by Angus Woodward
This is your city, a place where the people around you—your 220,000 neighbors—live, work, think, breathe. That’s the Mississippi River on the left, the big sporty university on the lower left, a small lake on the right.
Another river, much smaller and twistier, forms the eastern boundary of your city. The Amite River is surrounded mostly by undeveloped jungle and crossed by a few bridges, including this railroad bridge.
Fifty years ago, your city was 70 percent white. Now it is 54 percent Black. The shift happened for the usual (Southern) reasons: white flight in response to desegregation, individual and systemic racism. A broad, blurry color line divides your city—Blacks (mostly) to the north and whites (mostly) to the south.
Here’s a view of the city from the north, the big sporty university in the distance and the not-as-big HBCU in the lower right.
The pinnacle of your city’s prosperity is represented by Perkins Rowe, a shiny mall/artificial village. Its theater, shops, and restaurants draw folks from all over the city. Some have to travel longer and further than others.
Prosperous citizens are accustomed to your city’s petrochemical plants remaining in the faraway distance, while economically disadvantaged residents live right across the street from the fifth-largest oil refinery in the nation.
An interstate spur runs north and south just a few blocks west of the refinery. It is an elevated expressway, built in the 1950s and 1960s with little regard for the surrounding neighborhoods.
Modest houses sit among the trees, between the interstate’s thousands of daily vehicles and the refinery’s millions of gallons of crude oil. The house shown here sits about 170 feet from the interstate guardrail and about 1200 feet from the ExxonMobil tank farm.
The fence between the refinery and its neighbors is intimidating. In addition to a “POSTED” sign, there is a sign that says: “SECURITY ALARM SYSTEM/DO NOT LEAN OR PLACE ANY MATERIAL WITHIN THREE FEET OF FENCE.”
The rusted tank in the background offers this message: “ExxonMobil and Baton Rouge: Growing Together, Working Together.” You can’t see past the chain-link and barbed wire.
Angus Woodward was raised by southerners in the Midwest and moved to Louisiana half a lifetime ago. His books of fiction are Down at the End of the River (Margaret Media, 2008), Americanisation (Livingston Press, 2011), and Oily (Spaceboy Books, 2018). Recent graphic work appears in Shenandoah, Hobart, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere (including Slag Glass City, Volume 6).
SLAG GLASS CITY • Volume 10 • January 2024
Header image by formulanone.