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Port Arthur – Observations

One the second day, as we rode into downtown Port Arthur, I could not help but notice how abandoned the town was. It was the middle of the morning, and yet there seemed to be little movement in the streets and buildings. As we met with Hilton Kelley and continued out drive through the city, this pattern continued. Many of the houses and buildings were boarded up and abandoned. Once we got out of the vans and toured around, the second thing I noticed was the smell of rotten eggs in the air due to the amounts of Sulfur Dioxide. The smell became worse near the project housing, where Hilton Kelley was actually born. Inside Kelley’s Kitchen, Hilton explained to us that the town was not always so abandoned. He explained that in the 1950s and 60s Port Arthur was highly segregated. African Americans had to live on one side of the railroad track and would be cruelly punished by cops for being on the wrong side too late at night. In fact, the place where Kelley’s restaurant is now used to be an all white tavern where African Americans had to come through the back. Due mainly to white flight the town is now 64% African American and 23 % Mexican with only a very small 5-6% Anglo American population. Many factors contributed to the demise of the city including the large hurricanes that came through the area such as Rita and Ike. Unfortunately the town has now become somewhat of an environmental sacrifice zone.

Hilton has done an enormous amount of work to bring back to life the city of Port Arthur. His dedication is truly remarkable. He educated the community, held meetings and rallies, gotten a petition to give to a congressmen with 600-700 signatures, formed CIDA, organized bucket brigades as well as countless other contributions. One thing that Hilton is really hoping will help revitalize the town is that the EPA has made Port Arthur a spotlight community. This will give them access to HUDD among other things. After hearing both councilman Melvin White and Hilton Kelley speak to us, the plethora of environmental obstacles facing Port Arthur became clearer. For one, the environment in general is a ground level issue which people will easily ignore if you let them. Many of the community in Port Arthur is poor and so between living pay check to pay check and working ridiculous hours to provide for their family, they honestly do not have the time, energy, or money to be very involved in petitioning their situation. In addition, the lack of infrastructure in the town is a big problem. As we were touring we saw no banks and no large grocery stores, They need to find a capital that is linked to something besides petroleum, The councilman told us that there have been three major storms to hit the area, Hurricane Ike, Katrina, and crack. He discussed how they have to retrain the hearts and minds of the people in order to build up the community.

I learned a lot from visiting Port Arthur and meeting Hilton Kelley and Melvin White. I think Mr. White’s words on the importance of being a multi-tasker these days in the variety of community issues that one is faced with is very true. Hopefully, through the great contributions that Hilton Kelley among others have made, Port Arthur can become a thriving town once again.

-Kristin McNabb

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. April 26, 2011 at 2:14 am

    I look forward to learning the difference being a “spotlight community” will have on the City of Port Arthur. The way it was described by Hilton sounded like it had a lot of hype, and I hope that it can make some effective changes for the city. I think that by accepting this honor it may be a trade program, you do bring attention and improvement to the community pollution and economy, but does the community decide exactly what will be implemented? Im curious about what kinds of differences it made it cities that were previously in the spotlight.
    I think that the program would be overall greatly effective in this town because of the great sense of unity and need for betterment for the people in the community.

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