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(en) US, agitatorindex - New Orleans, Ellis Island, and Manifest Privilege By Matt Capri

Date Fri, 21 Oct 2005 18:02:48 +0200

A couple weeks ago I spent about thirty hours searching the 1200+
page list of Hurricane Katrina evacuees who were sent to Arkansas. In
addition to this and my regular job, I work at the Ellis Island museum.
I am very familiar with the passenger lists, known as manifests, which
were the documents of record for immigrants arriving at the island
from the day it opened in 1892 to at least as far as 1924. (The island
was open until 1954 but I am less familiar with documents from 1925 on.)
As I was searching through the Arkansas document it struck me that
there were similarities between it and the Ellis Island manifests, at
least in terms of format.

I can tell you a few things about the quality of the electronically
compiled evacuee list as compared to the largely handwritten Ellis
Island ship manifests.

There is no database for African American people analogous to the
Ellis Island passenger records. (The African burial ground in
downtown Manhattan is basically a fenced in area with a tree.) Given
that the evacuation of the Gulf Coast is the probably the largest, fastest
migration of Americans since the Civil War, people may at some point
in the future want to use the evacuee lists of Arkansas, for example, to
trace their lineage. After all, New Orleans had a free Black community
going back generations before the Civil War.

Unfortunately, for the purposes of genealogical research—or even
for its intended purpose of locating evacuees—the Arkansas
document is woefully inadequate.

For example my great grandfather Calogero Cannizaro is listed on an
Ellis Island manifest from 1911. We can see on this document that his
next of kin lived in a village outside of Palermo. We can see where he
was going. In fact, there is a complete name and address of the person
in Brooklyn whose home he was going to. This level of detail is
available on all the manifests after 1907 and is by leaps and bounds
more complete than the Arkansas evacuee list. The content of the
Ellis Island manifests before 1907 is not as good but most of the
manifests going as far back as 1892 are superior in content to the
Arkansas evacuee list.

Many, many of the entries in the Arkansas list are incomplete. Often
the list will have no information at all listed next to a person’s
name. Sometimes there are obvious spelling errors or the same name
written with a few different spellings when it is pretty clear the listings
refer to the same person. In other instances names, not all of which
seem to be too common, are given one row on the document and
instead of specific contact information the document states that there
are numerous evacuees with that same name and to call a toll free
number. I tried the number. It was busy.

Unlike the Ellis Island manifests, the Arkansas document has no
handwriting issues because it was generated by people using
computers. It is also easy enough to alphabetize by last name.
Unfortunately, since many entries have the first name and surname
transposed this is not always helpful. Given the size of the document,
printing it out is impossible for anyone without the financial means.
Downloading the document without a high-speed internet connection
is similarly insurmountable. Viewing it and searching it on a home PC
is extremely time consuming. I ended up having to work with the
document on my computer at work. Anyone with a slower computer
or without a fair amount of computer knowledge would encounter
even more obstacles.

Many people are familiar with the film Godfather II, some of which
was filmed on Ellis Island. In the early flashback sequences we see
Vito Andolini (Don Corleone) experience the murder of most of his
family. He boards a ship as a child going alone to an unfamiliar place.
He loses even his name along the way. This fiction of European
immigration into the US, however, is much closer to the facts of the
middle passage than it is to the experience of any white ethnic
person’s great or great-great grandfather. The current Mafia chic
popular among Black youth should surprise nobody.

It is a matter confirmed by historical documents that white privilege
was extended to those immigrants at least from the time they were
interviewed by the ship’s purser on the docks in Palermo,
Bremen, Naples, and Le Havre. More attention was paid to the
accuracy of the documentation of their migration, using fountain pens
and ledger books, than to the exodus of mostly poor mostly Black
folks from the New Orleans area today using computers.
Matt Capri is a member of Bring the Ruckus. He lives in New Jersey.
* Bring The Rukus is an antiauthotitarian anticapitalist
direct action revolutionary initiative.

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