We recently observed the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The following day, we observed the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating strike on New Orleans. The two anniversaries call to mind the week that followed Hurricane Katrina when “human kindness was overflowing” and Dr. King’s dream was realized for one moment in time in our own south Louisiana.
When it was reported that New Orleans had been flooded by Katrina and that thousands of men, women and children were stranded on rooftops in the Crescent City without food or water, men and women from all over south Louisiana and from all walks of life left their homes without being asked and voluntarily hitched small boats to their pickup trucks and headed for New Orleans to rescue the people on the rooftops.
These heroic volunteers were later dubbed the “Cajun navy” by reporters. In order to accomplish the rescue, the rescuers had to first use all means necessary to get around the roadblocks that had been set up around the city by state and federal officials who were concerned about the safety of the rescuers. Next, they had to avoid the physical hazards that were in the way of accomplishing the rescue, such as power lines, underwater obstructions and other impediments to the water rescue of people from rooftops in an urban area.
Once the rescues had been completed, the Cajun navy didn’t seek publicity, didn’t ask for rewards but quietly left New Orleans and went home.
As it turned out in the end, the majority of the rescuers happened to be white and the majority of those rescued happened to be African-American.
The rescuers didn’t know the people they rescued, and the two groups will probably never meet again. The Cajun navy did the heroic deeds without regard to race, out of the kindness of their hearts, to help their fellow men, women and children who were in dire circumstances.
Dr. King’s dream of “All of God’s children” moving forward together in friendship and brotherly love has not yet been universally realized, but we know that someday it will be, since it already happened for a brief moment in time in one place eight years ago right here in south Louisiana.