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We Shall Not Be Moved: Rebuilding Home in the Wake of Katrina

NOLA Neighborhoods drawing by Jamie Devol
Drawing by Jamie Devol

"It was heartbreaking, but we couldn't give up. I just said, 'Well, I've got to get in and do it.'"-Phil Harris, eight-decade-long resident of Hollygrove

WOOTEN-WeShallNotBeMovedAs floodwaters drained in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans residents came to a difficult realization. Their city was about to undertake the largest disaster recovery in American history, yet they faced a profound leadership vacuum: members of every tier of government, from the municipal to the federal level, had fallen down on the job. We Shall Not Be Moved tells the absorbing story of the community leaders who stepped into this void to rebuild the city they loved.

From a Vietnamese Catholic priest who immediately knows when two of his six thousand parishioners go missing to a single mother from the Lower Ninth Ward who instructs the likes of Jimmy Carter and Brad Pitt, these intrepid local organizers show that a city's fate rests on the backs of its citizens. On their watch, New Orleans neighborhoods become small governments. These leaders organize their neighbors to ward off demolition threats, write comprehensive recovery plans, found community schools, open volunteer centers, raise funds to rebuild fire stations and libraries, and convince tens of thousands of skeptical residents to return home. Focusing on recovery efforts in five New Orleans neighborhoods-Broadmoor, Hollygrove, Lakeview, the Lower Ninth Ward, and Village de l'Est-Tom Wooten presents vivid narratives through the eyes and voices of residents rebuilding their homes, telling a story of resilience as entertaining as it is instructive.

The unprecedented community mobilization underway in New Orleans is a silver lining of Hurricane Katrina's legacy. By shedding light on this rebirth, We Shall Not Be Moved shows how residents, remarkably, turned a profound national failure into a story of hope.

“Compelling beyond belief, deserving the broadest possible readership, and mandatory reading for urban planners and community organizers, this is a tour-de-force about one American city and what it means to fight for the survival of your hometown.” Booklist

"Mr. Wooten meticulously tracks the work of civic groups in five parts of New Orleans as they labored to prove that their neighborhoods were worth saving, underscoring the importance of fostering such groups long before a catastrophe hits." The Wall Street Journal 

“Few disasters are ever truly ‘natural,’ and, as Tom Wooten shows, reconstruction after catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina is shaped heavily by individuals, their communities, and the structural barriers they face. Portraying a diverse range of community leaders, Wooten spins a compelling tale based on deep knowledge of local worlds, linked to an understanding of the large-scale social forces that affect these worlds in ways too often invisible to journalists and other chroniclers of events like Katrina. The stories in We Shall Not Be Moved show the essential role of local knowledge in long-term recovery and reconstruction.”—Paul Farmer, author of Haiti After the Earthquake

“A moving portrait of a city’s struggle to rebuild. It is not an account of Katrina per se. . . . Rather, it is a story of the arduous endeavor residents have undertaken in New Orleans. . . . Every bit as gripping and important as tales from the storm itself.” Walter Issacson, from the Foreword

“In this moving book, Tom Wooten narrates the daily struggles of residents of five neighborhoods in New Orleans to overcome the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. We Shall Not Be Moved brilliantly weaves together the stories of community residents, including accounts of their unprecedented organizing and rebuilding efforts. Wooten’s revealing nonfiction narrative is a must-read.”—William Julius Wilson, author of More Than Just Race

Wooten Author PicAbout the Author:

Tom Wooten is coauthor of No One Had a Tongue to Speak. Since graduating from Harvard in 2008 and moving to New Orleans, he has worked as a researcher at Harvard's Kennedy School, as a neighborhood volunteer coordinator, and as a fifth- and sixth-grade writing teacher. In 2011, Wooten was featured as a Forbes 30 under 30 in Law & Policy.

Read more about Tom Wooten and his work at tomwooten.com.