Emily Suzanne Clark
"... God's world will never pass away
God's world will never pass away, hallelujah
Well it makes no difference what the people say
God's world will never pass away, oh no
He's gone but he's coming back again
Yes, he's gone but he's coming back again
Well it makes no different what the people say
God's world will never pass away!"
This is part of Sister Gertrude Morgan's song "God's World Will Never Pass away" recorded in April 1971 in the Prayer Room. The Prayer Room was the front room of a shotgun house in the Lower Ninth Ward at the corner of North Dorgenois and Flood Street where Morgan lived and conducted small services. Very few people attended these services, and the services themselves followed no particular order. Morgan would sing, preach, paint, and exhort. Her message was a didactic one. I've posted here before about her unique apocalyptic message, which understood New Orleans as sinful and as the template for Revelation's New Jerusalem. She was both the "bride of Christ" referenced in Revelation, and additionally, she would play the role of John the Revelator.
The Prayer Room in her house at North Dorgenois was filled with her artwork. She painted the room all white, from the ceiling to the floor. And this matched her wardrobe. After God told her she was to be the bride of Christ, she wore only white - a visual reminder of her bridal status. The inside of her home was white with pops of color from her paintings, and according to those who knew her, bright four-leaf clovers covered her yard.
Morgan named her home the Everlasting Gospel Mission House. It was her home where she slept, ate, and died. It was her church where she preached. It was her studio where God instructed her to paint and sing. The lines between "sacred" space and "profane" space were blurred, both for her and for those who knew her and remember her. In 2008, I interviewed a few people who knew Morgan, and I saw what remained of the Everlasting Gospel Mission House. Morgan died in 1980, and her Everlasting Gospel Mission House became another's house until 2005. Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters pushed the house off its old foundation and into the building next door. It was demolished a few weeks before I took this photograph. What the floodwaters could not destroy where the four-leaf clovers that grew in her yard. And for some, it was the clovers that mattered.
Following Katrina, current Preservation Hall owner and Preservation Hall Jazz Band director Ben Jaffe was debating if he should leave his hometown or stay. His parents opened Preservation Hall and started the Preservation Hall Jazz Band back in the early 1960s. His family also supported Morgan, buying her groceries and helping sell her art. Hanging in his home is a photograph of him in the Prayer Room, sitting on his father's lap while Morgan sang and played her tambourine. Jaffe continued his parent's work and was on the road when Katrina struck.
One a particularly trying day after the floodwaters receded, Jaffe aimlessly began driving and found himself in the L9. He started looking for Morgan's old house. It had been about fifteen years since he had last been there. As he drove around the destroyed neighborhood, he stopped in front of a house, not sure if it was the old site of the Everlasting Gospel Mission House. "I knew there was only one way to really know whether or not that was her house," he told me in late 2008. "So I bent over and picked, just closed my eyes and picked something, and I knew immediately it was a four-leaf clover. And it was." He sat there for the next few hours trig to decide his next move. It was this experience at her house that convinced him to stay and help rebuild the city. He considers the site of her old house to be a "holy place." He even brought The Edge from U2 out to the site and showed him the Everlasting Gospel Mission House clovers, which, Jaffe told me, The Edge described to him as "a symbol of the gold at the end of the rainbow."
But they are not technically clovers. Back in 2008, the New Orleans Times-Picayune published a story about how four-leaf clovers were spreading throughout the L9. The clovers originated at the corner of North Dorgenois and Flood Street, and though a horticulturist proved that the "clovers" were actually ferns, it didn't matter to Jaffe. In fact, a good friend of his told me that the horticulturist was just plain wrong. For them, the clovers were further revelation from Morgan. The clovers were a sign to remain in New Orleans.
And yes, I picked a couple of the clovers and still have them.