2005: The fleur-de-lis becomes a symbol of post-Katrina pride in New Orleans
In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing floodwaters ravaged New Orleans, several things became familiar: blue tarps where roofs used to be. Ruined refrigerators, shut tight with duct tape, on curbs. Heaps of storm debris piled high. And fleurs-de-lis — on banners, jewelry, clothing, greeting cards, T-shirts, glassware and even on people’s skin. While it had long been a symbol of the city (and its football team), in the wake of the devastating storm it become more — a symbol of pride, of strength, of defiance and of determination to rebuild one of America’s great cities.
A dozen years after the storm, the fleurs-de-lis abound. While no one is nostalgic for the horror that Katrina inflicted upon the New Orleans area, these flowers remind us of what we can endure – and overcome.
- New Orleans isn’t the only city where the fleur-de-lis (French for “flower of the lily”) is common. It’s everywhere in Florence, Italy. But there are differences: The New Orleans version, in a nod to the city’s French heritage, is relatively simple, with three petals joined by a band, while the Florentine variety has stamens between the petals, and the tips of the petals and stamens form flowers.
- You can find fleurs-de-lis on the Canadian coat of arms; the flags of the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia; and the flags of Acadiana, Lafayette, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Detroit, St. Louis and Louisville, Ky.
- Starting in the fall of 2005, two Covington women, Monica Mecca and Julie Rayburn, made and sold tens of thousands of royal-blue banners, each bearing a fleur-de-lis and the words “Louisiana — Recover — Rebuild — Rebirth” in a show of inspiration, solidarity and hope as southern Louisiana struggled to rebuild.
- The fleur-de-lis saved Mignon Faget’s New Orleans-based jewelry business. A fleur-de-lis brooch she designed after the storm sold out immediately, and Faget set up a whole department to design fleur-de-lis jewelry. Although she had had to lay off 72 of 80 employees in the storm’s immediate aftermath, the flush of prosperity enabled her to bring back “all our employees, one fleur-de-lis at a time,” said Virginia Saussy, who was the company’s executive vice president for sales and marketing.
- On July 9, 2008, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a law making the fleur-de-lis an official symbol of Louisiana.
- Not all the fleur-de-lis-related associations are inspiring or even pleasant. Article 32 of the Code Noir of 1724 said runaway slaves would have their ears cut off and a fleur-de-lis branded on their shoulders, Sylvia R. Frey, an emeritus history professor at Tulane University, wrote in Uncommon Sense, a publication of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture of the College of William and Mary.
- In what can only be viewed as an indelible commitment to New Orleans, fleur-de-lis tattoos blossomed on arms, legs, torsos and napes in the months after the storm. They were frequently accompanied by the number 504, which is New Orleans’ area code.
The reasons for the fleur-de-lis’ popularity are complex. For some, it represented a tie to the city’s French heritage and to the home they loved. For others, it represented the challenge of bringing New Orleans back. And others saw it as a symbol of defiance, a way of showing that the storm wasn’t going to defeat them. In the anxious months after the storm, when nothing seemed certain, Frey wrote that the fleur-de-lis “has taken on a new metaphoric resonance as it tries to speak of the unspeakable in ways that words alone cannot. In the aftermath of Katrina, it has become a powerful, effective signifier of the city’s rebirth. In a sense, the fleur-de-lis has been vested with a significance far beyond our separate histories. It is the vehicle of our imagination of what the ‘new’ New Orleans can be.”