George Diepenbrock
KU News Service

Hurricane Katrina's social effects linger, KU professor says

Thu, 08/27/2015

LAWRENCE — Aug. 29 will mark 10 years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast, devastating many communities, including New Orleans. The hurricane killed about 1,800 people and displaced more than 1 million.

The disaster and botched response brought to the forefront socioeconomic and racial disparities in the region. And the issues persist 10 years later, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from July showing that 66 percent of white residents believe that New Orleans today offers good or excellent career opportunities for young people while only 35 percent of black residents believe so.

A University of Kansas expert and New Orleans native with family still living in the area is available to discuss the lasting social significance of the disaster and its fallout after one decade.

Randal Maurice Jelks, professor of American studies and African-American studies, can speak about how Hurricane Katrina and the disaster response became a catalyst to discuss racial and class divisions in the country. Jelks has lectured about how news reports on Katrina portrayed African-Americans as stereotypically poor and largely ignored middle-class black neighborhoods in New Orleans and Louisiana.

Jelks was born in New Orleans and lived there until he was 14. He has relatives still living in the region who experienced Katrina and its aftermath.

"New Orleans already was a poor situation before Katrina," Jelks said. "The recovery has brought a new influx of money for some parts of the city, but it is still a difficult situation for lots of people."

A U.S. Fulbright scholar, Jelks studies social movements of the 20th century, including the U.S. civil rights movement, and has written an award-winning book, "Benjamin Elijah Mays: Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography." Mays was a mentor of Martin Luther King Jr. Jelks also authored the 2006 book "African Americans in the Furniture City: the Civil Rights Struggle in Grand Rapids," which examined the African-American community over a century in the Michigan city.

To speak with Jelks, contact George Diepenbrock, KU News Service, 785-864-8853,

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