How early on did you know Come Hell or High Water was a book you had to write?
Pretty immediately. When I saw those black heroes and courageous citizens being abandoned by their government, I knew then that I would have to write a text as quickly as possible, but as thoroughly as possible, that documented the malfeasance and the incompetence and ineptitude and ignorance that pervaded the government's response and that characterized the response of the have-gots to the have-nots.
The conspiracy theory that whites dynamited the levees during Hurricane Katrina surfaces a few times in your book, a possibility you never seem wholly to discount.
The fact that it exists doesn't bother me because it's a judgment rendered by ordinary people on a society that has used power against them. Even if it didn't occur this time, it occurred before, in 1927, in the Great Flood of Mississippi, where the levees were blown up, where black communities were flooded in deference to whiter communities. I'm empathetic to people, even if I don't particularly agree that there is conclusive evidence about a particular instance. That's almost irrelevant. Because, when you believe somebody blew up a levee, what are you saying? "Our lives are not as important as other people's lives, because they're willing to come to our community to see us flooded so others won't be." Now whether or not that's true literally, it's true spiritually! It's true politically: these people are marginal politically!
You suggest "black prophetic religion" as a means to save poor blacks from their plight generally, and to heal the wounds of Katrina specifically. Is religion prominent in your own life?
Oh, very much so, I'm an ordained Baptist minister. I've been an ordained minister since 1979. And it continues to fuel my anger at injustice and spurs me to speak as loudly as possible and as effectively as possible for "the least of these." I'm not poor any longer, yet I'm concerned about the poor because the Gospel that I believe tells me that's the central value—to be concerned about those who are less fortunate. And to remind the powers that be, even the religions and theologies that cover them, that justify them, that they cannot afford to articulate a vision that colludes with power and empire. That they've got to be critical agents of restoring dignity to human beings who have been hurt, and I think that my religious perspective and my faith fuel such a desire and continue to push me forward.