Barack Obama's visit to Baton Rouge Thursday morning gave me a rush of pride for my hometown. The president is visiting McKinley High, the city's premier black high school when I was growing up. I'm sure it was shortchanged in comparison with Robert E. Lee, an all-white high school for most of my years there. Later, several of my relatives and friends stuck with the public schools and sent their children to McKinley when it was integrated under a crosstown busing plan much despised by most of the city's white citizens.
Now, according to a Baton Rouge Morning Advocate editorial, McKinley is a model for technology and educational innovation. A photo on the Advocate's web site of LSU's biracial basketball star and Australian immigrant Ben Simmons waiting to greet the president reflected the city at its best.
I was also happy to see that Obama's visit to McKinley was catered by Louie's, the vintage Tigertown cafe that brings strong memories of my college days when I nursed many a hangover with coffee, scrambled eggs and bacon, or a cheeseburger and natural fries, at the small spot on Chimes Street. The original Louie, a grumpy little white-haired man who always wore a tie, starched shirt and crisp white apron, worked the grill and counter by himself from early morning to early afternoon, sending several kids off to college.
Louie passed away years ago, and the restaurant has long since moved to larger quarters around the block on State Street, still near LSU's Highland gates. The food remains excellent, as the president will discover.
Obama was expected to meet with new Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who's launched a Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. The president was expected to announce a new plan to increase incentives for states to expand the health care coverage to the poor.
Politico magazine recently placed Louisiana in last place among the 50 states, largely thanks to Gov. Bobby Jindal's wrecking of much of the state's public institutions. But the Medicaid expansion should give Louisiana a boost. Here in Georgia, the shady Nathan Deal, Jindal's fellow Republican, refuses to expand the health insurance coverage to the state's needy.
Despite Louisiana's troubles, Baton Rouge has enjoyed a surge of prosperity over recent years, including an impressive resurgence of downtown. The state's capital city remains plagued by severe poverty and soaring crime, but on this day, I'm going to feel proud of my hometown.