NEW ORLEANS -- On this Martin Luther King holiday, New Orleans also remembers a controversial speech given by a controversial former mayor.
'It's time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans,' said Ray Nagin on January 16, 2006. 'And I don't care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day... this city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be.'
Nagin gave his now infamous 'Chocolate City' speech on the steps of city hall, five years ago.
Political strategist Dr. Silas Lee said Nagin's comments came just months after Hurricane Katrina, when many displaced New Orleanians didn't know if they would be welcomed back to the city.
'You heard it from people in positions of authority, people in positions of power who wanted to change not only the demographics of the community, but change how the community would look in terms of who would return,' said Lee.
Demographer Greg Rigamer said the size of the African-American population shrank from 67-percent pre-Katrina to about 50 percent at the time of Nagin's speech.
'In January 2006, when this statement is made, Gentilly's not back, Lower Ninth, Upper Ninth aren't back, New Orleans East is not back, Lakeview is not back,' said Rigamer. 'There's great anxiety, there is a question as to whether the city is going to be recoverable.'
Rigamer said the black population in the city now stands at about 62 percent.
'The community, by in large, becomes more like it was pre-storm as we continue,' said Rigamer.
Political analyst Clancy DuBos said the speech was a turning point in Nagin's career.
'It was calculated to give him a black political base in time for his re-election and it worked,' said DuBos. 'But, after he got in, that's all it was, it was a ploy. He got back in and had four years of failure.'
The man who now occupies the mayor's office, Mitch Landrieu, admits that race is an issue in America. But, he said at this point in the city's recovery, on this Martin Luther King Day, it's more important for us to focus on the things we all have in common.
'I think this community has demonstrated a great capacity to overcome tough, tough obstacles and we're going to continue to work through that in a very real way,' said Landrieu.
Nagin eventually apologized for his 'Chocolate City' comments, saying that he was only trying to encourage many of the city's displaced poor population to return.