US civil rights icon Jesse Jackson arrived in New Orleans on Tuesday at the head of a caravan of storm evacuees and contended there was a plot to thwart African-Americans from returning.
Jackson depicted what he saw as a scheme by political conservatives to take advantage of the hurricane-forced Diaspora to prevent New Orleans from becoming once again a city with a black majority.
Altering the city's demographics would influence the people elected to office on local and state levels, and, by extension, decisions on a national level, Jackson reasoned.
"You then change who becomes mayor, the Congress, the Senate," Jackson said. "There is a broader agenda in play."
He criticized companies for bringing in Mexican laborers and other immigrants to do clean-up and rebuilding jobs for low wages, saying those people were being "exploited."
Those who fled from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita should get preference on jobs, housing and job training so they can work rebuilding the city, Jackson said.
Jackson and a set of buses left Chicago on Monday and stopped in a series of major southern US cities to pick up people who had fled New Orleans to escape Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said Tannis Williamson of the RainbowPUSH coalition.
"Unless they come back, they will languish in exile," Jackson said after arriving in New Orleans on Tuesday with his human cargo. "They have a right to come home."
Jackson organized the caravan because, he said in an interview last week, allowing the storms to alter so profoundly the demographics of New Orleans would be tantamount to "racial profiling."
An estimated 150 people joined Jackson for the bus ride. Some told local radio reporters that they did not come from Louisiana, but were welcomed aboard the caravan.
Jackson described the people picked up as "hungry and in need of jobs."
People from the caravan filled out applications for fast-food restaurants and construction jobs, and then were given rooms in a hotel, said Gary Flowers of the coalition.
Jackson has formed a commission dedicated to helping displaced New Orleans residents return and rebuild their lives.
"This is the first thing that has gone right since the storms," said Charmaine Marchand, a Louisiana state representative who is heading the RainbowPUSH commission in New Orleans.All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.