowhere else to be. We hold the moment in silence and gratitude. It feels good to be alive this morning.

The day slowly resumes its natural pace. Pi and Choux climb off the trampoline and migrate inside to finally go to bed. Housemates are waking up. Alix needs to catch a flight, and Kahelelani needs to get Maka home and get ready for work.

On the ride home, I glide down Esplanade Avenue up to the I-10 and take the on-ramp. I rise above the city as downtown comes into view. The disk of the Superdome shines in the sunlight. Behind it sits the old Charity Hospital, abandoned in the triumph of post-Katrina disaster capitalism. On either side of the freeway, I can look down and see the city streets lined with oak trees draped in Spanish moss and edged by stately old wood frame houses that resemble cakes with their pastel shades, intricate latticework and ornate embellishments. I look at the city, place my hand over my mouth and feel something like wonder swelling and aching in my chest.

I look over the city from the highway, see the Mississippi snaking along its shoreline and I realize that I love this wild, wounded, fucked up, magical city.

I have never felt as free as I do when I am in New Orleans. I think it’s the freest city in the United States of America. And my people know something about freedom. What it means to make your own freedom, to lay claim to the land and to try to make a place for yourself that you can call your own. Watching Mossville die taught me that not all freedom dreams survive. Sometimes, the powerful show up and crush them. But freedom is not found in buildings or monuments but in the love that we share for each other, for the land. Freedom is found in the insistence that we live and live and live, even when everything around us feels as though it is dying. But we cannot live until we grieve and honor what we have lost. I went to Louisiana to mourn the death of everything that I love in Mossville. My tears led me to New Orleans, and the city and her wild children have held me ever since.

They say that if you love New Orleans, she will love you back. NOLA drives me crazy. When I am away, she is all I think about, and when I’m there, I spend all my time just rolling in her hair.


Courtney Desiree Morris

Courtney Desiree Morris is a visual artist and assistant professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her forthcoming book is To Defend This Sunrise: Black Women’s Activism and the Authoritarian Turn in Nicaragua.

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