Native of New Orleans actor and activist Wendell Pierce talks about how insurance companies discouraged poor and black families from returning to New Orleans after Katrina by refusing to honor homeowner policies. Pierce, whose great-grandfather came to New Orleans as a slave in the 1800s, talks about how Allstate gave his parents just $400 after they paid premiums for 50 years. Pierce also writes about his family in his new book, “The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, a Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken.”
In 2005, when Katrina shockingly destroyed his old neighborhood, he returned to Pontchartrain Park to revitalize the neighborhood and has built 75 new homes and plans on doubling that number.
WENDELL PIERCE: “I remember the greatest crime that ever happened, I think, was 10 years ago, when none of the large insurance companies honored the homeowner policies. My parents paid Allstate for 50 years, when they moved into Pontchartrain Park in 1955 up to the day we evacuated, and we’re still paying after the flood, because my mother said it can burn down at any time. And for those 50 years of premiums, they received $400. They said, “That’s all we’re going to pay.” There was a lawsuit, a class-action lawsuit, years later that everyone participated in to try to get some sort of mediation, and we lost the class-action suit. So, all of those insurance companies that sold insurance to my parents for years, saying that “You will be made whole. Have some flood insurance, and along with your homeowners’ insurance, when you put them together, you will be made whole,” they only gave them $400 after 50 years of paying premiums.”
“It is the African-American aesthetic: in spite of the challenge, in spite of the oppression, I will survive. And that’s on display in New Orleans, and that’s the reason 10 years after the fact, we are back to where we are.”