Touring The Whitney Plantation

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 meallard, 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:


16 thoughts on “Touring The Whitney Plantation

  1. Jamala, I just finished reading a history book about how the servants were treated in England during the 1860-1880s and it was bad. Very bad. We can’t even imagine how terrible the slaves were treated during that same time in this country. I think a straw bed would have been a luxury. I believe that most people slept on a pile of rags on the floor. The personal servants in England slept on the floor outside the bedroom doors in the hallways. Later, in the Victorian Era, when girls had a room or shared a room, the Mistresses would complain how dirty their room was without any realization or perception that the girls had no time to clean their own room after working 15 hours a day. But, these girls could leave if they were beaten or raped. Of course, there was nowhere for them to go and they probably wouldn’t have gotten a recommendation so they couldn’t have gotten another job. The alternative was prostitution. Women weren’t allowed to own a business unless they were widows and the husband had a business. To try an imagine what it would have been like for African slaves who never received any pay and lived in complete poverty while living with the knowledge that their loved ones could be sold or given away at any time is beyond our comprehension. I can hardly stretch my mind around what it would feel like to be so powerless and be beaten for any infraction and be forced to do backbreaking work even if sick…well, it was pure evil. Their “owners” called them lazy. How ambitious would their owners have been if the situation was reversed? I imagine that there were bad masters and mistresses and there were better ones, just like there are good bosses and bad bosses. In my life, I’ve had more bad bosses than good bosses and I have a feeling that I would have been one of the ones wearing the collar with the spikes. ~Ginene

  2. I loved reading your post! What a rich history! My Mom, born in 1944, grew up with sharecropper parents. She started picking cotton when she was four years old. She worked alongside her siblings. Sadly, many of our Black American families today have histories similar to that of slaves. I know I do. On my Moms side I’m the third generation born free. My grandmother was her Mom’s last child, my Mom was her mothers’ last daughter and I was my Mom’s last child. Most of my close friends grandparents are the age of my parents! It’s crazy, different and strange. Thanks for sharing this part of your trip! I hope to see this place one day!

  3. Like you, I like to find history in where ever I travel. My soul is crying. If more people understood and had empathy. Unfortunately, many don’t care because they feel it has nothing to do with their history. My gosh, Jamala. This is very deep. I leave it at this. But I’m sharing. Bless you for this post.

  4. I love history, and so, was easier to read this post. This tour was indeed a sad one. But it is also a story that should be told. It is baffling and heartrending to me to see the hurt that human beings are able to heap on one another. I look forward to a time when these things will no longer exist.

  5. Such history….wow. I hadn’t heard of this place and have been considering a trip to NO. So thank you so much. I will definitely be sure to visit while I’m in NO. Thank you for sharing.

  6. I’m not quite sure I can find the words to describe this feeling of sadness, helplessness and anger I am experiencing after reading this blog. Bravo to you for your ability to bring me, a white woman, anywhere near understanding the everyday lives of all these slaves. I have often thought how awful it must have been. To this day I still can’t watch any kind of tv shows involving slaves being tortured. It’s just too heartbreaking.
    I don’t know what compelled me to follow your journey to the museum, but I am glad I did. It has given me the feeling of being right there. I can never know the true feelings of all the slaves and what they endured. I can only imagine the worst and know that feeling only covers the tip of their horrendous injustices they suffered.
    I agree with you that it would not be a ‘fun’ tour to take, yet I would like to take it. If all those weeping willow trees could talk indeed.
    Thank you very much for sharing your journey in your own words. God Bless
    Pamela D.

  7. To know ones history is wise and a good thing. I stand proud as a black woman to know that the blood, sweat and tears of my ancestors are the threads that bind this country we all America. Our footprint will forever be stamped here. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Girl, I can’t even click the “Like” button. They need to add a “Sad” or “Outraged” or “Incredulous” button. It’s just so….ugh!!!!!!! I’ve made many trips to New Orleans since I was a child. We had relatives in Baton Rouge, so we’d often trip on over to New Orleans. Went there on not one, but TWO (different) honeymoons. I don’t remember ever seeing this as a child, and it wasn’t on my radar as an adult. It is now, though, and next year when we go there for a medical conference, I will be sure to book this for myself while Ramon us in his sessions. I’d rather he go with me because I’m sure I’ll be just overwhelmed with grief, anger, and feelings I don’t even know I have. Thanks for putting this on the map for me. Starting a “Things To Do In New Orleans” list today with this at the very tiptop of that list.

I enjoy reading your comments