(Music links are at the bottom of this essay.)
When William Rouselle and I entered the room, the mayor stopped speaking and would not continue until we left.
Mr. Bill (as he is affectionately known) and I, were an unlikely duo, born less than a year apart in 1946 and 1947 respectively. He was from uptown, I from downtown (way downtown, the lower ninth ward, CTC–cross the canal). Although we both graduated from a catholic high school, he was from Xavier Prep class of 1963 (they had a predominately girl’s population) and my parents sent my resentful ass to St. Augustine (an all boy’s, mostly creole seventh-ward aggregation whose relatively small, dark-skinned population consisted of athletes and musicians plus a handful of so-called super-smart negroes) the class of 1964, which I fell into.
Bill graduated from Xavier University, I briefly attended SUNO (Southern University in New Orleans) after a three year stint in the army, which is partly how we met. In 1968 Bill was a newly employed television reporter and I was one of the leaders of student demonstrations. Shortly thereafter we met in person.
Ours is almost a fairy tale story. Highlights included community organizing together, such as opposing George Wein at Jazzfest (the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival) and, later on, both of us working with Wein as board members and staff at Jazzfest. We both were stalwarts of the Free Southern Theatre. And we once gave a joint press conference during a tumultuous period of anti-klan militancy; the small coffee table was set with rifles on them; I had a 30-caliber carbine, and, if I remember correctly, Bill had a hunting rifle.
Plus, there was a whole lot more. During the seventies and eighties we were so close that when we attended raucous meetings one of us would start talking and the other would finish. Literally. And, man, we were some card-playing fools, the bid whist champions of our circle (I favored straight, no, low, i.e no trumps, low card winners, expose the kitty). And, oh yes, we both worked for years at the Black Collegian magazine where Butch and I were wounded in a shooting accident. I took a thirty-eight slug through my left knee. The bullet had hit Butch first, then through a desk, and onwards through my leg, and finally into the wall. Bill had the task of reporting the shooting accident, attending to getting us to the hospital, and patiently explaining to the incredulous doctors how two grown-ass negroes were shot while supposedly playing chess and both were wounded by the same bullet from a derringer that could snuggly and inconspicuously fit in a grown man’s hand.
In the particular case I started writing about above, the year was 1970-something and the city’s first Black mayor was Ernest Morial. Bill and I were co-conspirators in the take over of city hall, I with a handful of comrades sitting-in inside and Bill leading demonstrations outside in front of city hall.
Yes, we go way back. I keep promising to get with Bill and write up our story but meanwhile I’m sending out this brief missive as partial fulfillment of that ongoing wish.
So this post is about two things: my friendship with Bill and reparations. “When will we be paid for the work we did?” Here are three selections: one each from Prince, the Staple Singers, and Terry Callier. There’s a whole lot more I could say, but I’ll just let this swift salvo stand until I get myself together and wage the full out campaign to tell the story of how Mr. Bill and I became the partners we were and the friends we will always be.