The Community Impact that Battle Ground Baptist Church has had since Hurricane Katrina I want to make clear that I began this research project with no previous knowledge of the Black Baptist Church. Since I was raised in a conservative Mormon household, my knowledge of other religions was therefore minimal. My interest in African American culture began at a young age. This is in large part due to the fact that I am biracial and was adopted by a Caucasian family at the age of four. Having never been exposed to this culture, I have always had a longing to understand the social structures and history of African Americans. After learning about the struggles and triumphs of the Fazendeville community, I knew that I wanted to know more and work with their central guide, Battle Ground Baptist Church. Through my research I have come to find how the church is the major promoter of community resiliency even through all of their travesties. I used the ethnographic approach to conduct my research. The ethnographic approach is commonly used in anthropological research and it relies on fieldwork, participant observation, and an assortment of methods such as interviewing and surveying. Typical ethnographic research uses various data collection methods, such as: interviews, observations, and documents. I observed and participated in several church services and interviewed the pastor and members of the church at their homes. In addition, I completed a literature review of similar works on the black church, displaced communities, and disaster resiliency. First I think it is valuable to understand the history of the Fazendeville community. I will then further discuss the history of Battle Ground Baptist Church and lastly the more current issues in the community especially post Katrina through the interviews that I have conducted. The history behind the Fazendeville community is quite fascinating. According to the folklorist, Joyce Marie Jackson, Fazendeville was the name of a village of African Americans located near the Mississippi River levee in the city of Chalmette from the end of the Civil War to
early 1960s. The first residents to this area came from many of the plantations nearby in the Mississippi River Parishes. As one could imagine, having a community near the levee afforded them drier land than most in the surrounding areas. The area in which this community lived was once known as the Chalmette Plantation, and here the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 was fought. Jean Pierre Fazende, a freedman of color, inherited this land and split it into plots, which he then sold to newly emancipated African-Americans. The occupants also referred to the unique community of Fazendeville, as â€œthe Village.â€? The village had around 45 to 50 families who made up a lively community. During the communitiesâ€™ existence in Chalmette, it had three grocery stores, two bars, two benevolent society halls, a one-room school which went through the eighth grade, and at least three churches including Battle Ground Baptist Church. In 1939, Fazendeville remained on the preserved battlefield. Consequently, in 1964 the National Park Service forcefully took the Fazendeville area, eradicating their local buildings, and physically obliterating the notable community. Due to the forced relocation, most members of the community then moved into the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. This area was primarily black and reasonably priced. Many of the members of the community continue to live there today. However due to the natural disasters of Hurricanes Betsy, Katrina, and Rita, many of the community members were displaced again. Through these trials and tribulations it is important to note that most of the members have successfully made it through both manmade and natural disasters, as the community has resiliency and bonds through not only friendship, but also through their religious practices. When the church was located in Fazendeville, it was the center of all community events. It not only served as a school, but it also served as a town hall, a governmental ground, a social event hall, and for many other community activities. A few of my interviewees even mentioned
how the church was the center of life for them growing up. One gentleman stated how he loved attending events due to “the pretty girls” that attended. Once the church moved its location to the Ninth Ward, events still carried on, but there were many other churches in the area, and therefore the church did not dominate the Ninth Ward. However, for the families who came from Fazendeville, it did. One of the members, Mrs. Donna Williams, helped construct The Battle Ground Baptist Church history. Battle Ground Baptist Church was founded in 1868 in the Old Sugar Mill at the location where the Battle of New Orleans was fought. From 1868 -1986 the church was led under 8 pastors. After Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005, the church building was destroyed. The present Reverend at the time, Reverend Sanders, had like most of the members relocated to another state. There he had become too ill to return and serve the congregation. In 2007, Reverend Sanders turned the church leadership over to an interim pastor. After a few years of scramble, the current pastor, Reverend Eric Dorsey, was called to serve. Reverend Dorsey’s story is unique. He is not a descendent from the original families in Fazendeville. His family started attending Battle Ground Baptist Church once the church was in the Ninth Ward. Growing up in the Ninth Ward his parents went to separate churches and due to that he went to his father’s church. However, his mother attended Battle Ground Baptist Church and served as a deaconess. He started attending Battle Ground Baptist Church in 1994 and has since been a part of the ministry since 1997. He received “the call”1 as a minister in 2009. Not only is he a minister but he is also a barber by trade. Since hurricane Katrina he resides in Baton Rouge with his family, but his business is still in New Orleans.
1 “The Call” is
commonly known in the Baptist faith as when one receives a call from God telling them to preach.
In all of my interviews, each interviewee mentioned multiple times how the church was and is on its way to be the core of their community again. Many of the members have not yet returned to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, but they commute to Battle Ground Baptist Church, because as Revered Dorsey said, “It’s home to us.” Before Hurricane Katrina, the church had children and youth groups, three levels of choirs (senior, intermediate, and mass), and tutoring programs. Now as they meet in the education section of the church, they are trying to get back to the front of the church, the sanctuary. After Hurricane Katrina, the church was completely destroyed. Due to the disaster, most of the members were scattered all over the country. Not until 2009 after the hurricane did they have a place to worship. Once Reverend Dorsey was elected, they held services at another location. Finally after many trials due to the finances required in the building efforts in January 2012, they moved into the newly remodeled education portion of the church. They have been raising money to finish the rebuilding efforts, but the progress is slow, but steady. Many of the members are still recovering from the devastating effects of the natural disaster. Through these trials, many of the members, as one stated, through “faithfulness and perseverance,” have never faltered. African-Americans have relied on the church historically and traditionally as the unifying source of their communities. The African-American churches have been the most important, traditional, and direct formal occurrence in African American communities. As C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya state: The proscriptions of 250 years of slavery, followed by another hundred years of Jim Crow segregation, permitted only the religious enterprise among black people to become a stable, cohesive, and independent social institution. As a consequence, black churches have carried burdens and performed roles and functions beyond their boundaries of
spiritual nurture in politics, economics, education, music, and culture. (Lincoln and Mamiya 92â€“93) I think what is important to gather from this statement, is how it is evident in our society how black churches are still the major strongholds of their community. This is apparent in Fazendeville community, as Battle Ground Baptist Church has carried many roles. As stated, I have wondered about the magnitude that Battle Ground Baptist Church had on the Fazendeville community, especially after the many hardships that the community faced throughout the years, but through my observation, I have noted the obvious divide in gender roles in the church. On any given Sunday, the average female to male ratio is 3 to 1. This surprised me, since most of the hierarchal positions in the church are male dominated. One member even mentioned that the new Revered is a misogynist. This member said, â€œHe is chauvinistic, in his character towards women.â€? Although this is not a central theme, I do believe that through further research this issue will be seen to not be an isolated issue. However all in all, Battle Ground Baptist Church has greatly helped the people it serves. It has been one of the related networks that enabled continued existence of the community. In the beginning, the village was comprised of roughly 45 families at any given time, and therefore, the church was a vital center for life. The church played a fundamental role in nearly all aspects, including significance and development of Fazendeville. As the church played such a significant role in the village, it continues to play the same role today, as it can be seen through the resiliency of the members. Through one prominent member, Mrs. Donna, who was raised in the Battle Ground Baptist Church community, I have learned that most traditions, such as the format of the service, baptisms, and hymns sung are the same traditions that she grew up with. She said, "church was
playhouse, we did everything there.” She reminisced that “something was going on every day.” She told me that, “On Monday we had bible study, on Tuesday we had choir rehearsal, on Wednesday we had Baptist Training Union, and so on.” Her Grandmother was even the founder of the Progressive Hall, which was a Benevolent Society in the community. She related the church to being their “school master.” It is important to note that these events were carried on when Battle Ground Baptist Church was in Fazendeville. When Battle Ground had to move to the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, LA, she said, “Battle Ground does not play a huge role in this community. We were not the largest church in the area anymore. Our members are mostly members that have roots in The Village.” When asked why she has continued going to Battle Ground Baptist Church she said: After the hurricane and getting a new pastor, I questioned if I wanted to stay in Battle Ground Baptist Church. Since the new pastor knew nothing about us, our history. He is chauvinistic and diminishes women in the church by his character, but we preserve and move on. But after a while I came back whether that is because I was grounded in Battle Ground Baptist Church, the people, or the name…I don’t know what it is. I went to several churches when I came back to New Orleans, but I told myself if Battle Ground Baptist Church comes back, I'll go back. The traditions, community, and spirituality that have stood with Mrs. Donna and many members of Battle Ground Baptist Church can be seen through her resiliency after many trials and tribulations. Their continuation to persevere even when times are not the greatest show us the importance of the community, whether that be through friendships, a relationship with a higher power, or the familiarity of a church and community. The networks made are needed for community restoration and liberation.
As I have attended a few services and met with the wonderful members of Battle Ground Baptist Church, their rich history has inspired me. They, through all of their trials and tribulations, have not given up hope. They continually fight the good fight and get back up when they are knocked down. I do believe that further analysis must be done on the gender roles and changing traditions within Battle Ground Baptist Church. However the church does provide and meet the spiritual needs of their members and it is also the rock and foundation for many. As I have stated, Battle Ground Baptist Church has played a major role in the resiliency of this community. Growing up in and continuing to attend the same church allows one to have a family beyond blood. Since their church has been with many of the members since the beginning, the impact that the church has on the descendants of the Fazendeville community is huge. The folks of Fazendeville and members of Battle Ground Baptist Church have not only endured the relocation due to man, but also due to, Hurricane Betsy and Katrina and have since proved that their church is a symbol of resiliency for the community of Fazendeville in the past and in the present.
Works Cited Dorsey, Eric. Personal interview. 15 Oct. 2013. DuBois, W.E.B. Economic Cooperation among Negro Americans. Atlanta: Atlanta University Press, 1903. Print. Durkeim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. New York: Free Press, 1912. Print. Gant, William. Personal interview. 24 Nov. 2013 Jackson, Joyce Marie. "Declaration of Taking Twice: The Fazendeville Community of the Lower Ninth Ward." American Anthropologist 4 (2006): 765 â€“ 780. Print. Lincoln, C. Eric, and Lawrence Mamiya. The Black Church in the African American Experience. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999. Print. Ned, Elias. Personal interview. 24 Nov. 2013 Williams, Donna. Personal interview. 24 Nov. 2013.
Research Paper presented at the National Council for Black Studies national conference 2014