by Tammy C. Barney, Verite News

Dyan French Cole, known to New Orleanians as Mama D, testifies in a Congressional committee hearing on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Her official name was Dyan French Cole, but New Orleanians knew her as “Mama D.” She was short in stature with locs as long as she was tall, and political leaders could not out-talk her.

Not even Congress.

“Ya know what, Baby,” she told an official during a 2005 Congressional Committee hearing regarding the Hurricane Katrina response. “I’m from the 60’s. Call the police. I’m gonna stop talking when I finish delivering the messages from my community. That’s the only reason I am here.

“I didn’t come here to represent me,” she continued. “I came representing the people on Dorgenois Street right now sitting around a brick fireplace because that’s the only heat we have in December, and the hurricane happened in August. Somebody needs to hear [this].”

A Joseph S. Clark High School graduate, Mama D was a leader, a fighter, an organizer and an advocate for the downtrodden. No issue was too small or too big for her to tackle. She rarely missed a City Council meeting, always demanded answers and even got arrested.

“That’s what we did in our era. We broke laws,” Mama D said during a Duke University interview. “The laws were so low down.”

In 1975, Mama D was the first woman president of the New Orleans NAACP. She trained on direct-action campaigns for social change with Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. After Katrina, she organized the Soul Patrol to save, feed, clothe and assist hurricane survivors. 

The only thing that could stop her was cancer. Mama D died from the disease in 2017 at the age of 72. 

“I will say that my mother would like to be known as a humanitarian,” her son Bryan said during a TV interview following her death. “She would do anything for her people.”

This article first appeared on Verite News and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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