\"Riding the Nightmare Express\"


Earl K. Long Library, Special Collections

\"Riding the Nightmare Express\" is a 23-page typescript of an unpublished memoir of Hurricane Betsy written by Ninth Ward residents Elizabeth Cousins Rogers (1891-1985) and her husband Walter Rogers (1900-1981). Walter was a World War I veteran, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World and a longtime union organizer. He also was affiliated with the US Communist Party. Elizabeth was also a radical, left-wing activist; she attended Smith College and began her writing career at Vogue magazine where she worked alongside Dorothy Parker. \r\nThe Rogers moved to New Orleans at the beginning of World War II. Walter served as a CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) union organizer while working as a heavy equipment operator. After renting an apartment in the French Quarter for several years, they bought a small house on St. Maurice Street in the Lower Ninth Ward. When Hurricane Betsy hit on September 9, 1965, Walter was 68 years old and Elizabeth was 77; they estimated that only about 20 percent of Lower Ninth Ward residents were white by this period just after the uproar associated with public school desegregation.\r\n The Rogers fled the flood waters along with their neighbors and refused to be separated from them. They did so as an act of solidarity with their neighbors; they also believed that their status as whites would allow them to be useful advocates and witnesses for their black neighbors. \r\n The Rogers\' account of their Hurricane Betsy ordeal contains sharp observations about racism they experienced in the rescue efforts and in the temporary refugee shelters. Along with such insight, they repeat--and fully believed--the rumor that the levees had been bombed during Betsy. While historians and other scholars are confident that this rumor has been debunked, claims of dynamiting made following Katrina demonstrate the strength of this belief throughout much of the community. The Rogers spent many years publishing and distributing pamphlets and leaflets arguing that the levees had been blown. Their efforts-- probably more than any other factor--have helped to keep this rumor in circulation among New Orleans and St. Bernard parish residents. When Hurricane Katrina hit the city 40 years later, similar rumors emerged. The Rogers also repeat statements they heard regarding the bodies of Betsy victims being tied together and pushed out to sea. This rumor proved to be far less capable of surviving. \r\n The Rogers\' home was uninhabitable for 2 years following Betsy, and they spearheaded a Hurricane Betsy Victims group. Working with their black neighbors, the Rogers provided a militant voice on behalf of working-class hurricane victims. They demanded grants, not loans, and they also called for rent control. Of course, their demands were largely unmet. The Rogers also called for an end to Vietnam War spending in order to provide increased relief for the working people of the Ninth Ward. 40 years later, many radical political activists in the Lower Ninth Ward issued similar demands. Groups such as the People\'s Hurricane Relief Fund and Common Ground demand peace in Iraq as well as increased aid for the city\'s latest flood sufferers.\r\n As members of the Communist Party, Elizabeth and Walter Rogers had scarcely any success in organizing their neighbors, many of whom were church-goers and fully aware of the Red Scare. Fear of red-baiting also caused many white and black union members to keep their distance from the Rogers. \r\n However, the Rogers remained politically active in New Orleans until the ends of their lives. Throughout the Vietnam War they held a peace vigil outside St. Louis Cathedral every Sunday. \r\n\r\nThe papers are archived in the Special Collections of the Earl K. Long Library at the University of New Orleans. Permission to make this document available to the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank was granted by Mary Gehman, the literary executor for Elizabeth Rogers.\r\n


“\"Riding the Nightmare Express\",” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed June 17, 2024, https://hurricanearchive.org/items/show/26649.