I visited the Big Easy last year during Mardi Gras and had a great time. But this year I wanted to do something different. I decided to do a Plantation Tour.
There is something about the city of New Orleans that I find so intriguing. The influence of enslaved and free people of color touches almost everything you see, hear or taste. Walking the streets of the French Quarters or the Garden District I can imagine the enslaved, some of which were likely my ancestors walking the same streets. Riding through the streets of the lower 9th ward you can feel the mournful vibrations of the runaway slaves that lived in the swamps that later became the 9th ward.
Seeing the vacant lots where homes and businesses once stood before Hurricane Katrina weighed heavily on my heart. August 29, 2023 will mark the eighteen year anniversary and yet, Katrina still lives there. I didn’t see a major supermarket, bank, or franchise in the area. There was a stillness about the place as if it was waiting for some fresh hell to descend upon it. I wondered how people could live there when they know that political leaders would sacrifice them again before they would allow the French Quarters to be jeopardized. Maybe they are taking a stand refusing to lose one more thing.
On this trip I took a plantation tour. I wanted to stand in a slave cabin, because I knew that some part of me had been there before. It was in a slave cabin that my ancestors would have decided to risk death by running or stay,(seeking freedom in another way). I wanted them to know that they would never be forgotten. I wanted them to see me freer than they could have imagined, and I wanted to see what they had endured.
As the tour bus drove to the plantation we passed swamps, and bayous. Alligators were sunning themselves on the side of the road. I thought about the snakes, alligators, bears, nutrias, bobcats… that must have roamed the land freely before the enslaved were forced the clear it. I couldn’t imagine being trapped on that plantation after closing time. How alone I would feel shrouded in complete darkness when the sun when down. How the vastness of the starry night sky would further diminish me.
Driving away from the plantation I was grateful that it was still standing, testifying to the brutality of the gentry southern aristocrat. The plantation stands as physical proof of a history that they don’t want to teach in school.
Dotted along the rural landscapes of Louisiana are plantations that have stories of brutality, bravery, strength, and faith. Stories that may never be discovered. The stories of people that built these United States, who names we will never know, but their collective history must not be ignored because it’s uncomfortable or too painful.
Whether or not to take a plantation tour is a personal one. But which plantation that you choose to visit should not be taken lightly. I toured the Whitney Plantation because it has never and vows that it will never be a site for a wedding. You can’t grab a bite to eat or drink a mint julep or reserve a room. The focus of the Whitney Plantation is to educate and preserve the history of the enslaved. On the plantation there are two memorials. The Wall of Honor, which lists the names of the 350 enslaved people of the Whitney Plantations, as well as the names of 107,000 enslaved people of Louisiana. The Field of Angel memorial list the names of 2,200 children that died in St. John the Baptist Parish between the 1820s-1860s.
It took me several days to gather my thoughts on this subject. I hope I was coherent, it was difficult to stay focused on a period of history that continuously shapes and reshapes my perspective.