Prior to my trip to New Orleans, people would say “oh you’ll love it.. make sure you do “this” make sure you go “here”, make sure you have “this” – which was all good advice. No one suggested to take the tour of the Whitney Plantation. I happened to see the video come across Facebook two weeks before our trip and that’s when I first learned of it. Of course I wanted to hear all the music and experience the creole cuisine offered and tour the art galleries and gardens. Folks talked big about drinking – getting drunk and all that jazz.. which is good for some, but that’s not my fortay (it’s something how people in the travel industry always assume folks go somewhere to party and get drunk). After touring the wonderful gardens, hanging out at the French Quarters, partaking in the shopping districts, this tour of the Whitney Plantation is one I had to mentally prepare myself for. Sure the bus ride there was nice because we got a chance to meet people from all over the world. The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the history of New Orleans and shared several stories with us. As we approached the nearness of the location, an eerie feeling overcame me. Let me start by saying a mental preparation was needed for this kind of tour because it’s not a “FUN” tour.. but for those who seek history, knowledge and a bit of soul searching, with an open mind, this is the tour for you.
The Whitney Plantation Historic District is a museum devoted to slavery in the U.S. South that is preserved near Wallace, in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana. Through museum exhibits, memorial artwork, restored buildings and hundreds of first-person slave narratives, visitors to Whitney will gain a unique perspective on the enslaved people who lived,worked, and tortured here.
There’s only but so many words I can say, and I couldn’t cry enough tears reading the thousands of names and the thousands of written words describing the painful life the slave endured. Here I share with you my images and words.
The wall of names and stories from the mouths of slaves are engraved in stone on the walls that talk. I only wished I had more time to read them all and maybe even locate a family name to tie myself or family name to. Here are some of the names and stories told by the ex-slaves.
Children as young as 10 years old were considered old enough to work the fields, but even up to that age they were all put to work. Due to the harshness of the work, children suffered the most. So many died at such young ages in the fields.
The holding cell for the slaves was just as brutal. They had to endure the heat and cramped housing unit. Packed like sardines in a can.
On this plantation they made sugar. The big cauldrons were used to make the sugar. It was a grueling process and each slave played a role from growing the cane, chopping the cane, stripping the cane, melting the cane and shipping the cane. All done by slave labor and while the master raked the benefits. They told the story (all documented) of when a slave was caught with just a piece of cane in his mouth (the overseer saw his mouth chewing) they’d put this iron mask over his face and he had to wear it all day in the heat. The mask was extremely heavy which meant it was even harder to work the fields trying to keep his head up. Brutality is all they suffered.
After laboring all day, their meals were the basic scraps of what was leftover from the master but usually consists of corn meal, lard, some meat (mostly pig), molasses, peas, greens.
All they had to rest their aching body and bones on were beds made of straw.
A far cry from the comforts of the main house
with it’s hand-painted mural ceilings and four poster beds
As you look around the grounds and take a look of the picturesque landscape and beautiful trees, it’s hard to believe that just a mere 3-4 generations back suffered that kind of pain on these lands.
In the museum, there is the slavery timeline wall.
Hundreds of thousands lives lost through the trade.
Everyone is encouraged to leave a note of their experience on the wall. It was interesting to read some, but the simple words I left were:
There are those who could care less about the history, those who could argue the history, those who would debate/negate the history and even those who justify the history.. but whatever it’s worth, I’m touched by the history and appreciate John Cummings for his years of dedication and determination to the completion of this project.
After taking the tour and learning more of the history, we boarded the bus feeling a bit dismal and the guide asked did we have a good time – while some chanted yes, I blatantly responded, there was nothing good about this tour, nothing fun at all, but it was truly quite the learning experience. I left there with a melting pot of mixed feelings of anger, hurt, dismay, strength and pride.
I’m not going to write many more words about it but you can read this article by journalist Steven Thrasher in depth.
But on a happier note.. we did pass the house of one of my favorite night time series on OWN – Queen Sugar.
So there you have it.. the good, the bad, and the ugly of my New Orleans Experience. With so much racial division happening, I have to equate it to lack of knowledge or simple ignorance. With history like this, there’s no way I would believe that hate will ever win. Through knowledge, understanding, the concept of basic human rights and belief in love, then this type of history will only be just that…. HISTORY.. – Remember there was: