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Haunting memories as N.O. council honors victims of UpStairs Lounge fire

While the arson was a tragedy, it was the aftermath and failure to properly investigate by city leaders that was scrutinized.

NEW ORLEANS — A day before the 49th anniversary of the UpStairs Lounge fire, the New Orleans City Council voted to recognize and honor the 32 victims of the deadly arson.

The City Council also formally apologized for the city's response to the attack. 

"The failure of the city to acknowledge what happened, inherently prevents the city from learning from it," Councilmember JP Morrell said. 

"In a city that prides itself upon being this haven of acceptance in a state of hate, we have to acknowledge that we also were a place of hate," Morrell said. 

The only suspect was never arrested and witnesses said he had been kicked out of the bar. 

While the arson was a tragedy, it was the aftermath and failure to properly investigate by city leaders that was scrutinized.

Councilmember JP Morrell said his office will now work with the council to remove some of the victims from a mass grave and give them a proper memorial. 

"An unmarked grave. In this City? I seldom say I'm rendered speechless," Morrell said, "But it renders me speechless."

Other councilmembers were moved to tears after hearing from activists and witnesses who saw the fire firsthand. 

"These 32 martyrs need to continue to push us forward in our activism," Councilmember Lesli Harris said.

"I think this is probably the heaviest moment that I've experienced since being elected to the city council," Council President Helena Moreno said. 

Councilmembers said that representatives from the New Orleans Police Department were there to recognize the role the department played in the investigation. 

Side by side, they gave a framed apology to one victim, Clarence Joseph McCloskey, Jr.'s, sister. 

His sister, Rose Little, had her statement read on her behalf before the council. 

"The awful things about how he/they deserved to die haunt us. We could not have a Catholic funeral for Clarence," Little said in part, "The investigation was not made a priority. It was botched and the family and friends never saw the arson brought to justice."

With tears in her eyes and love for her brother in her heart, Little got to see this small act of justice almost a half century later. 

RELATED: Council to recognize victims of horrific Upstairs Lounge fire 49 years later

RELATED: Vigil held for dozens who lost lives 40 years ago in Upstairs Lounge fire

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